Does queer art have to look queer?

My first major solo show in a public museum opened a year ago today. On opening night, a man approached me and said, ‘What’s all this queer stuff? Are you just trying to be fashionable?’

These were landscapes that charted an 86 kilometre journey on foot. The title wall gave some indication of what made the works queer.

This ‘beautiful and brutal’ journey brought to the fore the artist’s personal experience of queerness within the framework of regional Australia and involved a process of vulnerability, exchange and openness.

Yvette dal Pozzo, Director
Ray Monde, A Cradle of Yellow Buttons, 3mx1.5m, ghostworked paper on canvas, 2021.

What made them gay? Is it inherently queer art?

As a queer artist walking through farming country that is known for its toughness, laden with machismo, it made me think a lot about how comfortable I was in that environment, even though I grew up in a very similar surroundings. This news story at the time tracked some of those feelings.

For me, for this particular exhibition in this particular location, it was important to explore a queer identity. I changed as a person when I was in this area, in the way I spoke, the way I carried myself, what I was prepared to reveal about my character. I was more guarded than I would be in a more urban landscape. Being queer informed the landscapes, even though on the surface they may not have explored what is considered traditional LGBTQI+ themes.

Casting shadows [Chandelier] and The Settlement [Shield] by Dennis Golding, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, photo: Saul Steed

Gay artists create work that isn’t outwardly queer.

Artists exude work as a response to their lived experiences. Dennis Golding recasts fragments of memories into a gold-drenched chandelier using iron lacework details from the Victorian-era balconies of his childhood homes in inner-city Redfern. But is it queer?

I’m very proud as an artist to express my sexuality and my cultural identity in my work.  

I think it’s important to express yourself through art practice as it’s a strong way of healing, it’s a strong way of communicating to other people, to really have people understand where you come from, your lived experience and histories.”

Dennis Golding, as spoken to Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras
Erecting of the Paternoster Square Column 2008 Pablo Bronstein

The work of Pablo Bronstein encompasses drawing to choreography and performance; always with a focus on architecture. Pablo re-creates structures from the past whilst reinventing them. What’s queer about their work?

It’s not holding a placard up and saying ‘gay rights’—I don’t consider that queer art, I find it to be straightforward political art, activism. Queer art for me is always about pretence, and working through shadows and other narratives.

Pablo Bronstein, The Art Newspaper, 2021
Detail, Paul Yore, Let Them Eat Cake, 2021, mixed media assemblage comprising of found objects, jewellery, beads, buttons, enamel, wood, epoxy resin.

Gay artists create work that is patently queer.

For other artists, like Paul Yore, the queerness of his work is immediately apparent.  His work is a visual cacophony of imagery juxtaposes penises, sex acts and slogans alongside popular culture references and world political figures.

I’m an anarchist, bitch, cynic, drag-queen, exhibitionist, fanatic, generalist, heretic, idealist, joker, kinky, liberationist, misanthrope, nudist, obsessive, pantheist, queer, realist, Sagittarius, trashy, uncut, vegan, wiccan, X-rated, yokel & zoophile.

For me, making textiles is nothing short of a survival mechanism, a form of therapy, a mode of resistance, a vehicle for seeking actuality in an ostensibly meaningless world.  

Paul Yore, Phaidon
Salman Toor, Bar Boy, 2019, Salman Toor and Luhring Augustine, via Whitney Museum of American Art.

Salman Toor’s sumptuous and insightful figurative paintings depict intimate, quotidian moments in the lives of fictional young, brown, queer men ensconced in contemporary cosmopolitan culture.

The queerness in my painting is in conversation with images of power and subjugation through art history. To me, the characters in the paintings have a relationship to power. They ignore it, maybe they’re terrified of it, they challenge it, or they embody it. At the same time, it is important to me that my paintings are images of self-reflection, self-love in some way.

Salmon Toor, Them, 2020

Being queer makes queer art.

So, does queer art have to be explicit? Can art be rendered queer simply because the artist is queer? The nub of the matter is best summed up by Marcel Duchamp when speaking about his work Fountain.

Everyday objects raised to the dignity of a work of art by the artist’s act of choice.

Marcel Duchamp

So too, LGBTQI+ artists makes artwork queer, simply in the act of creation.

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