To celebrate Pride month, we spoke with our fantastic community of artists about LGBTQIA issues and how sexual identity influences their art
“Throughout human history, art has been a shelter and an understanding place for artists who could not openly speak about their sexuality. The intimacy of same-sex relationships could be read between the lines in many outstanding artworks dating as early as Ancient Greece, be it a painting, ornamental décor or a sculpture. Today, in the Western world, artists have much more freedom, both for expressing themselves and for speaking out loud about their sexual preferences and that is worth celebrating!” Anton Malliar
This Pride month, we’re delighted to give a platform to our LGBTQIA artists, to share their views and personal experiences.
Does sexual orientation influence your choice of topics?
Jerome Cholet explains that although his work is a reflection of his own experiences and personal preferences, that is by no means a limitation:
“I think art is almost always an expression of one's own experiences. And my works are mainly portraits and collages, so my fascination for women as well as men always shines through. But I paint what moves me, what I want to see, what I want others to see. I'm interested in people, regardless of their gender, skin color or sexual orientation. In the end, I'm all about discovering new things: the ambivalence of a crying model, the complexity of our psyche, the fragmentation of our societies, the variety of life, I think these are universal topics.”
For Holly Bennet, despite some aspects of her identity translating into her work, her aim is to show what unites us as a whole:
“Most of my work isn't specifically about sexual orientation, but aspects of my orientation feed into it. For example, some parts of me feel slightly more masculine than is considered to be socially gender-typical for women, and I relate this to how I feel about my sexual orientation. I think this masculinity is evident in my sculpture, as I do make a lot of male figures, which I think express some of that aspect of myself. But what I mainly want to talk about in my work is the universality of internal human experience - paying attention to what we really feel about being human, and looking a bit deeper towards understanding and connection.”
For other artists however, art can be an outlet to express feelings or process unresolved issues around sexual identity:
“Over the last year or so, I have been processing a lot of internalised homophobia about my own sexuality. I have created line drawings, sketches, oil paintings and pastels to capture images and feelings I have felt quite intensely over this time. I very much feel that I am at the beginning of a new phase of my artistic career, one that is more expressive, honest and vulnerable, and at the same time extremely exciting.” Brook Tate
“My sexual orientation has undoubtedly influenced my art. When I was much younger and trying to come to terms with my own sexuality in a world where being gay was still quite taboo, my art was the main expression of my sexual orientation. My art offered me complete freedom to be whatever I wanted to be.” Tim Southall
Do LGBTQIA artists have a duty to educate on their community’s issues?
For minorities, seeing representation is an important part of accepting who they are and also teaching acceptance to the outside world. We rarely fully understand something we don’t have direct experience of, and as a result, we often rely on community advocates to help spread awareness on specific issues. So is it the same for queer artists, and do they feel a duty to educate on issues of sexual orientation? Opinions are divided.
For some artists like Holly, it is a matter of personal choice:
“I don't particularly think that it is an artist's responsibility to educate, and I don't feel that I am necessarily qualified to do that. As a person and an artist I do have a great responsibility to act with integrity and say what needs to be said, and in that capacity I would always want to demonstrate support for LGBTQIA people.”
Hannah Forward also highlights that putting pressure on queer artists to educate through their art can be limiting to their creativity:
“I think that LGBTQIA artists should feel free to make whatever art they feel like making. Just like any artists, some feel driven to make work to educate, art that's politically motivated, and some just want to communicate a feeling. I think it's unfair to burden queer artists with a sense of responsibility to educate all the time. Just do your thing.”
But for artists living in countries where gay rights are still an issue, educating through art can become a necessity, such as with Oleksandr Balbyshev:
“LGBTQIA people in Ukraine need to lie about their actual sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid being a target of discrimination or violent harassment, so I live in a country with a very weak LGBTQIA community. And because of that, Ukraine LGBTQIA people live in fear and don't have as many rights as other Ukrainians do. So I think that LGBTQIA artists have a responsibility to educate on their community's issues.”
Did our LGBTQIA artists suffer any abuse or discrimination growing up?
Although we have come leaps and bounds in a lot of countries, discrimination still happens and some of our artists have experienced this first hand:
“This year I will be 50 years old, and it is difficult for me to remember how many times I have had to endure comments, insults, teasing, and mockery. Mostly as a teenager, but also as a young adult. Today, even in a big cosmopolitan city like Paris, a cradle of fashion and arts, I have received some derogatory comments or insults, being with my partner. The hardest thing for me to understand is the parents themselves who can turn their backs on their children or even throw them out of the house and never see them Again.” Sergio Aranda.
Dan Arcus also tells of the long term impact of growing up in a place where homosexuality was against the law:
“I grew up in a country where being gay was prosecuted by law (the famous article 200) up until 2001. I was 18 years old. I don't want to transform this into a sad story about abuse and intolerance that was heard so many times, but I'm sure anyone can imagine how life was under these conditions. Even if I have the maturity today to understand many things and feel free to fully live or have the privilege to be able to hold the hand of someone I love in public, I cannot do it without feeling a certain fear and also a certain guilt. And it is probably a guilt that will never go away.”
