Apr 26, 2014

Kristjan Raud: Male Nudity in Estonia

Kristjan Raud, the founder of Estonian art, memorialized the Estonian spirit through a series of paintings and drawings of nude, muscular men, leading one to wonder if he was gay.

Born in 1865, he studied art in St. Petersburg and Munich, then returned to Tallinn, where he became a schoolteacher.

When Estonia became independent in 1917, the 52-year old won a contest for the design of the new postage stamps with his drawing of a nude, muscular man sowing seeds, his bag extending outward as a phallic symbol (below).

The next year, he won the contest for the design of the new currency with a romantic picture of farmers and shepherds, and was commissioned to draw the new coat of arms.

From then on, Raud's career was established: he would promote Estonian culture for the rest of the world.  He produced a wide variety of paintings depicting traditional Estonian life, the villages, the landscapes, and the objects of every day life: costumes, tools, furniture.

Also busts and monuments devoted to important public figures, like wrestle Aleksander Aberg (top photo).  They, too, were often muscular and semi-nude.

Raud was particularly interested in Estonian folklore and mythology.  His various illustrations of the Estonian epic Kalevipoeg began the tradition of depicting the epic hero naked..

But even his non-patriotic art frequently depicts muscular, naked men, as in Inimene ja öö (Man of the Night).

Raud married late in life, and had three children.  He died in 1943, when people often lived and died without being aware of the existence of same-sex desire, in themselves or others. So there's no way to tell.

But his art is an inspiration, both to the Estonian people and to everyone mesmerized by male beauty.

See also: Lembit SarapuuKalevipoeg, Gay Epic Hero of Estonia and Yuri and I Cruise in Estonia.

Midsummer Night's Dream on Stage

You probably thought that only the ballet versions of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream featured significant beefcake or gay subtexts.

Not by a long shot.

The original play is rather subtle in its depictions of same-sex desire, but modern stage versions have no qualms with Lysander-Demetrius and Helena-Hermia pairings, or exploring the attraction between Puck and Oberon, as in this version staged at the Globe Theater (played by Matthew Tennyson and John Light).

Or this musical version staged in Santa Cruz, California, with Aldo Billingslea as Oberon and J. Todd Adams as a rather muscular Puck.

And costume managers must be happy: in modern stagings, Theseus, Lysander, Demetrius, and Oberon are usually cast with musclemen who don't own shirts. Here Tony Onwumere shows off his pecs as Oberon at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota.

Meanwhile Puck orchestrates the events, creating and eliminating desire, whether its object is male, female, male with ass's head, or shapeshifting androgynous being.  Sometimes his presentation is comical (the play is supposed to be funny, after all).  Left: Trevor Van Houten as a green-skinned, carrot-top Puck at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham,Washington).

But in spite of (or because of) the humor, Puck is always the Lord of Misrule, flamboyant, androgynous, magical, manipulative, demonstrating again and again what fools we mortals be.

See also: Midsummer Night's Dream: The Ballets, and Shakespeare, the Original Gay Playwright.

N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth: 3 Generations of Gay Art

N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), who incorporated male nudes into many of his children's book illustrations, was very conflicted about same-sex desire.

His youngest son Andrew (1917-2009), one of the most famous artists of the twentieth century, not so much.

Andrew is best known for Christina's World (1948), which depicts a young woman lying on a vast field, looking at a farmhouse in the distance, condemned by the isolation and misery of rural life (a theme similar to American Gothic, by gay regionalist Grant Wood).

He was a devotee of female beauty.  One of his favorite models was "Helga," a German woman who lived near the Wyeth farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.  But later in life, he occasionally devoted himself to the homoerotics of everyday life.

The Clearing (1979) depicts a similar rural world, but not with isolation and misery: a muscular, tanned, naked man, his long hair blowing in the wind, stands with arms akimbo, inviting us to join him.

Man and the Moon (1990) shows the nude backside of a muscular motorcyclist.

Andrew's son Jamie (born in 1946) is completely nonchalant about gay identity.  Although he has followed in his father's footsteps as a regionalist, depicting landscapes, houses, and farm animals, he has also painted nude and semi-nude beefcake icons such as artist Andy Warhol, bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger  (top photo) and dancer Rudolph Nureyev.

As well as a series of paintings of the wild men and boys of Monhegan Island, Maine, especially the teenage Orca Bates.

When he was researching a portrait of the late President in 1967, Jamie found himself returning again and again to John F. Kennedy's life-long friend Lem Billings.  He finally drew a man who was gay, or who at least understood the beauty of same-sex desire: "under the surface of the paint is a portrait of Lem Billings."

