Bill Bybee’s ‘Queer Coding’ uses abstraction and codifications to illustrate queer identity

Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

Local Idaho artist Bill Bybee presents his collection of mixed media pieces in his exhibit titled “Queer Coding.”

Located on the second floor of the Student Union Building (SUB), “Queer Coding” presents a collection of abstract art pieces inspired by the LBGTQ community.

The pieces contain a variety of hidden symbols and connections to LGBTQ history and culture, a concept known as “coding.”

“Coding is essentially hidden messages or symbols that hold a specific meaning to a certain group of people,” Bybee said.

Bybee explained that these symbols mean something to those who are aware of their significance, but those who are not initially aware of these symbols would likely not notice their presence in the art at all.

Bybee revealed that his use of “codifications” in his art was inspired by artists like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberge, Ellsworth Kelly and more, who used abstraction and codifications to illustrate queer identity. 

In his collection Bybee also presents a few different series, including 10 pieces titled “One” through “Ten.”

Bybee revealed that the reasoning behind the series of 10 derived from past rumors of a statistic that 1 in 10 people are gay.

“The pieces kind of resemble the size of a mirror, like one you might have hanging on the back of a door,” Bybee said. “The idea is that you might be able to find yourself in one of them.”

Bybee revealed that for this series of especially abstract pieces, he simply let the paint fall and spread on its own. This created images with similar color combinations but unique patterns, the paint falling differently on each canvas, illustrating a different persona in each piece of the series. 

Bybee includes an upside down pink triangle in a couple of the pieces, most predominantly seen in “Arsch Ficker” and “Silence Equals Death.”

Bybee revealed that this symbol was born in a dark time in history, dating back to World War II.

“The pink triangle was a symbol meant to signify a gay person during World War Two, similar to how The Star of David was used to label a Jewish person,” Bybee said. “Including it in the piece is essentially reclaiming the symbol, rewriting its meaning.”

Initially intended as a badge of shame, this symbol has been reclaimed in many LGBTQ themed art pieces, including those in Bybee’s exhibit. 

Bybee shared that some of the other larger pieces in the collection including “There’s No Wrong Way to be a Girl,” “There’s No Wrong Way to be a Girl” and “Trans Men are Men” were based upon experiences of friends that he interviewed before creating the art.

[Photo from Bill Bybee’s art exhibit “Queer Coding,” located on the second floor of the Student Union Building.]
Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

One piece entitled “Your Sexuality in Valid” is based upon the experiences of one of Bybee’s friends who is bisexual.

“This piece is one where I used the colors of the bisexual flag,” Bybee said.

Bybee shared that in many of the pieces he used gender stereotypical colors as well as colors included in different pride flags such as the bisexual flag, the trans flag and the lesbian flag.

In pieces like “Your Identity in Valid” Bybee used gender stereotypical colors, as well as stereotypical gender neutral colors. 

“I used pink, a stereotypically feminine color, and blue, a stereotypical masucline color,” Bybee said. “I also used gender neutral colors, like when you go to a baby shower and you don’t know the gender of the baby yet you would use colors like yellow or green. These neutral colors are often secondary colors too, created by the mixing of other, primary colors.”

Bybee’s exhibit also includes a series of nine smaller mixed media pieces, each based upon a different place in the United States. 

Some places included are Atlanta, Palm Springs, Las Vegas and the Stonewall Inn, where the riots and protests by members of the gay community took place in 1969, kickstarting the gay rights movement. 

Bybee started these pieces with detailed pencil drawings based off of old photographs. He then added paint over the drawings, blocking off certain key images from the original pencil drawing, allowing them to stand out.

Each of these pieces also include an area of complete dark and black space, an aspect Bybee revealed actually represents the unknown.

“We often have an idea in our minds on what a certain place will be like,” Bybee said. “The dark areas represent this unknown. Even for places we’ve been to before, if you go back a few years later to the same place, it’s never exactly the same.

Check out Bybee’s “Queer Coding” exhibit to unveil the hidden messages buried in the abstraction and discover the deeper meanings behind many of the intricate details in each piece. 

The exhibit is open for viewing through Nov. 27, located on the second floor of the Student Union Building.

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