Friday, 9 September 2011

The Bad Boy of art

"There is a war against vice in Lancaster. I am going home to speak for vice."

"Paintings must be looked at and looked at and looked at... no writing, no talking, no singing, no dancing will explain them."

Charles Demuth

From the GLBTQ Encyclopaedia:
One of America's first modernist painters, Charles Demuth was also one of the earliest artists in the US to expose his gay identity through forthright, positive depictions of homosexual desire. Demuth, the son of a successful merchant, had the financial freedom to pursue his artistic vision without debilitating regard for public opinion - concerning either aesthetics or sexuality - while his talent ensured that even the most provocative works were of unassailable quality.

Demuth is best known for his many Precisionist paintings of the 1920s, works inspired by Cézanne's landscapes, Constructivist compositions and - closer to home - Hartley's abstractions, but his more significant historical contribution may be the audacious manner in which he responded to the homophobia that greeted his work Distinguished Air (1930).

Loosely interpreting Robert McAlmon's story of the same title, a story set in a Berlin "queer café," Demuth portrayed a situation at an exhibition opening, in which a male couple admires Constantin Brancusi's notoriously priapic sculpture, Princess X, while an ostensibly straight male gallery-goer admires the crotch of one of the gay men.

When several exhibitions refused to include Distinguished Air, Demuth responded by creating overtly homoerotic watercolors of sailors disrobing, fondling themselves, and even urinating in each other's company.

Demuth's expression of homosexuality in his art began to become more obvious after his return (after a rather debauched extended period of time, a lot of it spent in saunas and sleazy bars) from Paris in 1914.

Five years earlier in 1909 he had met Robert E. Locher, a handsome and debonair theatre and interior designer and architect and they formed a long lasting homosexual relationship. It was to Locher that he left the bulk of his paintings on his death. [Charles Demuth and the bad boys]

Although he lived and worked in many environments including several stays in Bohemian Paris, New York's Greenwich Village and the "artistic" (nowadays more likely known as "gay-friendly) community in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Demuth (due to ill-health) ended his days where he began as a resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

There is a museum to his memory established there (although its website appears rather reticent to acknowledge the fact that their treasured artist was a rampant homo) - The Demuth Museum.

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