It sounds like the start of a dirty joke…
“So three gay guys walk into a bar…”
But, it’s actually the start of a quiet revolution.
On the afternoon of April 21, 1966, three gay guys did indeed walk into a bar, but they were looking to NOT be served. With a photographer in tow, these men proclaimed they were “homosexuals” and as they had hoped the bartender extended his hand and cupped the glass placed before them.
Further reading: Before the Stonewall Uprising, There Was the ‘Sip-In’, The New York Times, April 20, 2016
By being refused service, the three men, members of the Mattachine Society (one of the earliest gay rights organizations in the United States), could challenge the state law of New York that barred service to homosexuals.
I decided to commemorate the occasion, and more precisely, the moment that started it all, the simple refusal of a drink with the slightest gesture of a hand.
I wanted [the painting] to be as historically accurate as possible so first I had to set the stage...the location: Julius’ Bar.
The bar is still open to this day, and thanks in part to the Sip-In, it is a historical landmark, just like the other West Village gay icon The Stonewall Inn. Despite it still being around, I couldn’t find any images of the interior that suited the vantage point I wanted to paint from. Working from Miami, I couldn’t just hop on the subway and go take a few snapshots.
To my surprise, I discovered I could in fact, just walk in using Google Earth...
So now the stage was set, I had my vantage point.
At first I was excited to see the shop in the distance was called “Three Lives & Co.” How perfectly fitting. Then it dawned on me that this now popular bookshop was likely not present in 1966. I was right.
It was surprisingly difficult to find what was in the window on that day in 1966. In 1940, it was a deli. (Edward Hopper allegedly painted this corner in a night scene.)
Julius’ Bar has appeared in a number of films, but in each one I could never get the correct vantage point.
Eventually I stumbled on a film still with Al Pacino, and just as it was in the ’40s it was still a deli in the 1960s.
Angelo’s Deli wasn’t as metaphorically apt as Three Lives & Co. but with this mystery solved, it was time to focus on the men and the key element of the hand refusing service.
In the original photograph of the Sip-In, the bartender is the dominant figure. I wanted to reduce his role, he was after all an unwitting byproduct to the action.
I decided the hand, just the gesture was enough, a phantom of sorts. A butler’s glove to add some civility.
Fun Fact: The phantom glove proved difficult to sketch, and as I work alone in the studio, it became quickly clear that it would be me modeling the very hand that refused three gay men a drink.
(Though I intended the glove to resemble one used by a butler, the one I modeled with is of the more traditional “art handling” variety.)
A Moment Eclipsed
Growing up in Florida you encounter a familiar trope on a pretty regular basis…pictures of dudes holding fish. It’s a right of passage for a fisherman, showing off your trophy for all to see.
There’s even a Tumblr page dedicated to this. It’s called...naturally...HotGuysHoldingFish.
…Not to make anyone feel bad, but “Hot” is debatable.
I wanted to capture a similar moment, but with some perspective on just how triumphant the moment is in the grand scheme of things.
So, it’s rather straightforward, the big moment is literally eclipsed by an eclipse.
One solar, another lunar.
I’ve lived with a vintage taxidermy hammerhead in my studio for six years. He/She was the early catalyst for these works. I found myself haunted by the phrase “A Hammerhead Shark in the Dark.”
There’s plenty of ways to “hold” a hammerhead, but for my purposes I wanted a particular pose…
So, I stepped in as usual, modeling for myself with a “hammerhead head” I cut out of cardboard.
In the first few versions I sketched, the t-shirt was blank on the figure. But the more I looked at the reference photo of myself, the Moby Dick t-shirt I was wearing just made me laugh in relation to the context. So a coincidental wardrobe choice that morning brought a bit of humor into a somewhat bleak scene.
Fun Fact: I made a series of works in 2002-3 titled “A Little Moby Dick in All of Us.”
The GloFish Enthusiast
Alongside being a big fan of fishing as a child (as I still am today, catch and release) I was also a big aquarium enthusiast.
While I haven’t maintained a tank in some years, I found myself living in the studio last year with a tank of guppies. These big time breeders had begun to take over the small pond in my backyard and I didn’t have the stomach to do away with them.
The tank itself became the inspiration for this work. It wasn’t just any old 10-gallon tank... it was designed for GloFish.
Relatively new to the fish trade, GloFish have been genetically altered and bred to literally glow under blacklight.
With GloFish as my subject I had to consider what sort of character would be attracted to this variety of aquatic pet.
While researching aquarium enthusiasts I quickly found myself delving into a subworld (somewhat literally) of people who maintain basement “fish rooms.”
While this was subject enough to delve into, I had to consider this was no ordinary collection of fish. These needed a special sort of basement environment. One more like a teenage marijuana den.
With the stage set, I felt the character needed to be fully invested in the world. He would need to “glow” too...he needed the vibrance and style of a ’90s raver.
I came to love the idea that a scene and a character (when combined) that would be something a parent may worry about (i.e. a raver in a drug-den basement) was in fact a fellow you may begin to worry about for completely different reasons. And so The GloFish Enthusiast was born.
Fun Fact: The painting itself is phosphorescent.