’Stroke’ Brings Gay Erotica Out From Under the Mattress

Tuesday Mar 25, 2014

Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum Wall, is a historical retrospective of sexy and erotic illustrations by artists who made work for the gay male magazines from the 1950s to the 1990s.

The exhibit runs from March 28 through May 25, 2014 at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, 26 Wooster Street (Soho), New York City, NY. For more information, visit the museum’s website.

Curated by New York-based illustrator Robert W. Richards, Stroke features 80 original illustrations by 25 artists. This exhibition of a forgotten body of work not only explores the male form, but for the first time ever, offers an examination of gay male private life, as experienced through magazines which were available on nearly every street corner in America - but often kept under their mattresses for fear of being discovered. The exhibition will feature some original illustrations which appeared in the magazines, along with other works of art that have never been seen publically.


In the 1950s, when a large-scale effort sanctioned by the U.S. government was underway to crackdown on what was termed "sexual perversion," gay life was pushed into the closet. Regardless of those strictures, gay men still needed to explore their own sexuality and true identity.

As a result, a number of magazines became avail¬able on drugstore magazine racks and newsstands and were distributed nationwide. Early titles included Grecian Guild Pictorial and Tomorrow’s Man and featured the work of great artists like Tom of Finland and Bob Mizer, both who were recently the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Los Angeles (November 2, 2013 - January 26, 2014).

"Many of the early magazines pretended to be bodybuilding, strength and health journals," says exhibition curator Richards. "Sometimes they were called ’anatomy guides for artists.’ However, most of the men bought these magazines because they were gay. It was nearly their only opportunity to see handsome, well-made, virtually naked men. Buying one of these publica¬tions required an act of courage, espe¬cially if the small-town drugstore owner knew the buyer and his family most of their lives."


Although U.S. courts tried to ban sending naked male images through the US mail, by the mid-1960s, the US Supreme Court allowed their distribution. By the late 1960s, with the impact of the "sexual revolution," rise of feminism and the Stonewall Inn riots, the demand for the magazines mushroomed. Later titles included Blueboy, Torso, Honcho, Mandate, and InTouch. Each issue typically featured masterful illustrations by major artists such as Antonio Lopez, Mel Odom, George Stravrinos, Richard Rosenfeld and others. Many of these artists also made work for mainstream publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Times, Playboy, etc. It was not until the advent of the VCR, then the DVD and ultimately the Internet, that the magazines’ popularity declined and the demand for the wonderful illustrations eroded.

"This work has never been collected in one Museum exhibition before," says Museum Director Hunter O’Hanian. "What Robert Richards has done is pull together important work that played a vital role in people’s lives. This exhibition is important for people who remember the magazines. They will get to see the some of the original illustrations they loved years ago and some recent work. For those in their 20s and 30s, this exhibition will be an opportunity to understand the way that gay men explored their own sexuality and intimacy a generation ago. Everyone will be moved by the gloriousness of art and the impact it had on so many lives. This exhibition expands Leslie-Lohman’s commitment to examining the diversity of the gay and lesbian experience through art."


The exhibition will include 80 original illustrations, roughly half of which are drawn from the Leslie-Lohman Museum’s vast collection of more than 22,000 objects. Other pieces have been borrowed from private collectors and in some cases from the individual artists. Included in the exhibition will be artwork by : Neel Bate (Blade), Michael Breyette, Michael Broderick, Harry Bush, Jim French (Colt), Oliver Frey, Kevin King (Beau), Michael Kirwin, Touko Laaksonen (Tom of Finland), Antonio Lopez (Antonio), David Martin, Jim McMullin, Donald Merrick (Domino), Kent Neffendorf (Kent), Olaf Odegaard (Olaf), Mel Odom, Dominic Orejudos (Etienne), Benôit Prévot, George Quaintance, George Stravrinos, Rex, Robert W. Richards, Richard Rosenfeld, William Schmelling (Hun) and Frank Webber (Bastille).

The Museum is located at 26 Wooster Street in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Admission is free, and hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 12-6 pm, and Thursday, 12-8 pm. The Museum is closed Monday and all major holidays. The Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit organization and is exempt from taxation under section 501(c)3 of the IRS Code. The Museum can be reached at 212-431-2609.

For more information, visit the museum’s website.


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