Another Saturday, another boozy party in London. After six cans of Stella at five quid from the off licence, one’s conversation with fellow reveller inevitably, turns ‘arty’.
‘So who are you writing about at the moment?’
‘Oh, actually I am really interested in Robert Mapplethorpe right now…’
‘Well, chuh, of course, yeah, you ARE gay, but like, who else?’
This little exchange keeps chafing away at my brain like wet soul sand. Why is it that an interest in a certain artist is indicative of the tastes of a queer guy? It begs that rather annoying and extremely hard to answer question; does gay art exist and if it does what defines a gay artist from your average garden variety creative?
Undeniably; if one was to attach an artist and his work to this tricky classification Robert Mapplethorpe would come immediately to mind. Mapplethorpe is consistently referenced for his works (notably the thirteen images included in X portfolio, 1978) which displayed erect penises, acts of homosexual sex with more than a gentle spank towards fetish and masochism. In the rapidly evolving world of the early 1970’s contemporary art world, this was unchartered territory and created such an impact that it is now, what Mapplethorpe is most remembered for. The lamentable aspect of this, is the rest of Mapplethorpes’s impressive body of work remains constantly in the shadows. Meanwhile, discussions of his more controversial works take centre stage in academic rhetoric bogged in eroticsm and censorship.
Robert Mapplethorpe, Patrice, 1977. Gelatin silver print. Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, New York. Photo © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
This tendancy within queer culture and the wider community ( if such a divide still exists) to select the sexually charged and fabulously controversial highway, is one of the problems with defining a body of work or artist with a term as absoloute as gay art or a gay artist. There is always more to an artists body of work than a stiff penis or pumped pectorals.
Anthony Gayton, a new photographic force in the art world has exhibited widely throughout Europe, with representation at MITO contemporary art gallery in Barcelona. Gayton’s collection of works straddle a blurred line between erotica, pornography, commerical photography and contemporary art.Through a series of email conversations I was able to pick Gayton’s mind on ‘gay art’ and those rather delish model muses in his work.
SNP: Hi Anthony, you have recently finished your solo exhibition Behold The Man at MITO, Barcelona and have just finished exhibiting in a group exhibition De Pictura - En Defensa De La Belleza at the Espai Metropolità de Torrent in Valencia. How’s everything going?
AG: It was probably on the strength of this show (Behold the Man) that I was asked to participate in Valencia, and there is another museum group exhibition coming up in Italy in September.
Over the last few years my work has advanced creatively and also in terms of credibility, though I still have a long way to go to gain both increased recognition and financial solvency. My work is so borderline, that it is rarely able to please all the people all the time, and I have been accused of being both 'too gay' and 'not gay enough'.
SNP: Gay art’, what is your opinion of the classification? Do you think it’s valid to brand an artist and his practice with such a label?
AG: I’ve been asked similar questions, and my problem with labels is that are both limiting and vague at the same time. ‘Photographer’, ‘Art’, ‘Gay’ are all words that mean everything and nothing. At best ‘Gay Art’ is a term that suggests something politically worthy yet peripheral or even exclusive; it somehow seems to define its audience as much as itself. I produce work which reflects my passions, my upbringing and my experience, yet I would say I do this as a gay man rather than specifically for gay men. Of course it would be naive of me to hope that producing work with the subject matter I do that I can avoid such labelling, but I hope at least that my work can speak to anyone in some way, whether on an emotional, aesthetic or even technical level.
SNP: Do you ever get frustrated when people view your work and cannot look beyond an (admittedly beautiful) naked male torso?
AG: As I actually use various forms of pin-up and porn quite obviously in my work, I don’t have a problem with this, as in a lot of cases it is exactly this desire in the eye of beholder that is the whole point of image. Saying this, I think that with the huge amount of male nude and male erotic photography was has been produced since the dawn of digital photography, my work is seen less and less in these purely ‘superficial’ sexual terms. Which of course has meant for me a huge falling away of interest from mainstream gay culture, and a fresh interest in my work from the art world.
SNP: On the subject of your ‘muses’ why do you choose the men that you do, is your relationship with these men forged through a need for a certain look or body or is it founded on an emotional connection?
AG: I have photographed many attractive men over the years, but have only three I would describe as muses (see my blog site: www.anthonygayton.blogspot.com). The one quality they had was the ability to inspire me to create works specifically for them. I’m sure every photographer of people has a type of model which most closely embodies his particular aesthetic, and these three boys were simply the personification of mine. I certainly wouldn’t say it has anything to do with an emotional connection, or if it does it’s very subliminal.
SNP: It seems that you are able to identify with many of the labels discussed ( photographer, artist, gay artist, erotica ). Do you see yourself in your future practice trying to develop one aspect more than another? In both artistic and commercial terms?
AG: I can identify with each of those labels, but still find it very difficult to reduce myself or my work to any one of them. Almost all the work I produce has some connection to the experience of being homosexual and I think, if anything, that is the one theme that I will continue to pursue. This is partly because I can only really write or take pictures about things from my life experience, and also because we are at a point in history where such open expression of same-sex relationships is possible and this opportunity should be exploited.
An Anthony Gayton glossy, semi clad male model or an exquisite Mapplethorpe photograph will of course cause a reaction in any gay man. This does not mean to say that these works will not cause a reaction of the same or stronger emotion for a heterosexual person. If we took the idea of ‘gay art’ as an absoloute it would be on par to saying that a queer guy could not truly appreciate
Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ because naked women would not be of interest. Although many gay artists are influenced by their sexuality it is not the definition of art practice simillarily; being a gay man is just one of the thousands of parts which make a whole being. Mapplethorpe brought much needed exposure to the AIDS cause when he was diagnosed in 1986 and for the rest of his life was unabashedly open about AIDS and the turbulent lifestyle of the gay scene in the 1980‘s. This is what makes him a gay icon; not a gay artist.
So take that, my deep and meaningful conversation buddy of a Saturday night past.
All images are courtesy of the artist. All images used in this article are copyrighted.
This article is copyright 2010 and all images, quotes and text cannot be re produced without permission.