Love, compassion, and a sense of community in the face of adversity have been documented by LGBTQI+ artists for years. Here are 8 artists and their artworks you should get to know...
1. Robert Rauschenberg (1925 - 2008)
A collaborator of avant-garde artists John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Rauschenberg had an immense influence on a diverse range of disciplines: from contemporary dance to sculpture.
Booster is one of Rauschenberg’s best known prints. The astronomer’s chart alongside the x-ray of a skeleton combines Rauschenberg’s interest in the human form and anatomy with celestial imagery.
Fun fact: the x-ray is of Rauschenburg’s own skeleton!
Booster, Robert Rauschenberg, 1967 (Collection: National Academy Museum and School)
2. David Hockney (born 1937)
One of the world’s greatest living artists, David Hockney has been openly documenting and exploring gay love in his artworks throughout his career.
Dolores Olmedo, art collector and patron to the likes of Mexican painter Diego Rivera, is the subject of this portrait. Olmedo often modelled for Rivera, yet here, Hockney opts for an entirely different way of representing this iconic figure. In this photograph, Hockney dissects the image, cutting Olmedo’s bright outfit into many pieces, and even featuring a miniature version of his own artwork in the bottom left-hand frame!
Portrait of Dolores Olmedo, David Hockney (Collection: Museo Dolores Olmedo)
3. Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 - 1989)
In 1990, Mapplethorpe’s The Perfect Moment was the first art exhibition to come under fire on the grounds of pornography, indecency and obscenity. The acquittal of Mapplethorpe and his defendants, however, reaffirmed the right to freedom of speech, setting world-changing legal precedents for the LGBTQI+ community and beyond.
This black and white photograph of the world’s first Women's Bodybuilding Champion, Lisa Lyons, challenges traditional notions of masculinity. Dressed in a suit, hat and cravat, Lyons assumes the pose of a 1920s mobster. Many images that Mapplethorpe took of Lyons blur genders lines, showing us the intricacies of our gendered identities.
Mapplethorpe’s remarkable, and often controversial, legacy continues to make waves today.
Lisa Lyons, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1981 (Collection: Borusan Collection)
4. Catherine Opie (born 1961)
Catherine Opie’s photography is well-known for delicately dealing with questions of sexual identity, queer subculture and how people relate to their communities, LGBTQI+ or otherwise.
In Self-Portrait/Nursing, Opie reimagines the classical trope of mother and child. Tender and provocative, the portrait contrasts the innocence of her nursing son, with the pain of Opie’s early years, signified by the scars she bears on her chest.
Self-Portrait/Nursing Catherine Opie, (Collection: Guggenheim Collection Online)
5. Beauford Delaney (1924 - 1987)
A major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Beauford Delaney was a prominent abstract expressionist. Whilst a major mover and shaker in the bohemian circles of the 1970s, he also suffered the societal pressures and persecutions of being both black and gay.
James Baldwin described Delaney as his ‘spiritual father’. In the painting, we can almost feel this intimate connection as Baldwin stares directly at the viewer.
Beauford Delaney, James Baldwin, 1963 (Collection: Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery)
6. Mickalene Thomas
Mickalene Thomas is a contemporary African-American artist best known for her complex paintings that draw from Western art history, pop art and visual culture to examine ideas of femininity, beauty, race, sexuality and gender, especially issues around African-American gay and lesbian identities.
In Sandra: She’s a Beauty Standing, Thomas offers a contemporary interpretation of classical portraiture. Thomas has commented that more often than not African-American women are portrayed in positions of servitude or through an anthropological perspective. But in this photograph Sandra offers a confident, assured glance at the camera.
Fun Fact: Thomas made the first portrait of Michelle Obama!
Sandra - She’s a Beauty, Mickalene Thomas, 2012 (Collection: George Eastman Museum)
7. Zanele Muholi (1972)
Zanele Muholi’s is a South African social activist and visual artist. Her artworks aim to make visible the lives of black lesbian women in South Africa. In this way, she has built an evolving archive of South Africa’s queer community, offering an alternative history of the nation for future generations.
In ID Crisis, Muholi shows us a woman binding her breasts, inviting us into a private moment of quiet bravery.
ID Crisis, Zanele Muholi, 2003 (Collection: Museion)
8. Isaac Julien (1960)
Isaac Julien’s 1989 documentary film, Looking for Langston, secured his reputation as one of the UK’s foremost filmmakers. The film explores gay identity through the intermingling of archival newsreel footage of 1920s Harlem and scripted scenes.
His 2010 film Ten Thousand Waves uses documentary cinema to explore the tragic deaths of over 20 Chinese illegal migrant workers who drowned in England in 2004 while picking cockles in Morecambe Bay. The film tells their stories by weaving ancient Chinese myths together with contemporary pop culture. With each lapping wave in Ten Thousand Waves, Julien’s artwork submerges us in issues of workers’ rights, race and globalisation.
Ten Thousand Waves, Isaac Julien, 2010 (Collection: Biennale of Sydney)
From LA to Tokyo, Pride has become a joyful celebration across the globe. But for all of the fun and frivolities, Pride has never forgotten its political roots: the Pride march began with riots against police persecution of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and questioning individuals at the Stonewall Inn in New York. Learn more about this fascinating history here.
These artworks by LGBTQI+ artists are all balanced on this fine edge, respecting the persecution and suffering of these communities while also enjoying and celebrating the love, fun and freedom to be found within them.