Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert


Aubrey Beardsley photographed by Frederick Evans (1894).

I’ve been going through the Coulthart VHS library recently, transferring to DVD recordings which can’t be purchased or found online. Among these is a drama from the BBC’s Playhouse strand, Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert, broadcast in 1982. This follows the life of artist Aubrey Beardsley from the time of Oscar Wilde’s arrest in April 1895—which event resulted in Beardsley losing his position at The Yellow Book—through the foundation of The Savoy magazine, to his tubercular death in March 1898.


John Dicks as Aubrey.

Playhouse was a BBC 2 equivalent of Play for Today (which usually ran on BBC 1) and Aubrey like many other dramas of the period was shot on video in the studio. This was done for convenience as well as being cheaper than shooting on film, since scenes could be filmed using several cameras simultaneously. The drawback is that the image looks very harsh, and historical works such as this often seem unreal and artificial as a result. That aside, this was an excellent production with some great performances, especially Ronald Lacey as Leonard Smithers and Rula Lenska as Aubrey’s sister, Mabel. The details of Beardsley’s life are very accurate, down to his beloved Mantegna prints on the walls, and many of the scenes are arranged to correspond with his drawings, the production design being largely monochrome.

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Dirty Dalí


The paranoiac-critical gaze: Dirty Dalí.

I finally managed to see this fascinating documentary this week. Since my TV broke down some time ago I refused to waste money buying another, partly for the reason that films such as this are increasingly rare and most of them have been shunted to minority channel BBC 4 which I can’t receive. Thanks to BitTorrent you can still find the worthwhile stuff, of course, but this often requires patience.


The Wines of Gala and of God (1977).

Dirty Dalí: A Private View was a reminiscence by art critic Brian Sewell about his encounters with Dalí and wife Gala at their home in Port Lligat in the late 60s and early 70s. What’s interesting about it is the first-hand light it throws on Dalí’s complicated sexuality, a subject which has been the source of speculation in biographies (notably Ian Gibson’s The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí) but which is confused by the artist’s simultaneous revealing of his obsessions in his art and the veiling of his interests in public statements, not least the frequent declarations of impotence. Sewell confirms that Dalí was interested in both men and women although purely as a voyeur, and relates how his first encounter with the artist led to his having to lie naked in the armpit of a giant Christ sculpture in Dalí’s garden, masturbating while Dalí took photographs. Sewell also examines Dalí’s affair with Federico García Lorca, the closest the artist came to a gay romance, and his subsequent relationship with Gala, which became one where the pair used the artist’s celebrity to attract delectable people of both sexes, like a pair of art world super-swingers. According to Sewell, Dalí’s physical ideal was the hermaphrodite which would possibly explain his attraction to (alleged) transsexual Amanda Lear during this time.


The Great Masturbator (1929).

As a piece of television the film struggles to fill out its running time by resorting to animating photographs, a persistent hazard for documentaries that lack the relevant raw material. All the footage of Dalí is lifted from previous documentary films including a large chunk of Russell Harty’s Aquarius interview, Hello Dali! (that camp double-entendre now seems very apt), from 1973. The overall effect of Sewell’s narrative is to add to Dalí’s already considerable feet of clay but that’s the inevitable outcome of nearly any biography; real lives are always messy. Sewell nonetheless ends by reaffirming Dalí’s principal importance as one of the great painters of the 20th century and, in an interesting side note, declares him to be the last great painter of a religious work with his Christ of St John of the Cross. A great religious artist and also one who produced hundreds of pornographic drawings, some of which are seen in the film. In art, as in the life, the contradictions are everywhere.

Dirty Dalí at Grey Lodge
Homage to Catalonia: Robert Hughes on Dalí

Previously on { feuilleton }
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Dalí and Film
Ballard on Dalí
Fantastic art from Pan Books
Penguin Surrealism
The Surrealist Revolution
The persistence of DNA
Salvador Dalí’s apocalyptic happening
The music of Igor Wakhévitch
Dalí Atomicus
Las Pozas and Edward James
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie

Last Suppers and last straws


Hardly a week passes without the religious right in America getting their knickers in a twist over some new iniquity, a condition so commonplace that new outbreaks are barely worth acknowledging. However, this week’s storm in a teacup caught my attention for being art-related.

