Jun 7, 2017

PaJaMa: The Gay Painter-Lovers of 1940s Fire Island

Back before we started acting like heterosexuals, organizing our love lives in monogamous same-sex, same-age pairs, gay men established all sorts of curious and creative "adhesive friendships": trios, groups, lovers far older or younger, women who were their platonic pals or benefactors.

In the 1930s and 1940s, a domestic-erotic collective of artists lived in the gay capitals of Provincetown, Fire Island, and Hartland, Vermont:

Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)
His young lover George Tooker (1920-2011)
His ex-lover Jared French (1905-1988)
Jared's boyfriend Jose Martinez.
And Jared's wife Margaret Hoening (1889-1973).

Their group was called PaJaMa: Paul, Jared, and either Margaret or Martinez, depending on who you ask (George was left out, since no one wanted PaJaMaGe).

They all used the medium of egg tempura, which gave their work a shimmering, otherworldly effect, enhanced by their use of surrealist images and symbols.  And beefcake, of course.

The Double (Jared French) shows a man and a woman gazing at the pale, muscular figure as he walks out of the surf like a newborn god.

Murder (Jared French, 1942) shows a murderer with bloody hands and a mask-like face standing proudly over his victim, while men argue for and against his case.

What I Believe (Paul Cadmus, 1947-48) shows a new world of people building, creating, reading, and lying in each other's arms, gay men, lesbians, and heterosexuals working together, while the old, dying world (not shown) devolves into an orgy of intolerance and hate.

Sleepers (George Tooker, 1951) shows three men sleep on the desolate beach of the subconscious.  The third lies on his purple cloak, looking up, bemused by the images he sees in his dream.

George Tooker painted many Windows, with men staring out, sometimes with male lovers, sometimes with wives, sometimes alone.  In Windows XI, painted in 1999, near the end of his life, Tooker's youthful self looks back at the artist, satisfied with the pleasures he's known, awed with the wonder of it all.

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