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McWILLIE CHAMBERS Cute Boy in the Park, 1998 Oil on canvas 24" x 18"

ALLURE: Painted and Drawn Visions of Beauty

Sep 10, 2004 - Oct 16, 2004

ALLURE: Painted and Drawn Visions of Beauty

by Christian Bain

“Allure is a word few people use…but it’s something that exists. Allure holds you…whether it’s a gaze or a glance in the street or a face in a crowd or someone sitting opposite you at lunch…like a perfume or…a memory…it pervades…you are held.”

-Diana Vreeland

How strange that a simple word, “allure”, can hold so much power…yet be so elusive. Though the concept may be universally recognized, even the famous arbiter of fashion, Diana Vreeland resorted to similes when seeking to put it into words.

The experience of allure can be triggered in a fleeting moment, an intense and oh-so-brief meeting of eyes with a charming stranger who stays in your mind for hours, even days. Perhaps you never really forget.

What was it about that enchanting person whose eyes may hold you still? What might have happened if you’d actually met? Would it have spoiled a beautiful illusion or launched the romance of your life?

ALLURE: Visions of Beauty, the inaugural exhibition of the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation Gallery’s 2004-2005 season, explores the mysterious attraction of allure from the diverse perspectives of some 50 invited gay and lesbian artists.

It is well established that western ideals of beauty can be traced back to the classical formulas of 5th century B.C. Greek sculptor, Polyclitus, whose influence shaped the work of figurative artists from ancient Rome and the Renaissance through modern pornographic images. In his 1998 book, The Evolution of Allure, Yale art historian, George Hersey, even makes the case that these ideals have helped shape the direction of human physical evolution, in effect moving the physical shape of human beings closer to ideal of physical beauty laid out 2,500 years ago. This demonstrates the enduring power of the classical ideals of beauty without proving an objective basis for the ideals themselves.

What is beauty? Surely it exists in more than just in the eye of the beholder. Or does it? Visitors to the exhibition will find work that supports both views.

Some of the exhibition’s 100 works of art, both drawings and paintings, clearly refer to the classical tradition of ideal male and female beauty, rendered in more or less classical style. One artist, Wes Hempel even creates antique paper backgrounds for his exquisitely detailed drawings of nude young men that bring to mind the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer. Jack Balas, whose work also brings to mind old master sketchbooks, takes a dramatically collage-like approach in which several studies inhabit a single space centered around a full-color painting of a sexy male surfer, who dominates the huge work.

The work of MacWillie Chambers utilizes the classical vocabulary in a distinctly different way. His color paintings display a mastery of finely wrought figures in style vaguely reminiscent of late 19th century painters like Thomas Eakins.

Other artists in the show extend the classical in other directions. Miguel Angel Reyes creates his mono-silkscreens with huge brush strokes that somehow magically coalesce into stunningly provocative representational images. The result is intensely mysterious male images whose darkly luminous eyes may well stop you in your tracks.

Richard Taddei extends the boundaries of classicism in yet another direction with his neocubist transformations of the images of handsome young men that manage to abstract their subjects yet retain their alluring sexuality. In several arresting diptych he juxtaposes a classical portrait directly opposite its cubistic abstraction.

Exploring a different dimension of the classical ideal, Tom Foral works in an intense almost hyper-realistic style that fairly drips sweat off the canvas. His jaw dropping cross-sectional nude portrait of one body builder all but radiates palpable body heat.

A number of artists in the exhibition combine techniques and stylistic elements from the worlds of fashion and design on one hand with male erotic imagery on the other.

Kenneth Paul Block, probably the leading fashion illustrator in the latter half of the 20th century, draws the world of haute couture in a way that captures the very essence of luxe. His conic portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy, Babe Paley, and Gloria Vanderbilt capture their elegance and mood in images that have set the standard for female beauty and style for some 40 years. A friend of Diana Vreeland and other notables, he also set the stage for generations of fashion illustrators to come. Block is represented by a never-before shown image of a striking young man. Here the intent is to create an image of male beauty, which by its very nature becomes alluringly erotic.

Robert W. Richards, a friend and disciple of Block, has himself been a notable figure in the worlds of fashion illustration and entertainment while simultaneously pioneering gay erotic art. Unlike many of his contemporaries he published his erotic work under his own name even as he continued his successful mainstream illustration and art career, a fact that has helped make him a role model to many other gay male erotic artists. His work in this show represents a new direction for Richards. None of the pieces are nudes, yet all seek to seduce by facial expression and attitude, rather than the purely physical.

One of the lesbian artists in the exhibition, Susan Robinson’s ink-on-paper drawings take on an almost surreal quality of line that flows wildly into erotic images of female sexuality. Her images have a distinct style that strays considerably from strict representation in one work evoking Jane Fonda in Barbarella.

Artist, Boyway, is developing his own entry into the portrayal of male sexuality. In his fantasy portraits of black and Latino men, (featured in his BOYWAY’Z HAUTE HOMEBOYZ Salon, October 6, 2004) he concentrates on the raw, uninhibited sexuality of his subjects. Boyway’s highly eroticized portraits can be sexier than many full-body studies.

Glen Hanson, whose sexy and highly stylized male archetypes appear regularly in Next Magazine and elsewhere, brings a really fresh point of view with his sense of witty exaggeration that is simultaneously sexy and humorous.

Damien Costilla’s portrait of a wrestler, arms folded across his chest, also goes considerably beyond the bounds of strict representational art with a pulsating, almost psychedelic embellishment hat energizes his otherwise impassive subject.

Ultimately, each work reveals its creator’s highly personal vision of sexual attractiveness, whether it be the magnetic charm of the boy or girl next door or a decidedly more unconventional erotic fascination.

Artists are known to live at the leading edge of many trends, not the least of which is the concept of beauty. ALLURE: Painted and Drawn Visions of Beauty offers a unique glimpse into emerging 21st century ideals of beauty and the very nature of allure itself.