Sunday, April 20, 2008

Caravaggio Rocks

I'm currently reading about the Italian Renaissance artist, Caravaggio. I've always admired the dramatic pictures that he made. He created emotional religious scenes, lusty classical themes of pagan gods and most of them included beautiful young men as featured subjects. I always put him in the same classical category as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, etc. As a matter of fact, he was almost a contemporary of those guys. Lived just slightly afterward. What I'm just beginning to learn is that he had a rock star personality that rivaled his artistic talent.

The painting featured here is obviously an interpretation of Bacchus. He has the toga, the grape leaves wreath on his head and the obligatory cluster of gapes in hand. All that's missing is the bloated, gluttonous physique. However, I personally prefer this younger more muscular figure. I've seen this painting in art history books, encyclopedias, the Internet, for years. But, until I recently read a biography of Caravaggio I didn't know the whole story. This painting is actually a self-portrait. The drunken Bacchus in this picture is the face of Caravaggio himself.

It seems that Caravaggio was a real wild man of the art world. He got into a lot of trouble during his lifetime. He was always drinking, feuding, and brawling. It was only due to the fact that he had influential patrons that respected his work that he was able to avoid a lifetime of prison. He did spend his share of time in jail. It seems that he was always pulling a knife on someone, throwing rocks at them, you name it. It sounds like he was the Russell Crowe or Naomi Campbell of the art world. It didn't help things that he was frequently intoxicated and sick from drink.

I regret that because of his undisciplined personal life that Caravaggio died way before his time. His painting career lasted only 15 years. But I've been so glad to hear that this guy was a "real" person. There is no way to force him into the idealized role of academic Renaissance artist. He was perhaps one of the most original, talented, and creative of his time. But, he was just a regular guy.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Man, The Myth, The Pseudonym

Last week I signed my latest painting with my pseudonym, "Gemini Art." Its the second or third piece I've attached that signature to. It was a surreal experience. Since the creation of this blog and the establishment of my web gallery I feel as if I've developed to distinct personas. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not admitting to any type of multiple personality or dissociative disorder. There's no pathology going on here. I just have two major parts of my life that are compartmentalized from each other. For the most part I have a mainstream, conservative, "bread & butter" career. But, for recreation and a very meaningful hobby I am an amateur artist, art critic, blog author and an increasingly openly gay man.
While I am dedicated to my daily professional career which I have enjoyed for almost 20 years now, it pigeon-holes me into being little more than a bureaucratic drone. I follow the rules, I enforce the rules and never breathe a whisper that might resemble self-expression or individuality. So, I guess Gemini Art has become my personae that represents everything that is "not that". (Read the works of Jung if you don't get the personae and archetypes I'm talking about.) As Gemini Art I can give my personal opinion freely. I can admire and appreciate beautiful artwork (and beautiful men) without fear of persecution. I can be imaginative and creative. As Gemini Art I experience that incredible lightness of being that I have observed in other gay people but had never experienced for myself.
I've questioned a few times if its "normal" or emotionally healthy to subdivide my life in this way. After long reflection I recalled that some of the most admired creative minds of our time have lived and worked under pseudonyms. The first that comes to mind is Samuel Clemmons who wrote under the name Mark Twain. A juvenile Ben Franklin had the audacity to write as a middle-aged woman named Silence Dogood. Even Stephen King has written under a pseudonym.
What can we learn from this? I believe that most creative or intellectual people use pseudonyms for two reasons. First, they use the name to protect themselves from persecution. Secondly, they use the pseudonym to hide a personal history that might not be as prestigious as their writings suggest. For instance, Clemmons wanted to be known for his literary work, not as an uneducated river boat pilot (he had great contempt for the public education system). Franklin knew that his scandalous words would get him in trouble as a teenage boy. As a puritanical and respectable widow of a minister, he was given more credibility.
Am I suggesting that by assuming a pseudonym I am hiding from persecution? In my profession and locale, YES! Am I suggesting that I'm hiding a less than adequate academic background? NO! My masters degree is just as good as the next guys, and most of my friends would probably say that, if anything, I'm too smart for my own good. Am I comparing myself to intellectual giants like Sam Clemmons or Ben Franklin? No, but I guarantee you that Gemini Art is a helluva lot more interesting than the other guy that lives in this skin.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

