Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Charles Demuth

Painter Charles Demuth (1883-1935) was one of the earliest American artists to expose his gay identity through forthright, positive depictions of homosexual desire. As a leader of the American Modernist movement, Demuth was best known as a pioneer of the precisionist style* and as a master watercolorist. Self portrait (1907) at right.

*an American idiom of cubism during the 1920s.

Raised in a well-off merchant family, Demuth had the financial freedom to pursue his artistic vision without regard for public opinion concerning aesthetics or sexuality. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he started painting when a childhood illness rendered him unable to walk. Charles studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where the realist tradition of former faculty member Thomas Eakins prevailed. Eakins was himself a painter of major works of homoerotic content.

In 1912, Charles began a relationship with Robert Locher, also from Lancaster, who was to become his life partner. After spending two years in Paris, the two men went to New York City, enjoying the bohemian lifestyle of Greenwich Village. They also embraced the summer artist colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Demuth associated with leftist writers and artists committed to sexual liberation.

Charles Demuth (on right) with Eugene O'Neill in Provincetown, MA, 1916:

A watercolor series titled Turkish Bath (1916-1918), inspired by Manhattan's Lafayette Baths, suggested incipient homosexual contact, depicting men's mostly nude bodies suggestively arranged together.

However, it was a later work, Distinguished Air (1930) that was met with a decidedly homophobic reaction. Interpreting Robert McAlmon's story of the same title, the painting portrayed a situation at an exhibition opening in which a male couple admires Constantin Brancusi's notoriously phallic sculpture, Princess X (at right), while a straight male gallery-goer admires the crotch of one of the gay men. BTW, Brancusi denied that his sculpture was homoerotic. He claimed that it depicted a woman head's head atop a long neck, glancing downward. Sure.

Several exhibitions refused to include Distinguished Air, and Demuth responded by creating overtly homoerotic watercolors of sailors disrobing and fondling themselves. These works constitute a display of courage and self-respect that would not soon be repeated by other gay artists; however, they did not become well known until about fifty years ofter his death.

Demuth was also known for literary illustrations, such as those for a series of books by Honoré de Balzac, as well as books by Emile Zola (Nana) and Henry James (The Turn of the Screw). These illustrations reflect Demuth's taste for psychological distortion and the depiction of sexual conflict and social decadence

Demuth died in 1935 in Lancaster of complications from diabetes. He bequeathed his watercolors to his partner Locher and his paintings to his friend and fellow artist Georgia O'Keeffe. In 1981 a museum opened in the artist’s former home and studio (below) in Lancaster, PA, at 120 E. King Street.

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1 comment:

  1. great posts.. catching up and still shaking myt head over Lunt/Fontanne...Rather than being horrified over the exposure of public idols, I am rather enjoying all the new club members. :>)!