Apr 25, 2014

Kullervo: The Tormented Gay Youth of Finnish Myth

Growing up in a predominantly Scandinavian town, you learn a lot about Scandinavia -- Vikings, runestones, Ibsen, Hans Christian Anderson, Hamsun, Kierkegaard.  And especially the mythology.

I never liked the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic -- it's all about gods searching for wives.  But I was drawn to the figure of Kullervo.

He is born into tragedy, one of the last survivors of a clan killed by his uncle Untamo.

Sold to the god Ilmarin as a slave, he is approached by Ilmarin's wife, and when he rejects her, nearly murdered by a loaf of bread booby-trapped with stones.

He escapes, and while searching for his remaining family, accidentally seduces a girl who turns out to be his sister (in the Sibelius symphony, he rapes her).  She commits suicide.

His friend Kimmo goes insane.

Distraught, Kullervo vows vengeance on Untamo's clan, and uses a magic sword to kill them all.  But the sword also kills his the remnants of his own family.  Finally Kullervo uses it to kill himself.. 

The figure of Kullervo has been used to represent Finland's defiance of its Swedish and Russian overlords during its frequent quests for independence, as in Kullervon kirous or Kullervo's Curse (1899), by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

There are many copies, parodies, and homages.  Some demonstrate Kullervo's sexual potency and aversion to women.

Kalervo Palsa's 1983 painting shows Kullervo hanging from a tree, using his penis as a knife to carve the words maailma voimakkaiden kiertopalkinto: The world's reward for the strong.

Others see him as a gay youth tormented by the heterosexist mandate of his society, the seduction of his sister a blind attempt to maintain a heterosexual facade. In the Aulis Sallinen opera (1988), it is the insanity of Kimmo that causes Kullervo to plunge into death.

There have been many other versions of the story, including a play by Aleksis Kivi, author of Seven Brothers, a symphony by Sibelius, a ballet (starring Tuukka Piitulainen, top photo), operas, and films, including a 1977 Finnish movie with Erkki Saarela.

See also: The gay hero of the Estonian Kalevipoeg.

Apr 24, 2014

Las Brujas de Zugurramurdi: Two Spanish Screen Hunks Finally Kiss

One of the highlights of the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival last month was Las Brujas de Zugurramurdi (2013), released internationally as Witching and Bitching.  It's about two divorced men  José  and Tony (Hugo Silva, left, and Mario Casas), who are embroiled in financial trouble and custody battles due to their evil ex-wives.

Dressed as a soldier and Jesus Christ, they plan a daring robbery of one of those "We Buy Gold" shops.

 Josés son comes along (because it's visitation day), and they co-opt a taxi driven by Manuel (Jaime Ordonez), who has women trouble of his own.

The four men try to escape into France (so they can live in Disneyland).  Unfortunately, they have stolen a cache of cursed gold rings.

En route through Basque country, they run afoul of three witches, who want the power of the rings, and intend to eat them.  But first they torture the hapless thieves in various ways, such as forcing  José and Tony to kiss.

It sounds rather homophobic, but there's such a strong gay subtext between the two that you can interpret their revulsion as embarassment, as their hidden attraction comes to light.

Besides, there's a bona fide gay couple, and an "androgynous" boy.

Besides, Spanish audiences have been waiting for the two screen hunks to kiss for years.

Both actors are gay-friendly. Mario Casas played a gay character in the film Mentiras y Gordas (Sex, Party, and Lies, 2009), and has been interviewed by gay magazines (the words on his chest are "I shave with a razor.")

Appearing at Madrid's Gay Pride Festival and photographed dancing at gay clubs, Hugo Silva is widely assumed to be gay, but he hasn't made any public pronouncements.

Apr 23, 2014

Dr. Spock: The Kids Are All Right

Parents of the Baby Boomer generation were the first in history to be almost universally aware of the existence of gay and lesbian people, and almost universally terrified of their kids "turning out" gay.

The problems were:
1. No one knew what "caused" gay identity.  Too much affection from Mom?  Too little from Dad?  Male friendships?  Female friendships?  Friends of the wrong age? Spanking?   Incorrect toilet training? Breast feeding?

2. You couldn't talk about it.  Even saying the word "homosexual" might turn a kid gay.

Enter Dr. Benjamin Spock (1903-1998), a pediatrician who published a "common sense" approach to Baby and Child Care in 1946.

Gone was the second-guessing, the wondering, the psychoanalytic anxiety.

1. Children are resilient.  No one act is going to have a huge impact, positive or negative.
2. Trust your instincts.  If you feel like hugging your child, do it.  If your child is crying, find out what's wrong.
3. Children aren't little computers waiting to be programmed with a set of rules.  They're little human beings with their own goals, desires, interests, and activities.  Respect them.