Stefano Pallara on the other hand is hopeful that younger generations will carry on the mantle of acceptance that was fought for by their predecessors:
“There is a growing awareness among the younger generation that builds on the foundation laid out in the 1960s when the LGBTQIA community finally found its voice demanding acceptance. We’re far from gaining full acceptance – many countries around the world still see homosexuality as a crime that comes with harsh and sometimes deadly punishments. There’s still a long way to go but having lived through the worst of the AIDS/HIV pandemic in the 1990s, I am hopeful we will one day live in a world of acceptance and kindness.”
Do our artists have a favourite LGBTQIA artist they look up to?
“I admire a lot of painters from the past who were almost certainly attracted to the males they portrayed, but were not allowed to be open about their sexuality. In particular I would say my favourite painter is John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) who had an amazing talent for placing the nude male figure in his monumental public murals as well as his more intimate, private charcoal drawings; I am inspired by him to make both of these types of artwork.” Christopher J Murphy
“Andy Warhol inspires me a lot and I made it a bit of my personal mission to bring his core ideas and style into the 21st century. Warhol simply combined awesome art with very political thoughts. He wanted to make art accessible to everyone, and his subjects were suddenly soup cans, Hollywood stars, and comic book characters - so it wasn't just kings and queens anymore.” Jerome
“My favourite LGBTQIA artist has to be David Hockney. The etchings exhibited is his ground-breaking Master degree show of 1964 (at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK) impacted the direction of my own early works.” Tim
“Doron Langberg. His artwork was the first I saw that I truly connected with and felt moved by without feeling a sense of internalised fear. His use of colour and brush strokes are incredibly sensitive, presenting physical and emotional intimacy in a truly beautiful and joyous way. He has very much inspired me to explore and play with my abilities as a painter.” Brook
“It didn't really concern me if an artist is gay or not so I couldn't make a very extensive list, but I was obviously influenced by Francis Bacon's work, as well as Adrian Ghenie's. I also follow Mi Kafchin's work since I had the opportunity to meet her before her change (We were colleagues at the university) and I admire her courage and strong commitment.” Dan
“I really love the films of Kelly Reichardt, and although I'm not sure whether she identifies as queer, her films certainly feel very queer to me, in this very gentle, subtle, gorgeous way. My art (my paintings especially) are very inspired by cinema and the American landscape, and her subtle, queer gaze is something I relate to hugely. 'Wendy and Lucy' is probably my favourite of her films.” Hannah
“I don't have a favorite LGBTQIA artist. I like spectacular paintings of Andrew Salgado, colorful works of Douglas Simonson, impressionistic pieces of Mark Horst. Among famous worldwide artists, I like David Hockney and Andy Warhol.” Oleksandr
Did our LGBTQIA artists suffer any abuse or discrimination growing up?
“Be brave, be patient, be strong and be there for each other. As an LGBTQIA+ community, we are nowhere near the goal of equality, or the end of discrimination, but with a lot of dedication, we have achieved more in the last few decades than ever before in human history. We should hold on to that and build on it. As artists, we can contribute to this, maybe more than others.” Jerome
“These days there are visible role-models, organisational policies, and the general possibility of acknowledging that people have differing orientations. When I was growing up I didn't have any of that, and I find in general now that young LGBTQIA people have a vastly freer attitude towards their orientation than I did, so I take heart by following their lead rather than having any advice to pass on.” Holly
“My advice for young LGBTQIA people is always be true to yourself while respecting others; be strong and don't let anyone try to undermine your confidence or dent your self-esteem. And remember, if you stumble or fall, there is always a supportive community out there who will help you back on your feet.” Tim
“Surrounding yourself with people who love and care about you is an INCREDIBLY powerful and important place to work from, and one of the main people who needs to be there by your side is you yourself. I'm saying all this from the perspective of my own experience and journey, and I know I have a very gentle and considered approach in my art. So if you feel like a firework, go light up the sky 🙂 There are nearly 8 million people on this planet, and an incredibly large number of those people are waiting with open arms to love you and your art... so get making 🙂” Brook
“Be yourself and express your uniqueness. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries. Listen to what people say but don’t allow them to live your life. Only you know what brings you that peace of mind.” Stefano
“I think queer people have a unique perspective that they can bring to the world, or to what they choose to create and that special way of viewing things is precious and beautiful. Try not to get distracted by comparing yourself to other people, find your thing and work really hard at it. And, as a side note, do regular physical exercise! Do it! Because it's so important for your mental, as well as physical health. Look after yourself.” Hannah
“Make what you want to and don't let others' opinions drive you (though getting criticism from those you respect is invaluable - you don't have to always accept it!). The most important thing is to finish the work and to get it out there for people to see.” Christopher
Helen's Pride Collection
Cover image via Tim Southall