Cosplay can be described as a type of performance art in which “cosplayers” wear costumes to represent a character thus creating an interactive sub-culture based on role-play. Subjects are mostly sourced from Manga cartoons, comic books, video games and live-action films. A selection of Manchester artist David Hancock’s paintings of cosplayers are currently on show at Howden Park Centre in Livingston. Hancock works in watercolour and pencil crayon to create photo-realist portraits of people and characters involved in this complex and increasingly popular activity.
Hancock’s engagement with the subject is best explained by the artist himself. Cathy Bell asked him some questions about his work
C.B. Who chooses the pose the characters adopt?
D.H. The cosplayers generally do. They are based on the poses of the characters they represent. It is a way of getting them into character; re-enacting their mannerisms. In the larger paintings, I ask the cosplayers to find an environment where the character would feel comfortable.
C.B. In the double portraits are the characters interacting with each other?
D.H. The characters are from the same text so there is a relationship between them and being paired strengthens their immersion. In Advent Children I positioned the models on either side of a small lake. I try to leave as much white space as possible to suggest how locations and objects drift in and out of the fantasy.
C.B. Is it only the dressing up that interests you about the sitters or are you interested in them out of character as well? For example, the painting The Down (Siobhan & Courtney) seems to show two women who are not in cosplay costumes.
D.H. I only depict cosplayers when they are in “cos”. In The Down they are in cos: however, the characters are the cosplayers own characters that they have created themselves, which is maybe why they look different from some of the others.
C.B. Another thing I detect from the work is the gender aspects within it. For example, some of the females are posed kneeling, teetering on the edge and in the case of Resident Evil the girl is shown hiding and terrified under a table. The males on the other hand seem stronger. There are some stronger looking females too and in the case of Advent Children III it is difficult to say whether I am looking at two men, two women or a man and a woman. Is this deliberate?
D.H. I think this is more to do with the characters. What is interesting about cosplay is that it is so female centric, it is estimated that 80-90% of cosplayers are female. From my research, a large number of females I have interviewed are in a same-sex relationship. For many women, the way female characters are represented in games and sci-fi films is unrepresentative. Cosplay, therefore, allows females to re-imagine the objects of their fandom in their own image, removed from the objectifying male gaze.
C.B. Do some of the large paintings have deeper meanings than the small portrait heads, for example?
D.H. Yes, I am able to play with the surface of the paint more. I use the drips to mark the difference between the reality and fantasy in the cosplayer’s world.
C.B. Is it important to you to document the current trend of cosplay?
D.H. I am interested in how cosplay goes beyond other subcultures in building an identity. Cosplayers are able to take on a whole other persona and “road test” it; literally taking on the characters characteristics and trying them out.
C.B. I feel the paintings are sociologically relevant to the times. Do you agree and is this what you want from them?
D.H. What is interesting about cosplay is that it takes archaic practices, such as making costumes and props, and uses these to represent our immersivity into digital platforms. They also bring these interactions back into the actual world, and their primary social interactions are in person, face-to-face. It’s almost a seamless merging of the digital and analogue.