During a trip home to my native Memphis a few years ago, I was introduced to the photography of Jack Robinson. A gay Southerner whose meteoric rise in the 1960s and 70s was followed by a quarter-century of near-total obscurity, Robinson’s story immediately intrigued me, as did his unlikely rediscovery. During the last 25 years of his life, Robinson worked as an artist in a stained-glass studio, living alone in a Midtown Memphis high-rise and battling depression. He never shared with his employer or neighbors his glamorous past as a photographer of some of the most celebrated personalities of the twentieth-century. It wasn’t until many days after his death in 1997 that his employer ventured into his apartment and discovered an actual treasure chest of Robinson’s images—thousands of them. His work is now archived in a downtown gallery that bears his name.
A native of Clarksdale, Mississippi, Robinson honed his camera skills in the early 1950s, documenting bohemian gay life in New Orleans’ French Quarter. A regular of Dixie’s Bar on Bourbon Street, a watering hole known for its literary clientele (Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal among them), Robinson documented the city’s gay cultural scene, and its involvement in Mardi Gras. His depictions of gay men in costume and in various states of drunken frivolity captured at the same time the joy and freedom that the French Quarter afforded as a reprieve from the repressive South.
Oh these little earthquakes
Here we go again
These little earthquakes
Doesn’t take much to rip us into pieces
-Tori Amos, ‘Little Earthquakes,’ 1992
Good Year for Hunters, a new play from Jess Barbagallo and Chris Giarmo, opened last night as the debut performance at New Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory 2012. Inspired by Tori Amos’s seminal album, Little Earthquakes, Good Year For Hunters is a queer horror play about a mysteriously orphaned brother and sister who fall in love with a closeted husband and wife. Like Amos, the characters struggle to find their own voices under oppressive religious, cultural, and sexual circumstances. Using a poor theatre aesthetic of minimalist design and physical acting, the Hunters cast creates a darkly comedic landscape of yearning turned nightmare.
Five years ago, Barbagallo approached long-time collaborator Giarmo with the idea to write a play based on Little Earthquakes. “What emerged,” Barbagallo told NYC theater blog Theater in the Now, “was this apocalyptic horror show about growing up queer and closeted.” More…
The second installment of poet William Leo Coakley’s autobiographical essay about his life with actor and writer Robin Prising takes us from the couple’s move to West 4th street to Jane street, then from New York to Rome. Along the way scores of legends make appearances – Jack Wrangler, George Barker, Djuna Barnes, James Merrill, Franz Kline and Iris Tree, to name but a few. Check back next week for the conclusion!
When I first came down from Harvard to the Village I lived at the corner of West 4th and West 12th (only in New York, I thought). I remember sauntering hand in hand through the pre-Stonewall Village with my charismatic mentor and friend the English poet George Barker. He was 99% straight, having many mistresses and more children, but the soldiers and sailors of World War II had been his lovers too and he was the body in Willard Maas’ 1943 film Geography of the Body. He had such dynamic energy that just walking and talking with him was a sexual experience. “Go and do it, Baby,” he urged me on to poetry, “Go and do it, Dirt.” He said that to strengthen my poetry I must listen to the “compulsive recurrence in the little matter of fucking.” I later found out that Robin had independently known him in the 1950s in London. There is a fabulous picture of the two of them in the 50s staring at each other over cigarette smoke (that lost aphrodisiac), the sexual vibrations, never consummated, alive in the air between them. When we lived in London and Europe in the mid-60s George was amazed to discover we had found each other and that cemented our life-long friendship with him. When he visited us in New York around 1966 we stopped by the writers’ bar the White Horse Tavern for a drink—and were barred at the door by a bruiser of a bouncer: we were not accompanied by “ladies.” The police were cracking down on gays in bars. George told him to go fuck himself, pulled out his wallet with pictures of his was it 13? children—and put a curse on the dive. It must have worked: the place is foolishly known as the bar where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death and now only tourists congregate there to stare at tourists. More…
Since abandoning a lucrative advertising job in his native Colombia and moving to New York six years ago, Juan Betancurth has set about making work exploring the intersection of his sex life and Catholic upbringing. His latest project “For Faith, Pain and Pleasure” is a series of peculiar sculptures made out of vintage household objects that can be used for a variety of purposes, both kinky and holy. I met up with Juan earlier this week to explore the dual sides of his work.
You do a lot of different things in your practice. How would you describe it?
Honestly, I have a kind of hard time describing my work because of that. Sometimes I feel that it’s really complex. It has to do more with personal experiences, things that I want to do. My work depends on an idea or situation that I want to recreate.
Have there been similarities in the experiences you like to recreate?
It has to be experiences from my past that I want to overcome or understand. For me my work has always been a way to try and understand my reality and find out who I am. And I feel, if I have something from my past that’s limiting me, I just bring that out and put that in an installation, photograph, video, that I think is necessary, and it helps me out. It’s a tactic. More…
A mountain of 175 pounds of candies “individually wrapped in variously colored cellophane” piled up in the corner of a gallery. The candy is unguarded, so the viewer is encouraged to take some. Each and every day, the remaining candy is weighed and more is added until the pile goes back to the same 175 pounds. This is Untitled (Ross), one of the most poignant works by Felix Gonzales-Torres, the Cuban American artist who lived and worked in NYC in the ’80s and early ’90s. This beautiful installation underscores the process as an intrinsic part of the art piece, which is constantly being re-created, and never finished.
175 pounds corresponds to the “ideal” weight that a doctor established for his patient Ross Laycock, the artist’s partner, when he was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-80’s. Gonzales-Torres was once asked who his ideal audience was, and he answered without skipping a beat; “My audience is Ross.” Ross died in ’91. The diminishing amount of candy parallels Ross’ suffering and weight loss prior to his death, but the replenishment stipulated by the artist metaphorically grants him eternal life. More…
Most of us are familiar with philosopher George Santayana’s famous quote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.” But what do we do as gay people when so much of our history is written out of the record books, whether by others or in the case of many of our greatest artists and public figures, by themselves? This Saturday night, at the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation in New York, the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History will attempt to remedy the situation. More than forty artists are contributing to over twenty different exhibits, focused on subjects like the same-sex marriage debate in Argentina, the “Lady King” Christina of Sweden (who inspired the Greta Garbo classic Queen Christina), lesbian lives from the 1950′s, and late 1800′s responses to trans identity. Participating artists include Rodney Evans, Vaginal Davis, Kate Huh, Jonathan Ned Katz, Sasha Wortzel, Al Belkin, Boris Torres (who’s work is featured in Keep The Lights On), and many more. The opening begins at 6:30PM, and there’ll be a very special “Judy” after party at The Hose immediately afterwards. Don’t miss it – after all, don’t you want to be able to tell people “I was there,” in ten years when a permanent Queer History Museum is finally built? The show runs through August 25th.