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Saturday, July 4, 2015

GQ:George Quaintance: Gentlemen's Queertopia

I’m pretty new to the George Quaintance camp compared to a lot of erotic art fans. In 2012 I saw the Quaintance retrospective book which Taschen released. What I saw in this lavishly packaged book looked a lot like romantic pulp fiction covers, i.e. sexy senoritas, seductive belly dancers, etc. The only difference is that George Quaintance’s paintings had not one woman in them, but perfectly sculpted men with hairless bodies and beautifully colored skin.

If "Brokeback Mountain" was a picture book, this would be it. George Quaintance creates a veritable gay cowboy paradise where every man has the perfect looks and body, rodeos are for tyin' and wranglin' boys, the sun always shines, and every mesa is the Garden of (sw)Eden. The book is pretty pricey so I settled for the 2012 calendar, which was better because the images were large and in charge.

The Taschen Gallery just opened an exhibition of Quaintance’s amazing paintings in a show called “The Flamboyant Life and Forbidden Art of George Quaintance”. This was a herculean task in itself because he only produced less than sixty paintings in his lifetime, and many were simply traded or sold to private collectors. More than a few paintings had a NOT FOR SALE caption written beneath them.

Many of the paintings shown depicted men of in cowboy settings bathing, swimming or horseback riding. They’re mostly depicted in various stages of undress. These western settings suggest a virtual queer Utopia where men are perpetually young and fit and don’t require female company.

The best bathing paintings were Rainbow Falls, Sunset, Havasu Creek, and Morning In The Desert. In these paintings the boys either seem to be taking a shower or frolicking in a waterfall stream.

There are also many paintings of men bonding with their horses, as seen in the paintings Stallion, Manolo, and Dashing. It’s fascinating that Quaintance created these works during the late Forties-early Fifties when western films were at their peak and the image of the cowboy was the All-American image of masculinity at the time.

According to the gallery’s biography on George Quaintance, he was at one point or another a “vaudeville dancer, coiffeur designer, window dresser, magazine cover artist, photographer and portraitist”.

The biography also points out that Quaintance only lived to be 55 years old and ironically produced only 55 paintings in all. The exhibition also featured a well-researched timeline on Quaintance’s life and work, which took up and entire wall at the gallery. It was pretty awe-inspiring.

Compared to Tom of Finland, I'd say Quaintance's subjects are feminine in comparison, almost feline in their sleekness. The macho aggressiveness in Tom's images are replaced by an angelic idyll. There's also a more romantic and less carnal theme running through these images. The most overtly sexual image in these pieces are two men lying down together, a far cry from Tom's elephantine erections. This is the romance of homosexuality up on canvas.

If I were asked why I responded immediately to George Quaintance and his art I would say that his use of color and light is some of the most impressive I’ve seen. I also think his depiction of homoeroticism has a surrealistic flavor more mysterious than most erotic art ever made. You want to meet these people and understand how they live. This is part and parcel of what makes for great art, and George Quaintance is deserving of your attention.

The Flamboyant Life and Forbidden Art of George Quaintance is on exhibit at the Taschen Gallery, 8070 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, through August 31, 2015.

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