Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On gay stallions, becoming a method painter, and that damned Lani Woods who makes it look so easy to be cool

In January of this past year, I was presented with an a-typical commissioned request. I was asked to create a "gay stallion of a painting".

If you're familiar with my work, you know I am primarily a travel and landscape artist, and it's been some time since I've painted figures in compromising sexual positions. During my undergraduate art career, I did a series of paintings that focused on the demise of relationships and were rather sick. I was in a pretty explosive relationship then and I hated the idea of love, plus I was vying with all of my art classmates to be the most innovative and $*#)-ed up creative in the art program at a small Lutheran college in Southern Wisconsin. I am now dating someone that I actually like and I am not a hipster, so I rarely paint like that anymore.

I have no idea what I titled this painting, because four years 
ago, I kept horrible records of my work. It was done in 2008
as part of a series in my undergraduate which was designed to 
prove that I am much more haunted than I seem.
I think it may have been called "The Catalyst".

When I was presented with the aforementioned non-traditional commission, I almost said "give me mountains or a cityscape, please" and headed for the hills, but I'd seen a recent post on Facebook from one of my favorite contemporary artists, Lani Woods, about a similar situation she was approached with (although I doubt hers was of a sexual nature). She was asked to work on a commissioned piece that was completely different from anything she had ever completed before, and though she balked at first, she decided to open her mind to new ideas and take on the challenge, gung-ho, which is so totally like her. It was awhile ago now, but I'm sure she said a bunch of other inspirational things, because she usually does. Through her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/laniartist), she motivates me daily with her beautiful work and her adventurous spirit, and so I thought to myself, "dammit, Lani-- I can paint this gay stallion". Also, I just can't keep letting her show me up. Her pieces are more colorful than mine, she is involved in more philanthropy than I am, she has a hairless cat, and she posts way cooler Instagrams than I do.

Therefore, I took the reins of the Gay Stallion, and I rode it through February, March, April, and May. I created lovers, a cityscape, and a rope on a chair. I immersed myself in the erotic side of gay culture, I hung photos of strapping gentlemen around my studio; I was the artist version of Daniel Day Lewis, full-throttle method actor. I learned what a "puppy cut" is, and I googled things like "man with nice butt bending over", "leather dog collar" and "strong-jawed man", often using my boyfriend's computer and probably disconcerting him from time to time, although he never approached me about it. I bombarded my Denver gays with painting updates and when we had parties at my apartment, we took our glasses of boxed wine into the studio to gaze upon the glory of The Stallion, and also realize its shortcomings and pick apart its faults. It became a forefront in my thoughts at all times, and many nights I twirled around in sweaty sheets over its failures and successes.

This piece has been my Everest.

Here it is, during it's grueling 5-month transformation: 

The outline of the original Gay Stallion. I had no idea 
what the $(#* I was doing. Yes, those are dick lamps.

 Here, as you can see, I've begun to add some shading
and the different "stallions" start taking shape. The customer 
requested that I change the face of the fella in front (which was 
strange, I admit) and make the lamps look less disgusting. 
He was so right.

Here we see that "different" does not necessarily mean 
"better". I've changed the face a bit, but look at those 
heavily-lidded eyes, duck lips, and that fat neanderthal jawline.
This is Frankenstein's flamboyant step-brother. Re-do.

Nope. Just... nope.

This is where I stopped for a bit. I thought, why can't I get that goddamned face right? I've painted people before, hell, I've SEEN people before with my own eyes, and nobody has duck lips like that, especially seductive gay stallions in paintings. I put the piece aside for a month, and I worked on a couple of others. I painted a spontaneous and colorful commissioned piece of The Badlands in a couple of hours, but I struggled for a good fifteen over just this stupid face, gesso-ing over it and trying to re-create it in a more attractive manner, and then starting all over again when I was not successful.

Then I got an email from the customer. He said what I should have realized all along-- this is a piece that belongs to both of us, but I'm the artist. He commissioned a piece from me, specifically, because he loves the freedom and the color and the spontaneity in my work, and this is about both his specific request and my artistic license. I took a weekend trip to San Francisco with two of my dearest friends in the world. We drank wine, shopped, walked up and down hills in cute clothes and saw the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the de Young Museum. I was re-inspired. The night I flew back into Denver, I sat down and re-painted that son-of-a-bitch.

 My style is not laborious. It is fresh and spontaneous and come-what-may, and thank you to the soon-to-be-owner of the piece for making me realize that is exactly what love and passion is, as well. They are not calculated or theoretical or even all that attractive sometimes, but what he desired in this piece was simply the expression of intense passion that exists in any relationship, gay or straight. I let my lines flow freely and I worried less about the end result than the process, allowing the brush to take its own path, the paints to drip freely, and connecting the figures as a symbolic gesture both of being a strong individual and also existing as part of a couple.

He loved it.

He wanted just a couple of things changed. We had discussed previously having a ring on the left raised hand of the guy in front, but he wasn't sure he wanted to do that because gay marriage is not yet legal in all 50 states. In the end, he decided that he liked the ring because he wanted it to symbolize not only raw animal (stallion?) passion and lust, but the deepest meaning of love and commitment, and how those emotions compliment and collide.

He also wanted the bare-assed gentleman to be wearing underwear (black or red). I chose black.

This was a study for me. This was a lesson in figures and faces and homoerotic fantasies. It was a contemplation in hard work, utilizing new ideas with old techniques, and the importance of passion in creating a piece of art and also in life. Since I was very young, I knew I loved to make art. Several years ago, I came to the conclusion that I was a legitimate artist. More recently than that, I recognized that art had become a way of life for me, not only as a hobby, but also as a way to make a living, and even more so in the way I eat and breathe, the way I ponder a smudge on a wall or consider the way light falls across a person's face. Finishing this piece made me realize that anything in life is possible- and even if I'm not always successful in my efforts, it never hurts to try.

I love author Tom Robbins, and in re-reading his novel Jitterbug Perfume for perhaps the fifth time, I came across a passage I high-lighted on a previous read, because it just made sense. It makes even more sense to me now:

"The gods have a great sense of humor, don't they? If you lack the iron and the fizz to take control of your own life, if you insist on leaving your fate to the gods, then the gods will repay your weakness by having a grin or two at your expense. Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don't be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked... The price of self-destiny is never cheap, and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought."

Dammit, I'm still not as inspirational as that Lani Woods. Love that girl.