When I was in NYC in May, my dear friend, Jim Campbell – painter extraordinaire, and I spent several afternoons schmoozing and catching up. I know Jim from the 1970s in San Francisco where we were both involved in the artistic presentations of The Hula Palace Salons in the rambling upstairs flat at 590 Castro Street and 19th street, the epicenter of that famed neighborhood during the height of the sexual revolution. The Hula Palace was where the pulse beat of the Castro was felt pumping away with resounding and joyous thuds as the boys of the street strut their stuff looking for the dream of many lovers. Jim now lives in Chelsea NY where he also maintains his painting studio.
Jim was kind enough to take me to visit the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art onWooster Street in the heart of So Ho where he is both a member of the museum and donor to the collections. So off we trundled to that emporium of Gaydom. Upon arrived Jim introduced me all around to; Hunter O’Hanian, Museum Director, Branden Wallace, Collections Manager, Wayne Snellen, Deputy for Collections and their staff, a cheerful and welcoming bunch who went out of their way to such an extent that I plunked down my shekels and joined the happy band of members right there and then.
George Quaintance 1956, oil on canvas 37 x 30 in. collection of Sinski / McLaughlin
The exhibit on show at the time of our visit was – “Stroke, From Under the Mattress to the Museum Walls,” March 28-May 25, 2014, a sizzling show of male erotic art that scratched the itch of my libido. Having been a young man of San Francisco in the 1970’s, I am all for up-front erotic imagery. My own collage work over the decades has incorporated what I call romantic erotic visions and I consider the depiction of the diverse human sexual experience like a visit to a lush garden and yes I love flowers.
The selection of art works In the “Stroke” show incorporated qualities of; fine draftsmanship, animated composition, emotional intensity, astounding painterly technique , sophisticated wit, romance, sly flirtation, anatomical precision and exaggeration with a healthy dose of pure erotic arousal hard to ignore – all puns intended.
We were lucky enough to join a gallery tour of the show led by Curator of the exhibit, the internationally renowned illustrator of fashion and male erotica, Robert W. Richards. Robert’s costume on the occasion was remarkable so let’s start with that. First off I love his horn rimmed, owl-eye glasses. He sported a Chicolla (my term) camouflage printed suit of impeccable tailoring and a tie of the same ilk but slightly different color shades and pattern. Over his Left shoulder was casually draped a soft knitted shawl which because of the marshal reference of his “camouflage” put me in mind of a “Iaculum” or casting net that the Roman gladiators were want to drape over their brawny shoulders and used to ensnare their opponents in the arena.
In this case there were no opponents but Robert did ensnare us with his charm and detailed knowledge of the artists on display, relating the careful process that he and the team at Leslie – Lohman had developed for the presentation of this exhibit. One of the emphases of his talk was pointing out the considerable artistic sensibilities and technical skills of the artists represented elevating their subject matter above mere sensationalism to a more effective engagement of the men depicted with the essence of a men’s powerful sexuality.
The viewer is welcomed by a seemingly haphazard wall of pages torn from the “Pin Up” magazines of past decades, these are the publications stealthily stashed beneath the mattresses mentioned in the title. The wall briefly explains the intent of the exhibit which, in short, is to recognize the powerfully charged “beautiful work depicting intimate sexual relationships between men.” This body of work is presented in a museum setting where we can enjoy and study the art with a focus towards the artist’s skill of telling the story “… that our desire was not an aberration, but a common normal impulse.”
From here the large exhibition space was divided by partitions brightly painted in yellow, orange, and white creating a festive atmosphere appropriate to the coming out of a body of work “effectively allowing us to visualize the reality of a physical relationship with an object of our desire.” Also on display in horizontal cases were collections of the actual magazine publications that could be pick up and leafed through. There were 25 artists represented in the show ranging from the pumped up men of Tom of Finland to the lyrically beautiful long haired men of Robert Richards and the mob scene orgies of Michael Kirwan rounding out the emotional dynamic. There is a handsome catalog for the show available from the museum well worth the modest price of $18.37.