On View | The Secret History of Homoerotic Illustration

Before Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs and Lady Gaga videos mainstreamed homoerotic imagery, some of fashion’s most talented illustrators had shadow careers from the 1950s through the 1990s drawing for underground gay magazines such as Physique Pictorial and, later, more overt porn glossies such as Mandate, Honcho and Torso. The Internet, with its abundance of porn, killed those titles, but a diverse trove of illustrations from their pages will be on display beginning Friday at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in SoHo, in the winkingly titled show Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum Walls. Curated by Robert Richards, himself a longtime illustrator of fashion and homoerotic imagery, the show aims to exhibit “quality artwork that had to be hidden away for many years,” says Hunter O’Hanian, the museum’s director.

The magazines used these images, which generally reflected the fashion illustration styles of their eras, to enliven their erotic fiction, because creating them was cheaper than hiring models for a shoot. The show includes the work of major names like Tom of Finland, who was legendary for his exaggerated depictions of male anatomy and for reclaiming straight male archetypes for gay culture; Antonio Lopez, the ’80s fashion illustrator whose work has experienced a major re-emergence in recent years; Mel Odom, whose Deco-inspired portraits were a favorite in “Playboy”; and George Stavrinos, whose impeccable drawings graced Bergdorf Goodman ads throughout the ’80s. There are also the comically raunchy tableaux of Michael Kirwan, which are reminiscent of the work of Paul Cadmus and R. Crumb. “He drew big, clumsy, ugly men in hideously rendered rooms going at one another, and it’s just gross,” says Richards. “They have a wild humor.” On the other hand, he notes, “Odom can project more sexuality in a face than anyone else.” And Tom of Finland, says Richards, “defined how gay men wanted to look but didn’t know it yet.” O’Hanian says that the museum has just received an offer from a publisher to feature the collection in a book.

ROBERT W. RICHARDS, Toby, 1984

ROBERT W. RICHARDS, Toby, 1984

A piece of Richards’s own in the show is called Toby. “He was a boy I invented in the ’80s for Torso — a spoiled pet with a rich boyfriend,” the artist says. “I’d write a different chapter and draw the pictures every month. Toby was determined to be photographed by Bruce Weber, and all the images are inspired by iconic Bruce Weber shots. He finally did get a call from an agent, but when he reported for work, he found out it was a porn set.” Toby — naughty and narcissistic but ultimately respectable — declined the offer.

Stroke is on view March 28-May 25 at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, 26 Wooster Street, New York.

By Tim Murphy

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Exhibit Showcases The Erotic Beauty Of Vintage Gay Magazine Art

In the 1950s, art admirers were hard-pressed to find images of gay male life adorning the walls of major galleries and museums. Instead, the beautiful work of photographers and illustrators like Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland were often exhibited within the pages of gay magazines. Diverse depictions of private male life — particularly erotic life — were thus made available only to the people who knew where to find it.

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen). Biker Fuck (Detail), 1965, Pencil on paper, 8.25 x 11.5 in. Leonard Paoletti Collection. © Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen), Biker Fuck (Detail), 1965, Pencil on paper, 8.25 x 11.5 in. Leonard Paoletti Collection. © Tom of Finland Foundation

“Many of the early magazines pretended to be bodybuilding, strength and health journals,” Robert W. Richards, artist and curator at Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, explains in a press statement. “Sometimes they were called ‘anatomy guides for artists.’ However, most of the men bought these magazines because they were gay. It was nearly their only opportunity to see handsome, well-made, virtually naked men.”

ROBERT W. RICHARDS, Toby (Detail), 1984, Graphite, pastel and watercolor on vellum, 13 x 16 in. Published in Torso, 1984.

ROBERT W. RICHARDS, Toby (Detail), 1984, Graphite, pastel and watercolor on vellum, 13 x 16 in. Published in Torso, 1984.

A new exhibit at Leslie-Lohman, organized by Richards, is bringing together over 80 original illustrations plucked form the pages of retro magazines spanning the 1950s to the 1990s. Showcasing everything from tame images of the male body as muse to explicitly sexualized scenes, the exhibit surveys decades worth of design created by gay artists in the late 20th century, exploring a space — magazines — where art flourished in the past.

