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sabato 29 ottobre 2016

Rex (artist)

Rex (artist)

Rex is a living American artist and illustrator closely associated with homosexual fetish art of 1970s and 1980s New York and San Franscisco. He avoids photographs and does not discuss his personal life. His drawings influenced gay culture though graphics made for famous nightclubs including The Mineshaft (gay club) and his influence on artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe. Much censored, he has remained a shadowy figure saying that his drawings "defined who I became" and that there are "no other ‘truths’ out there".

Early life and work

Abandoned at birth his real name and exact birthday are unknown but references indicate a date in the 1940s. His childhood was spent as a Ward of The State on a farm in a small North-eastern town. He ran away to New York as a teenager in the 1950s where he lived among Beatniks and on the streets of Greenwich Village. While still in his teens he became the protégée of a fashion designer who paid for two years study at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. He later worked there in fashion illustration and commercial art, a career that brought him to London and Paris in the late 1960s, while maintaining an apartment on Saint Mark's Place in Manhattan's East Village.

Career before 1980

Disillusioned with commercial art, he dropped out for several years but re-emerged in the 1970s as one of the leading figures visualizing the fetish and S&M subculture in New York and later San Francisco. His distinctively styled black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings, quickly became synonymous with an emerging S&M graphic idiom that included artists Tom of Finland, Etienne (artist) (Dom Orejudos, also known as ‘Stephen’, 1933-1991), Steve Masters (‘Mike’ Miksche, born David Leo Miksche, 1925-1964), and Luger (Jim French (photographer), born 1932). The raw sexual energy of REX's early drawings resonated with a Leather Scene that was just emerging in Greenwich Village, Chelsea and the meatpacking district.
The illusiveness of all the artists was deliberate because explicit sexual erotic art, particularly homosexual in subject, was illegal, framed in vague language and enforced via contradictory judgments before Stonewall riots. He said "I signed myself REX because it was non-specific and untraceable in those days by the cops". Although explicit nudes aimed at gay men would become more permissible, conservative and homophobic social culture of the era still meant that involvement with gay pornography could have serious consequences.
As a freelance artist, initially working for pornographic series of Rough Trade pulp books (1972) illustrated with 12 images for each story, he produced poster commissions for a number of leather shops and gay bars around the US. His most famous work from this period were created for the notorious and legendary New York sex-club The Mineshaft. The three posters and T-shirts he created for the club were sold in the tens of thousands during the 13 years of the club's existence and feature in the film Cruising (film) (night interiors were filmed elsewhere, but recreated the club's interiors and include Rex posters). His illustrations reflected the sexual activities and extreme end of newly empowered pre-AIDS gay community and celebrated the Gay bathhouses culture blatantly and without apology. Other commissions included the 1976 poster for the pioneering sex-boutique the Pleasure Chest (a sex shop) which led to his work appearing on early covers for the fledgling S&M orientated Drummer Magazine in 1977 and to advertisements for the leading amyl nitrite, ‘poppers’, brand BOLT in 1980. Commuting between New York and San Francisco, REX also produced posters, catalogues and calendars for The Trading Post, considered the first gay department store (1978 to 1981).

Later career

On July 1, 1981 REX opened his own gallery, Rexwerk, in his South of Market (SOMA) studio on Hallam Street in San Francisco. Only ten days later it was destroyed in a fire started at The Barracks bath house that was undergoing renovation across the street. The fire could not have come at a worse time for July 1981 was also the same month the first case of AIDS was diagnosed in the city of San Francisco. His commercial work and original art nonetheless continued to appear as regular features in sexual magazines such as Manifest, Just Men, Torso, Inches, Uncut and In Touch. Other erotic artists such as Allen J (‘A.Jay’) Shapiro (died 1987), Harry Bush (1925–1994) and British artist Bill Ward were colleagues. Later commissions included posters for The Lure in New York and The Eagle in Washington DC and the original The Saint (club) parties.
When the AIDS pandemic emerged, the increasingly negative attitude towards the sexually liberated scene in both San Francisco and New York led to panic measures from civic authorities and calls from within the gay community to suppress and discourage sexual permissiveness and promiscuity, so prominently a feature of REX's work. Rather than submit to what he regarded as the resulting suffocating censorship, and increasingly depressed by the deaths from AIDS of nearly all his contemporaries, REX stopped publishing his work for several years. In 1992 he returned to New York and opened a ‘by appointment only’ private gallery called The Secret Museum at 218 Madison Avenue until the events of 9/11 closed down Manhattan's economy. In early 2002 he returned full-time to San Francisco where he had maintained a room over the Zeitgeist Bar on Valencia Street during his bi-coastal years between Manhattan and San Francisco (1976–2010). Disheartened by the conservative trend and lack of opportunities open to him in what he saw as an increasingly ‘Politically Correct’ America, he moved to Europe in 2010 to live and work in Amsterdam.

