Falkon, Felix Leon and Waugh, Thomas, “Gay Art; A Historic Collection”. Arsenal Pulp Press. 2006.
One of the nicest gifts I received this holiday season came from Arsenal Pulp Press. It is a revised edition of the classic 1972 “Gay Art: A Historic Collection”. What a beautiful book of erotica!
The original book came into being during the heyday of the gay liberation movement and that time erotica was one of the ways we had to express ourselves and even though some of you may find some of the art to be quite shocking, it was one way for us to say that we are ere and not going away. The sexuality of the art contained in this book is bold and, yes, sometimes, raw but that it is how it hade to be. We had a political statement to make and it was done through the artists of the time.
Included are erotic drawings and other artwork dating back to the ancient world to America of the 1970s. Much of the work is anonymous but there are names we all recognize as well—Tom of Finland, Etienne and Beardsley. The artwork is explained in narrative that gives us the historical context which explains the dissemination f the work as well as the production. Included as well is a wonderful introduction by one of the men who edited the original edition of the book, Earl Kemp. He tells what it was like to bring out a book like this at a time when it was somewhat dangerous to do so. Gay sexuality was then spoken about only in whispers and our political clout was not much more than nil. Likewise there is a discussion of how much times have changed.
Of course with a book like this, we must decide how to define erotic and the issue of censorship. Much of the art depicted here was only available “under the table” and through secret clandestine meetings. Yet even with that, this art remains an important part of our history and especially the history of gay liberation.
In the 1970s, porn was considered to be dangerous and it was not openly discussed. However, it is obvious from the body of work included in this volume that someone was thinking a bout it. Many of the pieces included are still somewhat brazen and the sado-maschochistic subculture is heavily represented by the artists.
The vale to examining this aspect of art is to show not only how far we have come but how suppressed we were. Art has always shown the nature and the mood of the people and the morals of society. Creative art tells us as much about the society that it portrays as it does about the morals of that community. Obviously, from what is presented here, there was an undercurrent of gay life from the beginning of time (as we are well aware of now). Te art here contains portrayals of human sexuality in all of its forms. There have been portrayals of homosexual art since the beginning of time and through art was one of the only ways we could show who we are. Some may find this art offensive but art again is interpreted by the eye of the beholder and it is important that we be allowed to make the decision for ourselves. Gay art has always been suppressed—perhaps because of its eroticism. “Gay Art” is important because it gives an insight into the history of art. We have always contributed to the artistic movement and it is due time that our contributions be recognized.
The book, above everything else it provides, gives us a chance to see art that was held secret for so long. We now have the chance to share in the emotions of the artists as we have a peek into the wide realm of gay art. It is the purpose of art to “edify and stimulate.” This wonderful book does both. Once the initial shock of seeing highly erotic wears off you will be glad that you have ad a chance to see what has been hidden for so long.