It’s A Boy’s Life (and other lies): Daryl Vocat’s Imperilled Masculinity
RM Vaughan

There’s a couple of things you need to know about Daryl Vocat to better understand the goings on in his mental locker room. For one, he is a small fellow, no bigger than a taper candle and not much heavier. And he is very quiet. When you see Daryl at a party, it gives you the same sense of wonder you get when you suddenly spot one of those stick bugs that make themselves look like twigs in order to disappear. Daryl can vanish in a puff, a blink, the time it takes to scratch your head.

The other revealing truth is that Daryl lives in a large, old, and incredibly cluttered house. There are more knick knacks, gimcracks, gewgaws and curios in his house than in a whole town’s worth of thrift stores. There are paths worn between the junk, narrow escape hatches carved out of the armies of super hero action figures, the piles of postcards, and the towers of books. As someone once said of Michael Jackson: If this is what’s going on outside, what’s going on inside?

I’m being indiscreet about my friend Daryl for a reason - other than the evil glee it brings me - and that reason is to better illuminate the unusual mix of vulnerability and pop culture smarts that fuels Daryl’s work. When you look at one of his prints, you are asked to do many things, but chief among them is to process how an artist so evidently clever, connected, and well versed in the icons, visual cues, metonyms (and chaos) of our fast and delirious post-culture can at the same time be so terribly afraid of all the things that decorate his work. Daryl is like poor old Walter Mitty – madly in love with adventure, but reluctant to leave the house.

Subsequently, Daryl’s works play with this push-pull until a kind of semiotic stasis is reached; until we, the hapless viewer, are left uncertain whether Daryl is valorizing, indeed fetishizing, a class of shy, bare-chested, alien (and alienated) scrawny man-boys (all of them in apparent need of a pat on the back, and a sandwich) or if, instead, he is giving us a cautionary slide show, a spy’s view into a suspect brand of masculinity that thrives on untroubled self awareness, on uniforms worn like second skins, on the privilege enjoyed by the fit, and, always, on the power of pose and the machismo of effortlessness.

Put simply, Daryl’s men are either wallflowers or cocks-of-the-walk – but Daryl himself appears unwilling (or is too savvy) to give us that one final clue that will tilt the scale one way or the other, to show us either the lace hanky or the loaded pistol. Daryl’s men live in a gestural limbo, are capable of either fey flounces or a gruff, manly grace. They tread a wobbly road, a trail lined with dolls on one side and dumbbells on the other.