If there’s one thing certain American Christians have in common with Muslim fundamentalists, it’s the habit of reacting to anything remotely gay with all the composure of caged baboons being prodded with sharp sticks. The pointed implement on this occasion has been the poster for the Folsom Street Fair, an annual Leather Pride/BDSM event held in San Francisco. The photograph by FredAlert (site NSFW) continues what’s become a minor tradition in artistic parody by working a variation on Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (1498), with leather girls and guys for the disciples and a black man in the place of Leonardo’s Jesus. The flag on the table is a Leather Pride flag. The intent behind the poster was explained by Andy Cooper, one of the event’s organisers:

There is no intention to be particularly pro-religion or anti-religion with this poster; the image is intended only to be reminiscent of the Last Supper painting. It is a distinctive representation of diversity with women and men, people of all colors and sexual orientations.


We hope that people will enjoy the artistry for what it is—nothing more or less. Many people choose to speculate on deeper meanings. This is one artist’s imagining of the Last Supper, and we have made it our own. The irony is that da Vinci was widely considered to be homosexual. In truth, we are going to produce a series of inspired poster images over the next few years. Next year’s poster ad may take inspiration from American Gothic by Grant Wood or Edvard Munch’s The Scream or even The Sound of Music! I guess it wouldn’t be Folsom Street Fair without offending some extreme members of the global community, though.

To judge by the splenetic frothing of groups such as the Concerned Women for America, it seems they managed a double helping of offence this year. The CWA see a deliberate attack on their religion, something I can’t see at all. While the reaction may seem to be harmless bluster, it should be noted that groups such as CWA and the more substantial American Family Association receive a lot of money via donations from supporters. Moral panics and perennial threats to civilisation have become a means to drum up additional support (ie: cash) to safeguard what they claim are Christian values. And gay people/rights/events have become a convenient whipping boy (so to speak) for fund-raising. As Joe Murray, ex-staff attorney for the American Family Association writes, this is now a multi-million dollar business:

It is not coincidental that the road to Hell is paved with the best of intentions, thus while one hopes that conservative leaders, such as Don Wildmon, began their crusade motivated by morality, it appears that a number of them have been hypnotized by the siren song of the almighty dollar.

Christian activism has become a lucrative business. According to its 990 form, the AFA took in millions. Arguably, such revenue was made possible by sending out “Action Alerts” warning homosexuals will throw Christians in jail under the hate crimes bill. Such rhetoric is misleading at best, dishonest at worse.

How does one protect Christianity? Send money. Call it cash-back Christianity…

Public complaints about blasphemy or other slights are always double-edged. Without the outrage I probably wouldn’t have noticed the Folsom poster, despite reading gay news blogs every day. But thanks to the CWA this isn’t the only blog now replicating the picture or showing similar examples of alleged Leonardo abuse. It hardly needs pointing out that the two other paintings mentioned in the Folsom Street Fair statement are also very popular as parody subjects and parody doesn’t work at all if the original reference isn’t well-known. Leonardo’s two most famous works are the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper and the latter proves attractive for parodists by being a group scene presented in tableaux form. The Last Supper, American Gothic and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam must be the three most-parodied paintings in art history; many of the Last Supper variations?including versions by Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol?are very well-known and have been around for years.

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left: Mikel; right: Matt.

Toxicboy aka Mikel from Montreal, is a photographer as stunningly gorgeous as many of his models, so his “self-centred self portraits” are entirely justified, for this viewer at least. He enhances some of his pictures with subtle and artful digital manipulation, as with the photo above showing three incarnations of the same model, Matt. The androgynous pictures in his “Maiden to Man” series merge gender in a way that few photographers—gay or straight—seem willing to explore, despite the possibilities that Photoshop suggests. The possibilities suggested by three identical boys in the same bed is something we can only dream about.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive

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Czanara’s Hermaphrodite Angel

Czanara’s Hermaphrodite Angel


More obscure art, only now we’re talking really obscure. This remarkable picture, The Hermaphrodite-Angel of Peladan by Czanara, turned up in the archives of Russ Kick’s seemingly abandoned Rare Erotica blog. “Czanara” was one Raymond Carrance (1921–?), a gay artist who I haven’t come across before and who seems to be completely absent not only from my library, but from most of the web. A great shame, if there’s more of his work like this I want to see it.

The “Peladan” of the title might be a reference to Sâr Péladan, founder of the Catholic Order of the Rose and the Cross in fin de siècle Paris, and guru to a number of significant Symbolist painters, including the brilliant Jean Delville. Hermaphroditism and androgyny were important themes for Péladan who declared, in an outburst typical of the period, “the androgyne, is the plastic ideal!” Czanara’s picture is certainly Symbolist in its details—those multiplied wings and hippogriffs—even if its intent is most likely a result of mundane pornographic imperatives.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Angels 4: Fallen angels