David Kawena Does Disney

It seems these days every major male celebrity, model and athlete has to promote himself with the obligatory “fashion photo shoot”. You know who I’m talking about, David Beckham, Ben Affleck, Ashton Kutcher, Mark Wahlberg, etc. The list goes on and on. They spend more time on the cover of GQ than they do on the movie set. It’s not enough that an actor can act. He now has to market himself in some Abercrombie-esque fashion because that’s what appeals to the demographic that goes to movies, i.e. the adolescent teen/young adult population (and gay men). Not that I’m complaining. You know the type of photo I’m talking about. It’s real “artsy”. The photo is usually in black and white or sepia toned with dramatic high contrast lighting. The model is almost always styled in a manner to emphasize his “physical fitness” wearing little more than accessory items. Apparently, even the leading men of Disney’s animated features have gotten into this new A-list actor fad.

I recently saw the latest Walt Disney animated feature, oops I mean romantic comedy, Enchanted. As usual it was amazing. It has great music, a fun story and was a real visual fantasy. While I watched the handsome Patrick Dempsey and the very pretty James Marsden, it reminded me of just how adorable Disney’s leading men are. They come from a long tradition of perfect princes such as Eric in Mermaid, Philip in Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin the Prince of Thieves and even Tarzan King of the Apes. I laughed at myself when thinking about how attractive I thought each of those characters is.

While I was thinking about it I began to realize that the first crush of every young gay guy is probably one of those charming Disney cartoon men. I mean, we feed that stuff to our children as if its American mythology. In a perfect world we want our lives to turn out the way a Disney plot concludes, right? The Disney heroes are beyond perfect. They’re strong, brave, handsome, kind. You can always depend on the guy to come charging to the rescue no matter what. What’s not to like?

For young gay guys who are just starting to feel that they are a little different (yes, it does feel different even in grade school) the Disney hero is a safe first crush. It’s safe because he’s not real. It can be explained away as fantasy, hero-worship, love of Disney cartoons, whatever. The Disney world is so welcoming to young gay kids. When real boys are being mean to the gay kid and calling him names, the Disney fantasy world is so much more appealing. The gay community has a lot to thank Walt Disney for.

So, it’s not surprising that when three worlds collide, the Disney world, the art world, and the gay world, a new and interesting creation is born. I’m leading up to an introduction and explanation of an artist I recently discovered. David Kawena is an artist/illustrator working in Israel. I had been searching blogs and links related to the Enchanted movie and found a link to him. He had written briefly about the movie and segued into a discussion of his admiration of other Disney heroes and his interpretation of them.

I was fascinated that Kawena is located in Israel. I sent him a note asking about what it was like to be a gay artist working the Middle East. I’ve always considered that to be such a religiously and culturally volatile part of the world that it would be dangerous to be a gay artist there. Kawena responded,

“Actually being (a) gay artist, or straight artists who deals with ‘gay’ issues
is pretty much a cool thing to be in Israel! Israel is very open minded and very
narrow minded too - it's (a) mix of a place. We have a lot openly gay artists
here, most of them are on prime time television - actors, fashion designers -
and many singers who are openly gay are at the top of the national charts all
the time. I do most of my work outside of Israel, but that's a different
subject. I could very well be categorized as a straight artist who dose gay
work, or vise versa... You know?!”

As you can see, Kawena’s work is primarily digital media. While the Disney Heroes pieces are a somewhat cheeky pin-up spin on these fairytale characters, I found other pieces of great sophistication. His digital rendering of the late Heath Ledger is breathtaking. So, for those of you art snobs out there that might “poo-poo” the digital media I ask you to reconsider when looking at this work. I certainly couldn’t do any better job with this portrait in watercolor, pastel, acrylic, oil, or finger-paints.

I hope you enjoyed the work of David Kawena. Leave a comment if you did.