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.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Harold Stevenson

Openly gay artist Harold Stevenson Jr as born in 1929 in Idabel, southeastern Oklahoma near the Texas border, where he decided to be a painter while still in the second grade. At age ten he opened a painting studio right in the middle of town, painting portraits (and selling them). Even while later living abroad, he maintained an  address in Idabel, where he lives today in a log cabin just outside of town. The artist incorporated his own hometown history into his painting when he created one hundred portraits of residents of Idabel for The Great Society (1967–68). Recently Stevenson sold his estate in the Hamptons and returned to reside in Idabel, where he still works.

Mitchell Algus, Harold’s gallery representative since 1992, recalls asking Stevenson if he was teased for being gay while a schoolboy. Harold replied, “Honey, I owned that school.” Stevenson’s longtime partner was Lloyd Tugwell, a Choctaw art teacher who died in 2005 after a fall down the stairs at their Hamptons home. He is buried in the Stevenson family plot in Idabel.

In 1949 Stevenson moved to New York to pursue a career in art and almost immediately became the darling of international high society – Stravinsky, Cole Porter, Elizabeth Arden, Tennessee Williams, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Truman Capote, Kitty Carlisle, Gloria Swanson, Christian Dior, Salvador Dali and the like. He was part of the avant-garde movement and befriended Andy Warhol, who would make Stevenson the subject of Warhol’s first film, Harold, and would include him in the pop artist’s video Heat (1972).

In 1959, Stevenson relocated to Europe, where he resided in France and Italy and exhibited regularly in galleries for nearly twenty years. During a career of nearly seven decades, the nude male figure always dominated his works, but the artist’s most iconic works were products of the 1960s.

The New Adam (1962)
Painting by Harold Stevenson Jr.; Model, actor Sal Mineo (1939-1976)

In early 1963 visitors to the Galerie Iris Clert, Paris, were hardly prepared for the painting that greeted them, a colossal 8-foot-tall by 39-foot-long male nude, precisely and sensually rendered in full anatomical detail. In Paris (and later in New York, Chicago, and L.A.), the work was greeted with “shock,” recalls self-taught Harold Stevenson, who conceived The New Adam as an homage to his lover, Lord Timothy Willoughby d’Eresby – although he used the actor Sal Mineo as his model. In an interview, Harold said of Mineo, “He was a sweetheart person, and kind of stupid.” Lord Willoughby (1936-1963), who was the grandson of Lady Astor, went missing at sea with his crew in 1963 on the way to Corsica, shortly after Stevenson had painted a portrait of him in 25 pieces, displayed in Paris in 1962. Stevenson had been invited along for the sailing, but declined.

Spread over nine linen panels and initially installed as a three-wall wraparound, The New Adam presented a vast, seemingly unbounded ocean of flesh. This work engaged a much older tradition in art, recalling countless female odalisques, as well as Michelangelo’s iconic image of Adam, whose pointing gesture Stevenson redirects inward, toward the body. Over 40 years later, the Guggenheim Museum New York was honored through an anonymous gift to have this landmark of art history join its permanent collection in 2005, but it has not been displayed since 2006.

Eye of Lightning Billy (1962), Stevenson’s large-scale painting of the close-up of a human eye, was included in the pivotal exhibition The New Realists (1962), which also featured artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana and many others. The following year, Stevenson exhibited a 48-foot-high painting of the matador El Cordobas at the Eiffel Tower. In the 1980s, while living in Key West, he incorporated references to Greco-Roman and Egyptian archetypes into his works. In the last decade, Stevenson has focused on sensuous paintings of the young model Christopher John.

Sources: Ron Clark and Ted Mann

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