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BRENDON CONNERS Harman and Tobias, 2008 Oil and acrylic on canvas 36 x 48"

IMAGINARY PORTRAITS: Gay Lovers in History

Nov 18 - Dec 20, 2008

Imaginary Portraits: Gay Lovers in History
by Jay Boda
From The ARCHIVE: Issue 29

The exhibition Imaginary Portraits: Gay Lovers in History is the brainchild of the inestimable Charles W. Leslie, the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation. Several years ago, he was inspired by the recently documented story of Harman and Tobias, gay lovers in New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony now known as Manhattan in the American historian, Russel Shorto’s marvelous book The Island at the Center of the World. Harman was a brilliant and lusty Dutch adventurer, and Tobias was his black manservant. In 1647, they were caught in flagrante by the vigilant and vengeful authorities of the day. Tobias disappeared off the face of the earth; Harman tried to escape but, with his pursuers close behind, fell through the winter ice to a watery grave. Leslie wondered how artists would capture their visual appearances and lives, and he pondered all the other gay lovers throughout history whose faces were unknown and stories suppressed. He sent out a challenge to artists to submit artwork to discover and make known their heritage. Their overwhelming response was presented at the gallery, November 19–December 20, 2008.

Brendon Connors has painted Harman and Tobias in a landscape, innocently swimming surrounded by farm animals, at the moment of their expulsion from the peaceable kingdom of their love. Anthony Gonzales lyrically shows the lovers in a tender moment of affection made more poignant by Michael Kirwan’s violent vision of the lovers being literally torn asunder by the grotesque keepers of morality. The graphic quality of this dense composition is heightened by the void in the center, a reflection on the sense of loss by the lovers. Lage Carlson brings the lovers Harmon and Tobias to life with a lusty 20˝ x 20˝ color photograph complete with images of Harman’s adventures—a nautilus and a map of Africa.

Chuck Hettinger depicts The Great Blondin, the first man to walk on a tightrope over Niagara Falls. Blondin often wore flamboyant costumes in his escapades and sometimes carried his manager on his shoulders. Here Blondin and his manager are stripped bare to display their love unabashedly. In Walt Whitman and Calamus, Tommy Allen uses photography to render the poet pensively sitting under a tree at the moment he is inspired to write the Calamus poems to celebrate the love between men. Ocean Morisset also uses photography in Azande Lovers to depict two magnificent warriors from the Azande tribe from central Africa bravely displaying their love.

In all 24 pairs of lovers from the Pharaoh Akhenaton and Prince Smenkhkare to Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West are on view by the following artists: Frank Barrett, Keith Batten, Lage Carlson, James Childs, David Crocker, Patrick DeCoste, Miguel Angel Figueroa, Marco Finn, Steven Frim, Mark Frossard, Joe Giordano, Duncan Grant, Elizabeth Josephson, Josef Kozak, Kelley Gabriel Lee, David Livingston, Frank Louis, Daniel Malisky, Sonia Melara, Greg Mitchell and Ken Graziano, Vivian O’Shaughnessy, Natasha Pogrebinsky, Michael Rogovsky, Carrimine Santaniello, Samir Sobhy, Gary J. Speziale, David Russel Talbott, Jiro Ueno, and Branden Wallace.

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