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In the Pink

An open letter from the Triangle's most notorious gay artist


Years ago while traveling in Prague, shortly after the Soviets had vacated the city as Communist rule crumbled, I was asked by some friends if I would like to see its newest monument. With enthusiasm I accepted the offer and was driven through the ancient town with its glorious architecture and lovely public sculpture. As we rounded the corner to the square, we couldn't help but be startled by the sight before us, glowing hot pink in the afternoon sun. A Russian tank, symbol of occupation and oppression, had been commandeered by the populace of Prague and painted a hue that would make any general cringe in his jackboots.

A true act of liberation and defiance, the war machine had been turned by the people into a symbol of hope, a symbol of survival, a testament to optimism. Children squealed with delight when they saw it, and couples posed for photographs in its fuschia shadows. There before me was a testament to the fact that we all need to paint more things pink in our lives, to repossess the tools of hatred and turn them into objects of joy.

I am an artist. I am also gay, but these facts are mutually exclusive in my mind. A blonde one day, a brunette the next, I may wear a linen suit to lunch and gold pleather pants to dinner, but it is the artist in me that is wild, not my sexuality. Being an artist presents a myriad of possibilities in my life and allows me a great deal of freedom. Being gay is just one of the components of my personality. I have a great friend named Matt Cooper who is an African-American artist. I do not think of him as being a "black artist," but just as an artist who happens to be black (and a very talented one at that). I hope that he feels the same way about me and my sexuality, but the issue never comes up, nor should it. Frankly, gallery directors only care about one color, and that's green. I could be spotted like a leopard, but as long as my paintings sold, I would have no problem exhibiting.

It is not uncommon for museums to stage exhibitions devoted to a group of artists, whether they be black, Jewish, feminist, or Hispanic. Imagine for a moment a fine museum producing a blockbuster show of gay artists together at one time. On one wall a series of portraits by Andy Warhol glow with pop intensity. Beside them, David Hockney's swimmers lounge by the pool. Across the hall, Michelangelo's "Pieta" contemplates sketches by Leonardo da Vinci and the target paintings of Jasper Johns. Your eye wanders: Everywhere are rooms filled with works by Rauschenburg, Gilbert and George, Keith Haring, Erte, Braque, Robert Indiana, Robert Mapplethorpe, Aubrey Beardsley and Jean Cocteau. Will we ever see a show like this in our immediate future? Don't hold your breath, as it would be a controversial show that might scare away benefactors and patrons of a more conservative bent. It's sad but true. How many young people walk through our museums today, unaware of the major contributions of gay artists?

Even so, we live in good times, and perhaps it's time to take stock of our advances. A century ago, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for his purple velvet gayness and subsequent defiance in the face of powers that be (they would have burned me at the stake!). Discrimination will always be with us, but from what I can see, we are on a path headed toward a bright future, paved with pink stones and pink triangles once thrown at us in ignorance and anger. So tonight we should all pop the cork on a bottle of pink champagne and make a toast to a color which we have taken to heart and made our own. EndBlock

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