“Art is art. Everything else is everything else.”
– Ad Reinhardt, Artist
Art is probably the most personal yet abstract form of self-expression that exists out there. Whatever the medium be – words, colours or chords, an artist’s creation originates from the very core of the person’s existence.
For the artists, their art is everything they essentially are, everything they want to say, everything they want to leave behind in this world. For as long as there has been civilization, creating art has been a primary tendency for all human beings.
From cave paintings to scriptures to revolutionary poems to modern photography, artists have embraced their inner creativity to explore and express anything and everything.
So why should the LGBT community be left behind? They have had their share of contributions to art – for their own community as well as the society at large. LGBT artists have forever challenged stereotypical perceptions of gender and sexuality, and broke paths with their work while at it.
Here are 5 LGBT artists whose creations inspired the world.
- FRIDA KAHLO (MEXICO, 1907-1954)
Frida Kahlo, the most famous bisexual painter of Mexico and one of the most revered ones in the world for her exquisite portrayals of femininity. Born and brought up in Mexico City, Frida contracted polio at the age of 6 which left her bedridden for almost a year, and then later she was injured in a bus accident which caused her suffering for the entirety of her life.
But she took this as an opportunity to discover herself, and her numerous self-portraits reflect the pain and struggle but also her strength and resilience. Even though she was married to painter Diego Rivera whom she met at the prestigious National Preparatory School, both of them had their own set of affairs. She had affairs with both men and women including her husband’s mistresses, actors and renowned painter Georgia O’Keefe. Her painting Two Nudes in a Forest (1939) clearly shows her attraction and love of women. She also had an affinity towards cross-dressing. As a surrealist painter and a feminist icon, she inspired generations of artists with her work.
- DAVID HOCKNEY (UK, 1937 -)
David Hockney is an English painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer. An important contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960’s, he is considered one of the most influential and relevant British artists of the 20th century. His art, created with a harmonious combination of cubism and a cartoonish flare has remained popular for over three decades.
Hockney is openly gay and he openly explored the nature of gay love in his portraiture. In his work We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961), named after a poem by yet another homo-erotic poet, Walt Whitman, the subject-theme itself refers to his love for men. In 1963, he painted two men together in the painting Domestic Scene, Los Angeles, where one is showering while the other is washing his back.
- REINALDO ARENAS (CUBA-USA, 1943-1990)
Born and schooled in Cuba, Reinaldo Arenas was a Cuban poet, novelist, and playwright. In the beginning, he supported the regime of Fidel Castro and his movement of 1959, but later in 1974, he was imprisoned after being charged and convicted of “ideological deviation” for his openly gay lifestyle. He tried to escape and failed and was then placed in the notorious El Morro Castle alongside violent rapists and murderers, where he helped other inmates write love-letters home.
After escaping to the United States in 1980, he wrote about his experiences in Cuba, producing poetry that was true, honest, revolutionary and largely autobiographical. He contracted AIDS in 1987 and eventually committed suicide in 1990. He dedicated his life towards voicing the oppression Cubans experienced, and in his last note, he said:
“Due to my delicate state of health and to the terrible depression that causes me not to be able to continue writing and struggling for the freedom of Cuba, I am ending my life… I want to encourage the Cuban people abroad as well as on the Island to continue fighting for freedom… Cuba will be free. I already am.”
In 2012 Arenas was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people
- ALVIN BALTROP (USA, 1948-2004)
At the age of 26, Alvin Baltrop began photographing Manhattan’s West Side Hudson River piers, an area of refuge for queer teenage runaways as well as a stage for the city’s underground gay scene. He was a well-known face there, and the young boys and men often confided in him about their personal lives. Coming out very early in his life, his captured frames reflect the gay community of backstreet New York as a culture in itself.
Exploited by mainstream art world and taken over by cancer, his work did not gain much acclaim when he was still alive. But later various articles by art-enthusiasts rekindled people’s interest in his pictures. The thousands of images captured by Baltrop between 1975 and 1986 stand as remnants of a New York City community rarely captured before or after.
- DRUCKER AND ERNST (USA)
Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst are two transgender artists who have documented special and intimate moments of their romantic relationship and gender transitioning for six years from 2008 to 2014, through a photo series entitled “Relationship.” Zackary is a trans-woman and Rhys is a trans-man and both were transitioning in the same period when they embarked on this project.
The photo series is like a day to day private conversation between two people in a relationship or a personal book album preserved in any relationship. But those have been shared with the public at large to break the barriers of gender and sexuality. Though the two are no longer a couple, they continue to collaborate on a number of projects. Notably, they are Co-Producers of the Amazon television series Transparent, and Creators of the Emmy-nominated docu-series This Is Me.
“I think the relationship was the most important story for us when we saw the pictures. It’s the same way we approach trans-ness in a lot of our storytelling as well: it’s there but it doesn’t have to be the thing that’s hitting you over the head.” – Rhys Ernst