Episode 35

Published on:

25th Oct 2023

The Art and Craft of Masculinity - Richard Bliss

Richard Bliss is an artist and tailor based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the North-East of England. He currently has an exhibition of work on display at Bishop Auckland Town Hall in County Durham called ‘The Quest for the Perfect Shirt’. We recorded this episode in person with Richard in one of the galleries, and thank the curator, Debbie Connell, for making this possible.

In our discussion Richard explains how he, as a gay man, seeks to understand masculinity and men’s lives through the process of making shirts, often in public places or community settings, reflecting and responding to conversations with individuals or groups. He guides us through the exhibition, telling us about some of the pieces, the ideas behind them, what they say about contemporary expectations of manhood, how they relate to his own experiences, and the contradictions of a man practising textile art and tailoring and using it as a way to engage with other men.

A second exhibition by Richard, ‘Workers’ Thread’, celebrates the contribution of working-class women and men to the history of County Durham, and is also on display in the Town Hall. We refer briefly to this at the end our conversation, and to the ‘The Mural of the Durham Miners’ Gala’ by Norman Cornish, which occupies a whole wall there.  

We discuss the following topics in this episode:

  • Why the exhibition is named ‘The Quest for the Perfect Shirt’ (01:25-06:38)
  • Richard’s methods and why he uses shirts as his medium (06:38-11:04)
  • Tailoring in public space and talking to people about masculinity (11:04-13:42)
  • What Richard has learnt from the process (13:42-17:18)
  • Favourite pieces from the exhibition – e.g. working with homeless men (17:18-24:14)
  • The complexities of identity: being gay and being Jewish (24:14-30:50)
  • Men and power at work (e.g. former Liberal Party politician David Steel) (30:50-36:53)
  • How Richard got into textile art and tailoring (36:53-39:45)
  • Ties and gendered power in clothing (39:45-42:41)
  • Art and its social impact (e.g. Grayson Perry, author of ‘The Descent of Man’, 2021) (42:41-45:04)
  • The influence of Durham and North East England, e.g. its working-class, trade union, mining history (45:04-50:01)
  • Why the exhibition is in Bishop Auckland (50:01-55:28)
  • Thinking about the future, and Richard’s next project on older gay men (55:28-59:55)

For more information about the unique collection of galleries and gardens that make up the still developing ‘Auckland Project’ in Bishop Auckland including the Spanish Gallery, the Faith Museum, the Castle, the Mining Art Gallery, and the Deer Park, see: https://aucklandproject.org

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About the Podcast

Now and Men
Current conversations about men's lives
What's it like to be a man in the 21st century? How are feminist issues relevant to men and boys? How can we engage in productive conversations about gender equality? These questions are being discussed more than ever.

Our monthly podcast delves into these issues with experts such as practitioners, activists and academics. In each episode, you’ll hear in-depth conversations about a wide-range of topics connected to masculinity and the lives of men and boys, such as preventing gender-based violence, promoting active fatherhood, and supporting men's health.

The podcast is hosted by two social science researchers, based on the opposite sides of the world: Sandy Ruxton from Durham University's Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse (UK) and Dr Stephen Burrell from the University of Melbourne (Australia). If you would like to give us your feedback, suggest a guest, or have a question you'd like us to discuss, get in touch at nowandmen@gmail.com. And if you like what we do, please share us with your friends, and leave a review on Apple podcasts!

About your hosts

Stephen Burrell

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I am a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, where I moved to at the beginning of 2024. My research is about men, masculinities and violence. I am particularly interested in the prevention of men's violence against women, building gender equality, addressing environmental harm, and promoting an ethic of care among men and boys. In my spare time I'm a big fan of drinking tea, being in nature, eating vegan ice cream, and listening to heavy metal music. I'm also a trustee for White Ribbon UK.

Sandy Ruxton

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Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Durham University (UK). Independent researcher, expert on men and masculinities. Previous policy work on human rights, children and families, poverty and social exclusion, and asylum and migration. Programme experience with boys and young men in schools, community, and prisons. Steering Committee member, MenEngage Europe. Volunteer for OX4 Food Crew. Chess-player, bike-rider, tree-hugger. Great grandfather edited Boy's Own Paper, but was sacked.