RMVaughanink

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Big Picture 32

A few months back I encouraged you to run out and buy a limited edition poster by multimedia artist and full time super-freak Luis Jacob. Obviously, enough of you did just that, because the poster was sold to raise funds for Jacob’s installation at the Toronto Sculpture Garden and, voila!, the installation is now up and running – or should I say pedalling?

Entitled Flashlight, Jacob’s installation is a mini gay theme park, a tribute to the sparkly, festive world of homo disco, complete with a glitter ball, sun-catching cobalt streamers, a collage of party pics, Fire Island patio lounges, and, for those inclined to infantilism (which, if you check out the Osh Kosh-inspired summer outfits on Church Street, is apparently most gay men) a geodesic monkey bars/go-go platform.

Jacob tops off his Vitamin D enriched spectacle with a banner made from knit Xmas tree lights. The banner reads “Everybody’s Got A Little Light Under The Sun”(it’s one of those “I Will Survive” or “We Are Family” type disco slogans), but you’ll have to work like a gym clone to see it – the banner is powered by two bike wheels that viewers must peddle, and peddle hard, to generate the electricity that sparks up the show. I am a large-legged, hearty sort and even I could only get the thing up to full brilliance for about 15 seconds. Damn muscle queens!

If there’s a subtext beneath Jacob’s club-kidding, it’s nestled in those wheels and all the other hidden gears and widgets that make the lights so bright. The endless gay party, Jacob tells us in his quiet way, is supported by a lot of hard, mostly unacknowledged work – the challenge of maintaining our civil freedoms, the day to day work of fighting homophobia, and the personal struggle to stay positive in a culture that continually negates your very being. That’s the uphill peddling that gets you to the palace. Tough, but worth it.

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a gay pal who is being driven to depression by the nasty, daily anti-gay messages put forth by opponents to the equal marriage bill. I’m going to drag him down to Jacob’s sculpture and we’re going to peddle until we’re giddy.

~

At “nearly 70”, US-based painter Delmas Howe is the undisputed granddaddy of erotic art – an artistic descendent of Tom Of Finland and an influence on younger erotic artists such as Rob Clarke, Uli of Berlin, and even fading enfant terrible Attila Richard Lukacs. Howe’s new show of cowboy sex fantasies at O’Connor Gallery is a luscious collection of drawings and paintings that revel in a flawed but still virile masculinity – an idealized maleness that is half classical pretty boy, half gone-to-seed trucker.

This odd conflation, Howe informs me, is not accidental.

“I grew up in a town – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, where I live today – surrounded by cowboys, and even as a child I had a keen interest in the male form. But the only source for images of the male form, images I could study at length, were encyclopaedias. And the encyclopaedias only depicted the male form in the context of classical statuary. So, in my childhood I made this connection between the Greco-Roman art world and the local cowboys. Later, that became a core part of my sexuality.”

Erotic art, like its po’ cousin pornography, is not meant to be complicated. While the response time between the arousal an erotic artwork inspires and the excitement pornography creates may be different – we are trained by frequent exposure to mass media’s use of film to respond more quickly to time-based, and thus more realistic seeming, video imagery than to hand made pictures – the goals of each are essentially the same. You’re meant to get off on the art too, but in a more, ahem, gentle and considered fashion.

Howe’s art, however, plays sneaky tricks with such expectations. His hunky cowpokes are certainly gorgeous slabs of man flesh, but they are also men with slight pot bellies, moustaches in need of a trim, eyes a little too close together, and no sense of smart urban fashion. In other words, they’re a refreshing break from the soulless, shaved-chest robots common to mainstream porn.

“Some of my models are real cowboys, men I see at rodeos or around town. Some of them are friends”, Howe says, “but I always work from a real source, either photos of men or from models. But I don’t mean “model” models. For a painting I did last year, I met some Mexican guys on a camping trip - all nice, sexy young men - and we had a blast with the posing and dancing around. They were just fun loving guys trying something new. I want that energy in my work.”

Being of low mind, I had to ask Howe if any of these hunks become more than friends. He cracks a wicked, unreadable smile.

“Well, I’ve been asked to judge a Sexy Cowboy contest while I’m here … but I plan to win it myself!”

~

By the time I started bumbling my way through the Toronto art community, in the mid-90s, art stars David Buchan and Robert Flack were already dead from AIDS-related illnesses. I feel cheated.

A new retrospective of Buchan’s and Flack’s works at Art Metropole (the concluding show to Art Met’s year-long 30th anniversary programme), is both a tribute to the enormous output of these two seminal artists and a sombre reminder that, not so long ago, a generation of artists disappeared well before their time.

Buchan and Flack, working independently and in various collectives, were nothing if not productive; making everything from prints to photography, video, sound sculpture, performance and fashion. You name it, they tried it, and imbued each project with a wise-ass, sassy sense of humour that was at times misread - as was (is?) much queer cultural production - as low brow camp.

This exhibition does a great service to the legacies of both artists by pairing their early, jocular works (which I would argue have more to say than most of the serious political art of the time) with the darker works produced by each artist as he confronted his own mortality. Much of this deeply personal work, especially the archival material collected from each artist’s personal scrapbooks, is difficult to look at without feeling that you are invading someone’s privacy – but that’s the point, as Buchan and Flack never feared to make the personal public.

Archivist Andrew Zealley, a friend of both artists, deserves congratulations for assembling such a cohesive show from what must have been a mountain of materials – and for bringing Buchan and Flack back into the public eye.

A note to art teachers: this show has way more to say about our wounded and fractious cultural landscape than Bruce Mau’s fatuous Massive Change. Turn the bus south to King Street and give the kids something real (and beautiful) to ponder.



Luis Jacob
Flashlight
Toronto Sculpture Garden 115 King Street East Until September 15

Delmas Howe
Mixed Media
O’Connor Gallery 97 Maitland Street Until June 11

David Buchan and Robert Flack
Halos
Art Metropole 788 King Street West Until July 30