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.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Emilio Baz Viaud

Self-Portrait (1935)
Watercolor and dry brush on cardboard, 36" x 24"

This delicate but arresting self-portrait was painted when Mexican artist Emilio Baz Viaud (1918-1991) was just seventeen, three years before he entered the Academy of San Carlos. Whatever precocious talent he may have had as a child, it was apparently refined while watching his older gay brother Ben-Hur Baz Viaud at work on his own precisionist drawings. Ben-Hur, twelve years his senior, had also studied at the Academy before moving to New York in 1926, where he established himself as a successful commercial illustrator.

Emilio traveled several times to visit his brother, and it likely that he painted this work on one of those trips. Unlike his later self portrait (1941), shown below, this one from 1935 lacks any overt references to Mexico. Indeed, Emilio’s teenage image is closely related to a self-portrait by Ben-Hur, holding a brush at his easel, painted in the same year. In Emilio’s 1935 self portrait he wears a white shirt so simple that the buttons remain concealed; his hair is meticulously creamed and combed, and his young skin flawless. He holds a green pencil in his right hand and grips his elbow with the left, forming a stiff right angle that locks the lower half of the composition in place. The young artist strives for absolute elegance, perhaps hoping to prove a sense of sophistication beyond his years.


By comparison, the later self portrait casts aside delicacy, portraying a man with hyper-masculine, movie star good looks – bronzed and healthy. With pencil in hand and an almost hidden sheet of paper under his left elbow, Emilio is seated in front of his work table, ready to begin. Proportions and perspective are deliberately distorted, lending a slight surrealistic accent to the portrait.

These two self portraits, dated just six years apart, provide a telling window into the artist’s psyche. Unfortunately, Emilio Baz Viaud was little known, even in his native Mexico. It was not until late in his life that his work was reassessed and appreciated by a larger audience.

Born in Mexico City, Emilio first studied architecture. He was later taught painting by Manuel Rodríguez Lozano (1896-1971), a mentor who was also an openly homosexual artist. Emilio did not have his first exhibition until 1951, although his works were displayed alongside such eminent artists as Siqueiros and Diego Rivera.

Influenced by the Magic Realism movement, Emilio’s meticulous technique of applying oil paint to dry surfaces was praised by colleagues and critics, who unanimously compared his work to Renaissance artists such as Dürer and Boticelli.

For a short time in the 1970s Emilio Baz Viaud dabbled in abstract painting, but his legacy comes from his work realized prior to 1955, especially his portraits.

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