Titled Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum Wall,  the journey through erotic history outlines the evolution of the (naked) male in art, spotlighting the impact of the “sexual revolution” and the Stonewall Inn riots on the demand for the magazines playing home to Mizer and company’s works. Torso, Mandate, InTouch — they would grow to attract the work of major artists like Mel Odom, Richard Rosenfeld and more, many of whom contributed to mainstream publications like Vogue and Playboy.

BLADE (Neel Bate), Untitled, 1976, Ink on paper, 8 x 7.25 in. Collection of Leslie Lohman Museum.

BLADE (Neel Bate), Untitled (Detail), 1976, Ink on paper, 8 x 7.25 in. Collection of Leslie Lohman Museum.

The rise of media like the VHS and the internet eventually pushed the magazine platform to the side. However, a trip through the archives illuminates just how significant the realm was for burgeoning and established gay artists a generation ago. Shining a light on sexuality, intimacy and identity, the images on view in “Stroke” gives a glimpse into an oft-overlooked body of work — one that stands in contrast to the gallery halls filled with infamously nude women — that has thankfully transitioned from mattress to museum.

MICHAEL KIRWAN. Car Park (Detail), 1999, Watercolor marker with ink on paper, 14 x 11. Collection of Leslie Lohman Museum.

MICHAEL KIRWAN. Car Park (Detail), 1999, Watercolor marker with ink on paper, 14 x 11. Collection of Leslie Lohman Museum.

Stroke will be on view from 28th March to 25th May in New York City.

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“Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum Wall” | 28th March | NYC

A historical retrospective of sexy and erotic illustrations by artists who made work for Gay male magazines from the 1950s to the 1990s. Curated by New York-based illustrator Robert W. Richards,  Stroke features 80 original illustrations by 25 artists, featuring original illustrations which appeared in the magazines, along with other works of art that have never been seen publicly.

In the 1950s, a number of magazines became available on drugstore magazine racks and newsstands and were distributed nationwide. Early titles included Grecian Guild Pictorial, Tomorrow’s Man and Physique Pictorial, and featured the work of great artists like Tom of Finland and Bob Mizer, both who were recently the subject of a major exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles.

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1960, Graphite on paper, ToFF #60.11, Gift of Leonard Paoletti, Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, © 1960 Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish), Untitled, 1960, Graphite on paper, ToFF #60.11, Gift of Leonard Paoletti, Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, © 1960 Tom of Finland Foundation

By the late 1960s, with the impact of the “sexual revolution,” rise of feminism, and the Black Cat and Stonewall Inn riots, the demand for the magazines mushroomed. Later titles included Blueboy, Torso, Honcho, Mandate and InTouch. Each issue typically featured masterful illustrations by major artists such as Antonio Lopez, Mel Odom, George Stravrinos, Richard Rosenfeld and others. Many of these artists also made work for mainstream publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Times and Playboy.

“This work has never been collected in one museum exhibition before,” says Museum Director Hunter O’Hanian. “What Robert Richards has done is pull together important work that played a vital role in people’s lives. This exhibition is important for people who remember the magazines. They will get to see the some of the original illustrations they loved years ago and some recent work. For those in their 20s and 30s, this exhibition will be an opportunity to understand the way that Gay men explored their own sexuality and intimacy a generation ago. Everyone will be moved by the gloriousness of art and the impact it had on so many lives.”

BENOÎT PRÉVOT, John Roses, 2013, Ink and pencil on paper, 11.5 x 8.5 in. Courtesy of the artist.

BENOÎT PRÉVOT (French), John Roses, 2013, Ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Included in the exhibition will be artwork by: Blade (Neel Bate), Michael Breyette, Michael Broderick, Harry Bush, Colt (Jim French), Oliver Frey, Beau (Kevin King), Michael Kirwan, Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen), Antonio (Antonio Lopez), David Martin, Jim McMullin, Domino (Donald Merrick), Kent (Kent Neffendorf ), Olaf (Olaf Odegaard), Mel Odom, Etienne (Dominic Orejudos), Benôit Prévot, George Quaintance, George Stravrinos, REX, Robert W. Richards, Richard Rosenfeld, The Hun (William Schmelling) and Bastille (Frank Webber).


Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Opening Reception: 28th March, 6-8p
Runs through 25th May

 

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