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.

Trauma, Terror, and Beefcake of Junior High Shop Class

I read somewhere that the number of shop classes in elementary and high schools has dropped 75% during the last 20 years.

This is a cause for celebration.  Shop class was the biggest trauma of junior high.

Washington Junior High was segregated by gender.  All girls had to take home economics, to prepare them for their future as housewives, and all boys had to take woodshop, to prepare them for their future as...um...carpenters?

It was horrible.  The "teacher," Mr. Worse Than Hitler, was the nastiest, meanest, most despicable martinet who ever lived.  You tried to be as quiet and inobtrusive as possible: if he noticed you, he would criticize you, call you stupid, berate you for having a "smart mouth."  And God forbid those times he walked around the class.

Head down, hands at your side, no eye contact.

Like being in prison.  No, worse.

And what, exactly, did Mr. Worse Than Hitler teach?

If I taught a shop class, I would start off by explaining what the various tools were called and what they were used for.  Maybe some safety tips.

Then the types of wood, what each was used for.

Demonstrate some simple projects.

Explain how this stuff would be useful to us in the future.

Nope -- he just let us loose: "The tools are over there -- the wood is over there.  Go to it."

I had no idea what to do, and I didn't dare ask Mr. Worse Than Hitler.  He would glare at me, call me stupid, or give me detention for having a "smart mouth."

Finally I figured it out -- I was already supposed to know all about working with tools.  All boys were.  It was part of our DNA.

Claiming ignorance about something that was innate?  You might as well claim that you didn't like sports, or girls.

There were no tests, quizzes, or graded projects.  But still, I got a D- for the semester.

Plus detention four times.
1. Not keeping my eyes lowered when Mr. Worse Than Hitler walked by.
2. Hammering a nail wrong.
3.-4.  Just because he felt like it.

But there was a bright side.

Washington Junior High was also segregated by social class.  Middle class kids, got college-preparatory science, math, English, and foreign languages.

Working class kids were channeled into remedial English, bonehead science, and "business math."

The only time we saw each other was in the classes required for everyone: gym, woodshop, and metal shop.

Wild, surly boys from the "wrong side" of 18th Avenue, wearing tight jeans and shirts with three buttons unbuttoned, smelling of their older brothers' cologne.

Italians and Greeks with thick biceps and big hands and dark slick-backed hair.

The only black kid at Washington, tall, lithe, with an enormous Afro that he combed constantly.

Catholic boys, future priests wearing scapulars.  

Hints of transgression, lawbreaking, sexual profligacy.

It was almost worth the daily trauma of Mr. Worse Than Hitler.

But I still run fast in the opposite direction whenever I am asked to do something involving hammers, nails, or screwdrivers.

See also: What is Gym Class For?

Jun 6, 2017

Four Bacon Beefcake Artists

John Bacon (1740-1799) was a British sculptor, one of the first to work in marble.  He infused his public art with an appreciation of male beauty.  Like this "Father Thames," a beefy sea god.

His son, John Bacon Jr. (1777-1859), continued in his father's artistic tradition.   This is his monument to Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore (1761-1809).

John Henry Bacon (1868-1914) was an illustrator and portraitist.  Here he illustrates the story of Beowulf.  If you overlook the guy with his arm torn off, there are some nicely drawn nude male physiques.

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), who was gay, was interested in grotesque permutations of the human form, as in "Aperture 2."

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