Friday, 6 June 2014
Recently, my blog featured a post about porn and erotica. I featured works of art that, it seemed to me, could fall into either category. And I was chastised. A fellow Tweeter asked why hadn’t I mentioned Gay porn, Gay erotica? Does my omission mean that I think that all alluring images of male erotica are pornographic? Absolutely not! I hope that this new post about homoerotica redresses the balance. I cannot remember your Twitter name – the guy who made the point. I hope that you read my post and let me know what you think.
Homoerotica has a long, long history. For many years, a lot of women, and a lot of men too, have looked at, studied and lusted after the male form. These days we look at eroticised photographs, we surf the web, we can look at the art of Tom of Finland. In long centuries ago, Artists and Sculptors, such as Caravaggio and Michelangelo, eroticised the male form through the medium of Biblical and mythological stories. Retelling the tales created opportunities for a subtext.
Perhaps the male form has always been fetishised -- whether the viewer has a predilection for the male erection, shoulders, groins, pectorals, abdomens, buttocks or all of the above, painters and sculptors have delivered. The pleasure is for the viewer -- a male in the prime of his life -- muscles and limbs, stretched out, on display.
Caravaggio; The Flagellation of Our Lord.
A poet of dramatic stimulation, Caravaggio was fascinated by the intrusion of the divine into the mundane world; in canvas after canvas he used shifting planes of light and dark to fashion a moment of spiritual anagnorisis, that moment of perception that precipitates the reversal of the action in Greek drama.
Is Caravaggio’s painting as it seems, or is the Artist giving us a subtext? Is there a story within a story? Is Caravaggio telling the story of the Passion of Christ, or does he have a different agenda? There’s a dark moodiness about the painting. A sort of what happens next? Is there going to be a rape or a life snuffed out?
During the Baroque period of the 16th century Guido Reni painted the image of the martyred Saint Sebastian. Sebastian’s story tells of the saint’s refusal to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods and his absolute refusal to reject Christianity. For his crimes Sebastian was stripped, taken to a field and shot until his body was full of arrows. The story has been told many times over the centuries by many different artists. The image of Sebastian pierced by arrows has regularly been described as homoerotic.
And again -- a photographic interpretation. Saint Sebastian. Yukio Mishima 1970
The Biblical tale is well known. The youth, David, defeats the gigantic Philistine Goliath, with a single shot; a pebble from a homemade sling.
Sculpted from 1501 to 1504, David is a masterpiece of Renaissance art and one of Michelangelo's two greatest works of sculpture, the other being his Pietà. It is the David alone that almost certainly holds the title of the most recognizable statue in the history of art. It has become regarded as a symbol both of strength and youthful human beauty. The 5.17 meter (17 ft) marble statue portrays the Biblical David at the moment that he is to do battle with Goliath.'
THE SWIMMING HOLE
“The Swimming Hole (also known as Swimming and The Old Swimming Hole) is an 1884–85 painting by the American artist Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) Executed in oil on canvas, it depicts six men swimming naked in a lake, and is considered a masterpiece of American painting.
In this work, Eakins took advantage of an exception to the generally prudish Victorian attitude to nudity: swimming naked was widely accepted, and for males was seen as normal, even in public spaces. Eakins was the first American artist to portray one of the few occasions in 19th century life when nudity was on display. The Swimming Hole develops themes raised in his earlier work, in particular his treatment of buttocks and his ambiguous treatment of the human form; in some cases it is uncertain as to whether the forms portrayed are male or female. Although the theme of male bathers was familiar in Western art, having been explored by artists from Michelangelo to Daumier, Eakins' treatment was novel in American art at the time. The Swimming Hole has been "widely cited as a prime example of homoeroticism in American art".
The art critic, Tom Lubbock described Eakins' work as:
‘a classic of American painting. It shows a scene of healthy, manly, outdoor activity: a group of young fellows having stripped off for a dip. It is based on the swimming excursions that were enjoyed by the artist and his students. Eakins himself appears in the water at bottom right – in signature position, so to speak.’
Let’s have a look at some contemporary, photographic images by Robert Mapplethorpe. His images are beautiful, some are beautifully erotic, some are beautifully pornographic.
Mapplethorpe chronicles real life, albeit in a world most of us never inhabit. Whenever the argument of art versus pornography arises, Mapplethorpe's name is always thrown into the debate, with as many supporters as detractors. Yet few would dispute the quality of his work and materials and even those who find his images unpalatable rarely argue that his intention was to titillate in the way of pornography.
The image speaks of grace; elegance. A celebration of the vitality of the male form. As does this photograph below.
What about this one from his Calla Lilies series. It’s just a lovely flower – or is it?
“Touko Laaksonen, best known by his pseudonym Tom of Finland (8 May 1920 – 7 November 1991) was a Finnish artist notable for his stylised androerotic and fetish art and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture. He has been called the "most influential creator of gay pornographic images" by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade.
Over the course of four decades he produced some 3,500 illustrations, mostly featuring men with exaggerated primary and secondary sex traits: heavily muscled torsos, limbs, and buttocks, and large penises. Tight or partially removed clothing showed off these traits, with the penis often visible as a bulge in tight trousers or prominently displayed for the viewer. His drawings frequently feature two or more men either immediately preceding or during explicit sexual activity. Nearly all of his characters were versatile and obviously enjoyed the bottom as well as the top role during sex.
I am unable to post any images from Tom of Finland. The images are fiercely protected by tight copyright laws. But here is a video which features some of his Art.
And here’s a link to Robert Mapplethorpe’s pornographic photographs.
Finally, a piece of literary homoerotica, from The Go-Between, by L.P.Hartley
“ Believing himself to be unseen by the other bathers he gave himself up to being alone with his body. He wriggled his toes, breathed hard through his nose, twisted his brown moustache where some drops of water still clung, and looked himself critically all over. The scrutiny seemed to satisfy him, as well it might. I whose only acquaintance was with bodies and minds developing, was suddenly confronted by maturity in its most undeniable form; and I wondered, what it must feel like to be him, master of those limbs which have passed beyond the need of gym and playing field, and exist for their own strength and beauty? What can they do, I thought, to be conscious of themselves?
Now he had a plantain stalk in his left hand and was rubbing it gently along the hairs of his right forearm; they glinted in the sun and were paler than his arms, which were mahogany coloured to above the elbow. Then he stretched both arms high above his chest, which was so white it might have belonged to another person, except below his neck where the sun had burnt a copper breastplate; and he smiled to himself, an intimate, pleased smile, that would have looked childish or imbecile on most people, but on him had the effect of a feather on a tiger -- it pointed to a contrast, and all to his advantage.”
This blog post has been compiled using my own ideas, backed up by sources from the Web.