featured gallery for April 2016

Fashion, Fantasy, and Freedom

A few weeks ago, Patricia Field’s boutique on the Bowery shuttered, and I was instantly flooded with fond memories from my time spent as an honorary member of the House of Field. In the early 00’s, during my undergraduate years at Parsons The New School for Design, I was a PR intern at the House of Field showroom, a job which entailed everything from dressing models backstage during New York Fashion Week, to Fedexing costumes overseas to pop princess Britney Spears while on tour, to hand delivering a dress to Sarah Jessica Parker’s trailer while she was shooting 'Sex and the City'.

But before all that, I was just a New York City teenager growing up in the late ‘90s and experiencing the last vestiges of a grittier New York. Despite the burgeoning ‘Disneyfication’ of the city under Mayor Giuliani’s administration, the streets were still burning, particularly down at the piers on Christopher Street, where I spent the majority of my time. As a 17-year-old, I came of age through voguing culture, the Latex Ball, endless nights partying at the Tunnel, Roxy, Limelight (which are all extinct now), and shopping religiously at Patricia Field’s store in Greenwich Village.

I was deeply entrenched in the microcosm of gay New York, forming unbreakable bonds with fellow LGBTI youth, dating hot go-go boys, and getting a front row seat to a fierce fashion education via my peers. I was greatly influenced and inspired by figures such as the mythical Willi Ninja, fashion designer David Dalrymple, style muse Connie Fleming, musical performer Paul Alexander from ‘The Ones’, club queen Susanne Bartsch, and numerous other downtown New York influencers. All in all, I felt incredibly connected to this legendary house, the House of Field, which represented community, acceptance, survival, exclusivity, and a sense of belonging.

In curating this web gallery for Visual Aids, 'Fashion, Fantasy, and Freedom', I wanted to reflect on my personal history and strong association with the LGBTI community, and how the power of fashion intersects with these truths. I chose powerful, thought-provoking works spanning various mediums—painting, photography, installation, illustration, and digital collage—all of which speak to the significant role fashion plays as a means of expression, escapism, therapy, and pride.

From Rob Ordonez’s seductive vixens, to Juan Arce’s neon-infused still life compositions, to Morris Lane’s saturated, stylized fashion gestures, each piece personally represents the integration of design and fantasy. Alex Aleixo, the late Brazilian erotic artist, creates wonderfully impossible encounters in his digital collages. Aleixo juxtaposes a hunky cowboy against the celebrated cultural icon Marilyn Monroe (who happens to be heavily tattooed), inducing visually titillating effects. In Jack Brusca’s painting ’Night Work’ (1990), voluptuous women of the night sensuously interact in this pastel-hued piece, calling to mind the glamazons found in Tamara de Lempicka’s paintings, but just way edgier and more contemporary.

Hugh Steers, the venerable figurative painter, explored allegorical themes in his work, and carved an identity for himself and the gay community during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Steers’ paintings resonate for me in profound ways, such as his depiction of young men in fragile health who still exuded a gusto for life. In Steers’ self-portraits, as well as with his other subjects, they’re portrayed as having a penchant for women’s accessories. In ’Morning Terrace’, ’Foot Baths’ and ‘Blue Dress’ (all from 1992), men wearing high-heeled pumps demonstrate a certain playfulness and vanity in the midst of their precarious physical state.

Hunter Reynolds, a longtime HIV-positive survivor and gay artist who works primarily in photography, performance, and installation, offers the monumental work ‘Patina Du Prey’s Love Dress’ (1993). Outfitted as his alter ego ‘Patina Du Prey’, Reynolds stands majestically on a moving platform (as a human life-size music box) wearing a lavish ball gown bearing thousands of names of those who lost their lives to AIDS. Through this dramatic sartorial statement, Reynolds humanizes the plague, producing compassion for the anonymous who have perished and invigorating activism for the continued fight in the present.

It was an immense pleasure curating this web gallery for Visual Aids (it’s my first curatorial experience), and it was my mission to tie in my personal trajectory in the LGBTI community with dignity, humor and grace. I took great pleasure in learning more about influential artists such as Hugh Steers, Hunter Reynolds, and Kim Davis, who live with HIV or have succumbed to AIDS, but have demonstrated extreme courage throughout their entire career. Also, underknown artists such as Jack Brusca, Alex Aleixo, Eugene Welsh and Kissa Millar, whose work I find incredibly daring, provocative and intriguing. Of course the photographer Tseng Kwong Chi, someone I’ve long admired, have researched thoroughly and written about, and regard as one of my art heroes alongside Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe.  Lastly, it's been a pleasure including artists that I actually know in real life such as my longtime friend Jose Luis Cortés, the very talented Luis Carle, and Kia Labeija, who I’ve only recently met but whose work has a profound effect on me.