7" x 5"
7" x 5"
(Douglas of Detroit)
Neel Bate Photograph
10" x 8"
Neel Bate aka "Blade"
Carlyle Kneeland Bate
or Carl Neeland
November 29, 1916 - June 27, 1989
Born during World War I [November 29, 1916], Mr. Bate grew up in Seattle, Washington where he had begun to draw even before school age. In grade school he began to draw his young peers into his (as well as their own) sexual fantasies. It seemed completely natural to him to picture all the discoveries he and his friends were making about themselves and about each other as natural to Neel, in fact, as making the discoveries. He eventually won a scholarship to study under Mark Tobey, then later, another to the celebrated Cornish School where music, dance and drama were required as part of the art course. Martha Graham was the dance teacher and Neel's first stage set was almost as much of a thrill to him as his first academic life class. The double disaster of the Great Depression and a family crisis made dropping out of art school a necessity. Jobs were desperately scarce so Neel hitchhiked to California where, amazingly, he found work requiring his drawing talent. Night school classes became a habit continuing into the1980's. During World War II the artist served with the wartime Merchant Marine (an experience which inspired a substantial output of erotic drawings) and, in 1945, moved to New York City.
The reproductions of the "DIRTY PICTURES" in the albums displayed in the 1980 show at the Leslie-Lohman Gallery dated back to 1947. Others pre-dating these images were unfortunately destroyed during the early 40's.
The famous series entitled "THE BARN" 1947/48 (displayed on the next page) was spread through the country and beyond when the only photo-copies of it were confiscated by the New York City Police Department in the arrest of a man (during a raid on his apartment) who had hoped to sell them. Such raids on the homes of gay men were a commonplace of the period.
New York City's "Finest" apparently knew a good thing when they saw it — because soon after the pictures had been carted off to the police depository, photo-sets of the twelve images started doing a brisk, underground business on the streets of New York. From there on, traffic in the pictures burgeoned and over the years small fortunes changed hands. Endless re-photographing of 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation prints resulted in ever-fuzzier images but the trade nevertheless persisted energetically well into the 1960's. Mr. Bate, of course, never realized a penny from the voluminous traffic in his erotic visions. He could not exactly complain to the police. The artist did not, however, lose the images entirely. His good friend, George Platt Lynes, had painstakingly recorded all of Neel's drawings before various disasters befell them and fortunately LLGAF now owns those perfectly produced negatives. It is these Platt Lynes negatives that were the basis for the reproductions of Mr. Bate's work in, The Barn, 1948, and other "Dirty "Pictures" by Blade. The book, co-published by The Leslie-Lohman Gallery and The Stompers Gallery is still available at the Foundation.
In 1957 a second depredation was visited on Neel. The bulk of his collection of original works was stolen at gunpoint. That is why the earliest, still extant originals date from no earlier than the mid-50's. During the 40's and 50's the mere possession of gay erotica was a crime and collectors often called each other, jittery in the middle of the night, afraid they were about to be raided. The artist could not even report an armed robbery to the police because of the nature of the loot. That did not, however, stop his out-pouring of work. A neighbor (who walked in on the robbery and was detained along with Neel while the thug's confederate ransacked the apartment for every scrap of a sketch) had something of a nervous breakdown afterward. Neel was busy that evening, drawing as usual.
The closet most gay men were in at that time was something of a refuge, and Neel, along with his art, withdrew into it somewhat; but only temporarily. The 60's, of course, changed everything and Neel started to sell privately to friends. BLADE was the name he adopted when, in the mid-70's, he finally decided to let his erotic drawings be published and shown publicly. Subsequently he discovered a cache of early pencil drawings on typewriter paper (late 50's/early 60's) many of which were shown in the 1980 exhibit. Apart from being fascinating works of art, they are artifacts of the modern history of gay sexual imagery.
Neel Bate continued to produce work well into the 1980's. He was, however, a heavy smoker and died of emphysema on June 27, 1989, shortly after the advent of AIDS.
~ Charles Leslie
The Barn 1948 and More Dirty Pictures by Blade. Neel Bate aka Blade. Published by Stompers and the Leslie-Lohman Gallery. 1980, 30 pages. ISBN 0-938052-00-4. A series of explicit homoerotic short stories written and illustrated by Blade with two photos of Blade and a brief biography of Blade.
Blueboy. December 1997: Neel Bate, aka "Blade" (Permanent Collection)
Pictures and Passions A history of homosexuality in the visual arts. James M. Saslow. 1999. Viking, NYC. ISBN: 0-670-85953-2. 342 pp. with illustrations. LLGAF is represented in this important book with several quotes by Charles Leslie and a reproduction of a Neel Bate drawing from LLGAF's permanent collection
Blade: Dirty Pictures. Torso magazine. Oct. 1980. Includes one reproduction.
Additional reading on Blade:
The Archive: No. 14: Autumn 2005
The Archive: No. 14: Autumn 2005