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Harvey Phoenix

Alas, No Phoenix, 1995 46 x 35 Oil on canvas with disiccated bird

IMAGES FROM THE TRIANGLE: The AIDS Paintings of Peter Harvey

Nov 18, 2008 - Dec 20, 2008

About Images from Triangle
by Peter Harvey
From The ARCHIVE: Issue 29

As the AIDS years passed and brought me nearer and finally face to face with direct personal loss, I found two things were happening; First I was saddened and then isolated by the deaths of so many people I knew and worked with in the 60s and 70s—that singular period of sexual revolt that produced the Stonewall and of which we are all heirs. For example, out of the eighteen or so men involved in “The Boy in the Band”, only the author, three actors and an assistant stage manager survive. The rest, beside myself, have all died from AIDS. This kind of annihilation of my peers and professional connections led me to work more by myself as a painter, rather than a theatre designer. The second is that within a few years I found the shadows of loss and grief made it harder and harder to believe in the colorful cheerful subjects my gallery dealer cared about.

I also found that the climate of destruction about me made me take more seriously my identity within the group that are the prime victims of this scourge here in America. As a gay man I needed to make some gesture of solidarity within the community and to help, somehow, in encouraging and strengthening our self-image and pride in it. I could only do this through my painting, as I’m not a public demonstrator type.

So I began to think about what had always given me a positive attitude towards my sexuality and its world and what connected me to the past and present in that milieu. Clearly it was the cultural contributions by other gay artists that had enriched my life, as well as all Western culture, that had constantly sustained me. I also realized in thinking about this that many of these artists were often obscure or esoteric and sometime it was not generally known they were gay or it was denied—although that it harder to do these days. So here indeed was something I cared deeply about and which would be meaningful to bring to the attention of others and in doing so, hopefully, enrich them and help bolster them along as it does me.

Of course I’m aware that these paintings are loaded with things paintings are not supposed to be concerned with—I’ve always loved content and found it important. I tend to agree with the school that says pure abstraction really remains decoration and so is unable to move us, while human images will always connect us with our humanity. I hope I’m not preaching but just reminding the viewer that such and such exists or was done in such a way once and it has enriched our lives and we mustn’t forget it. That is how and why the Image from the Triangle series came about.