He didn't mention gay identity by name in early editions, but he alleviated parental worries about gender atypical activities.  Lots of boys are quiet, emotional, and nurturing.  Lots of girls are big, bold, and brash.  Not a problem (translation: doesn't mean your kid is gay).

What a relief!  Every parent in America bought a copy.  The one on my parents' nightstand eventually fell apart from constant use.  An entire generation of kids were raised by parents trusting their instincts.

They became the youth counterculture, anti-War, pro-drug, fighting for civil rights, women's rights, and eventually gay rights.

Of course, Dr. Spock was blamed (along with Timothy Leary).

A hardcore liberal and vocal anti-War advocate, he didn't mind.

New editions appeared regularly, incorporating the latest research on child development.  By the 1980s, gay and lesbian youth were being acknowledged.

Dr. Spock died in 1998, but his laid-back, "trust your instincts" advice lives on.  His website has an article on "Different Families, Different Challenges," acknowledging the fact that many kids are growing up in same-sex households.

Not a problem.

Apr 22, 2014

The Midsummer Night's Dream Ballets

I love Shakespeare, the original gay poet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream is my favorite play. Fairy king Oberon fights with his wife over a boy that they both want -- can you get any more explicit?  Puck, the Lord of Misrule, fools around with four mortals, making them fall in and out of love at random.  Meanwhile, some tradesmen are putting on a play of their own, about Pyramis and Thisbe, ancient Greek lovers who had to communicate through a wall (and they cast the wall).

Besides, Puck is usually naked, and the other male dancers clad in Elizabethan tights, complete with codpieces (unless they are impressively endowed without one).

There are two ballet versions.  The 1962 A Midsummer Night's Dream, was choreographed by George Balanchine, with music by Felix Mendelsson.  It follows the basic plot for awhile, but then gets clogged down in a bizarre, heterosexist wedding dance.

The Dream (1964), choreographed by Frederick Ashton, discards the subplots to concentrate on Puck manipulating the love lives of fairies and mortals.  It's considerably more homoerotic, as Puck grabs and fiddles with the male cast members, most of whom aren't wearing much.

They end up in heteronormative pairs: "Jack shall have Jill, all shall be well."

But until that moment, it's a wild ride.

In case you were wondering, the Pucks are: Mathias Dingman, Kyle Slade, Valentino Zuchetti, Lucas Hall, and Ramon Moreno.

See also: Shakespeare, the Original Gay Poet; and Midsummer Night's Dream: the Stage Versions.

Apr 21, 2014

Amiri Baraka: From Gay to Homophobe in 20 Poems

I was depressed when I heard about the death of former New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Imamu Baraka (1934-2014).  More depressed when I found out what he'd been up to lately.

I first heard about him in my American literature classes in college, through two poems: 

 "Memories of Radio"
I had no idea who Lamont Cranston was, but I liked the phrases "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" and "love is an evil word."

"An Agony. As Now":
I am inside someone who hates me. I look out from his eyes.  Slits in the metal, for sun. Where my eyes sit turning...the hard flesh rubbed against me, a woman, a man, without shadow, or voice, or meaning.

Obviously a metaphor for a gay person trying to maintain a heterosexual facade.

He must be gay.  I figured he looked like this.

Then in West Hollywood, in a copy of The Male Muse: A Gay Anthology, by Ian Young, a poem by Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsburg, "Genocide."

Allen (right, with lover Peter Orlovsky) and Baraka (then Leroi Jones): "lay together, our legs wrapped & twined round, each other's bodies, soft cheeks together."

Allen asks, "What will happen to me Leroi?  I may perish for all this War in America."  They hold each other close, "his body firm and warm as we pressed our breasts together."

If the poem was based on a true experience, it didn't last.  In the 1960s, Baraka rejected his gay identity, and proclaimed that there were no gay black men, though sometimes white men tried to seduce them to drain their power.  Like Allen Ginsberg.

In 1964 he wrote and produced a play, The Toilet, about a white high school boy who writes a love letter to a black man, and is rewarded by a brutal beating.

That's what you deserve.

It got worse.  Much worse:

Roywilkins is an eternal faggot
His spirit is a faggot
his projection and image, this is
to say, that if i ever see roywilkins on the sidewalks, imonna
stick half my sandal up his ass

Baraka was overwhelmed by hatred of white people.  Kill them all.  Rape them first, then kill them.
And Jews.  They are responsible for 9/11.  They control the world market.  We need a new Holocaust.
And especially gays.  They are the most evil at all, dedicated to perverting and destroying the black man.  The word "faggot" appears over and over in his poems.

He died seething with hatred against whites, Jews, and especially gays.

Yet he remained friends with Allen Ginsberg, white, Jewish, and gay.  Didn't he realize that Ginsberg was one of those evil perverts dedicated to destroying the black man?

Or was he willing to make an exception?
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