featured gallery for July 2007
I'm Not Mad at You, I'm Mad at the Dirt
"I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at the dirt."
-- Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, 1981
As a young country boy out in the Midwest I'd always get into trouble for bringing dirt inside the house. It wasn't just mud -- sometimes I was getting a bar of soap stuck in my mouth by my very Christian God-fearing father. They used to call me Scotty Potty. I couldn't help it; I liked everything dirty, even my big brother's dirty [gay] porn magazines.
What is it about that side of American culture that on the surface appears to be so puritan -- afraid of a little dirt? The Gap tries to sell us "Clean and Simple" with their new Wentworth Miller ads -- btw, he's totally HOT. Actually, Gap isn't doing so well ... I think because people aren't buying into the conformity of the 80s and 90s anymore -- Gap needs a new niche.
Growing up gay in the Midwest wasn't easy, but I'm sure growing up Gotti wasn't either. Still, I did get away with having some hot sex with our 'straight' (now married) all-star high school football jock. But, as I grew older, I discovered ways to free myself (through my art and by escaping to NYC) -- and that being gay was more than okay, it's awesome!
By the time I started having sex with other boys, as a teenager, AIDS had already swept the world like wild fire, killing thousands in its path. I felt I didn't stand a chance ... AIDS, and now terrorism and not to mention global warming ... I didn't expect to make it past 30.
When I was invited to curate a Web show for Visual AIDS, I was excited to research the extensive slide library to see who and what I could find that would inspire me. I chose some artists whose works have influenced my own and also looked for artists new to me. Here is what I found:
Felix Gonzales-Torres (1957-1996) is one of my all-time favorite artists. I love his generosity and how he made the private public in his work, and how making something quiet and poetic can be political. The piece that I chose, Untitled (1988), I had never seen before. I'm obsessed with the media and information so, I love this piece -- how the random names and dates become typographic memory icons that draw up people and events (and waterbeds!) that I project onto the black TV-like screen watching them, then flipping the channel to the next big media/Pop culture sensation ...
I love Frank Moore (1953-2002) because he was able to harness his outrage as an engine of creation and kept bitterness at bay. Everything is going wrong in our world -- we are destroying our environment and making huge profits. In one of his last works, Black Pillow (2002), a hot shirtless beefcake is pumping oil into a cornfield that morphs into cell phones and computer keyboards.
Stephen Andrews lives and works in Toronto. Fascinated with technology and the horror of the Iraq war, he created a series in 2003 (Untitled) that imitates the look of the 4-color CMYK printing process by rubbing crayons through a window screen. The effect is almost kid-like -- candy coating a found Internet image from Abu Ghraib prison -- illustrating the obscenities of war.
David B. Abbott has a very keen and funny sense of humor in his quirky social realist-style paintings -- exploring contemporary political and social issues like the evolution of the religious right in America. In Super Heroes (2000), Superman looks as though he would like to get down and dirty with Spider-Man and Robin.
Another one of my all-time favorites is Paul Thek (1933-1988). I didn't even know that he was gay. During the years 1964-1967, Thek made a series that he called "Technological Reliquaries," a reaction against minimalism -- the fashionable style of the time -- and the Vietnam War. I chose his Meat Piece With Warhol Brillo Box (1965) because I like how in his own funny way he was critiquing consumer culture and even the king himself. These pieces are also the precursors to Damien Hirst's "Away from the Flock" (1994) and other similar sensational works of the 1990s.
An artist whom I had heard of before but was not familiar with his work is the late Robert Blanchon (1965-1999). I hear he was a bit of a trickster, driven by a restlessness and high-keyed conceptual wit. I was drawn to a photo of a muscle biker, Untitled (1987), from a series that he did of men and women who answered his newspaper ads for volunteer subjects -- the photos were randomly matched to clippings from the personals.
Frederick Weston, a talented African-American artist whose work is evocative, seems to be commenting on the whiting of our culture and how things get packaged. In his collage, Ajax Fresh/Whiter Teeth (1999), from a series using cleaning products, the slogan "2 Ways to Complete Your Cleansing Regime" is indirectly point-blank.
Detoxing is sometimes necessary. There are alternative ways of cleansing that are less harmful to you and on the environment. I dug up a jewel -- the graphically clean "otherworldliness" in the work of Robert Flack (1957-1993), Untitled (1992), from his Empowerment series. A beautiful blue skull x-ray with three gems marking the third eye -- one of the body's psychic energy Chakra points.
René Capone, still under 30, is one of the youngest artists I found in the collection. His work depicts young boys -- not quite men -- full of wonderment. In Fleeting Empathy (2001), he explores themes of innocence, beauty, danger and fear -- a personal quest for identity and finding one's place in the world.
As a young student, I discovered the art and writings of David Wojnarowicz. To this day, he is one of my heroes. I admire his voice and how he had no formal art-school training -- a real outsider, a rebel and a very sexually active teen. Here below is the text that is hard to read in the slide from Pinworm (1990):
Outside the window of the balcony room, three
metal guys were building a new patio for the
defunct pool. The pool was slowly filling with
red dust carried across the highway by intermittent
breezes. At some point I stood up from the table
and pulled back the curtain a bit and watched the
half naked bodies of the guys climbing in and out
of their trucks for tools or to turn up the volume
of the music. I felt like a detective with only the window
glass and the curtains camouflaging my desire. For a
moment I was afraid the intensity of my sexual fantasies
would become strangely audible; the energy of
the thought images would become so loud that
all three guys would turn simultaneously like
witnesses to a nearby car crash.
-- David Wojnarowicz (from Pinworm, 1990)
Richard Renaldi makes beautiful, irony-free portraits of the people he randomly meets. He centers on a young football player from an economically depressed Massachusetts town in his series, Fall River (2002). An admirer of Joel Sternfeld, his work is iconic, clean-cut, wholesome and sexy.
I always love the sly and witty work of Chuck Nanney. Using found ready-made "anti-art" materials such as pushpins, cocktail swords, and, in Drunk Again (1992), a thrifted Tee. I think of Lindsay or Britney, or even myself sometimes! I really love the humor in this piece.
Mark Morrisroe (1959-1989), another one of my all-time favorites, a very talented romantic photographer who shot beautiful Polaroid self-portraits and portraits of his friends. He also had a zine called Dirt. I would do anything to get my filthy hands on a copy. I looked everywhere for one ... if you know of where I can see or buy one, please contact me at: [email protected] Thx!
I would also like to buy one of these giant head paintings by Arnold Fern (1953-1993), Head With Flames (1992). These are enormous heads, 72" x 54"; I've never actually seen one in person, but would love to! I read recently that he really knew how to camp up summer camp by painting the toe nails of any boy who was willing to risk his masculinity. He had a very special way of making masculinity beautiful. He was obsessed with old master paintings and anything Japanese. He also painted beautiful paintings of parakeets and flowers. They almost remind me of old movie stars -- like perhaps one of the handsome young actors Joan Crawford would drag home. I wonder if she let them get dirty?