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.

1 comment:

Chaice said...

This is an amazing post on David Kawena, and the gay community.
As a gay teen, this really related to me in every way,
and although I have swooned over David's work veryvery prior to reading this, I have to admit that i'm still addicted to his works.
The Disney Heroes being one of my favorite of his, of course.
Thank you for this original, and amazingly detailed entry.