Stand alone works

REX published three 8- by 11-inch, 36-page bound portfolios of his black-and-white ink drawings entitled Mannspielen Man Games’). The increasingly conservative political climate meant news stands refused to sell them and from the start of the 1980s, his main source of income came from this mail-order business called ‘Drawings by Rex’ which issued privately printed, unbound portfolios of hard-core images. Beginning with ‘Icons’ (1977) a series of portfolios were advertised. Rarely shown or seen in their entirety; these carefully considered and structured sets are diminished in isolation or redacted details. Most artist of the era issued photographic prints not art prints. The only comparable previous works of this type were the commercially made lithographic prints of George Quaintance who also independently marketed his in the early 1950s.
His series of 8- by 10-inch, 12-print unbound portfolios were entitled (chronologically) Rexwerk, Uncut, Undercover, Armageddon, Scorpio, Rexland, Legends and Rex Sex-Freak Circus. The unbound format proved popular with buyers who had been frustrated for the need to dismantle the earlier bound book format collections to frame their favourite images. Rex's drawings, made over months, defy the throw away nature of most pure pornography and are more akin to a Graphic novel, Gay comics and the Japanese tradition of Shunga prints. The ‘standalone’ portfolio images are highly polished and sophisticated, akin to the work of Franz von Bayros (1866–1924), known for his scandalous ‘Tales from the Dressing Table’ portfolio. The mood of REX's flop house interiors find parallels in the privately illustrated edition of Jean Genet's verses for ‘Parade’ illustrated with twenty explicitly homoerotic lithographs of drawings by Roland Caillaux (1905–1977).

Reception and exhibitions

Robert Mapplethorpe knew REX and was attracted to his hard-core imagery relating to the Mineshaft. The photographer developed a photographic portfolio that reflected the same themes and, like Rex, had strong links with the West Coast fetish scene (they both had work published by Drummer magazine editor Jack Fritscher). The photographer was more focused on Los Angeles whilst Rex preferred San Francisco. His work secured an invitation in April 1978 from Robert Opel to have a one-man exhibit at his newly opened Fey Wey Gallery on Harrison Street in San Francisco. REX's hyper-masculine men of this period were best described by Jack Fritscher, who was also one of Mapplethorpe's lovers, who met Rex in person for the first time at the opening:-
"Rex is artist of urban toilets, blue-collar hotels, filthy construction workers, greasy gas jockeys, muscled bikers, tattooed fighters, beautiful young homeless bums ... ex-cons, armpit-sweaty beautiful studs needing head – all these unshaved "lone wolves" in jockstraps, leather, boots, and torn tanktops ... who pay-per-night in sleaze-bag hotels where sailors, Marines, cops, and drifters lie back on stained mattresses, the smoke of their cigarettes drifting out the crack of their rooms, down to the toilet where the cracked urinal drips beer piss, and the graffiti-covered stall is drilled with gloryholes ..."
Like Mapplethorpe any exhibition of such scenes, which also include occasionally imagery suggesting bestiality, urolagnia and sexual involvement with ephebophilic boys, are rare and dogged by controversy. In 1985 Rex was selected as one of the city's "100 Most Influential Artists" and shown as part of the Mayor's Art Gala. He was represented by a work entitled ‘Dogtreats’ which drew immediate press condemnation in the San Francisco Chronicle. Richard D Mohr (Department of Philosophy at University of Illinois) struggled to find a publisher for ‘Gay Ideas: Outing and Other Controversies’ (1994) specifically because it included work by Rex. Richard Goldstein, writing in Village Voice, condemned the sexual activities of the fetish community and what he called its ‘Naziphile’ sympathies, pointing to Rex's work as evidence. There have been few publicly accessible exhibitions of the artist's work as a result although he has found a more accepting climate in Amsterdam.

Cultural impact and legacy

A hardcover book of fifty drawings (Rexwerk) was published in Paris in 1986 by Les Pirates Associes, a private press run by photographers Ralf Marsault and Heino Muller, and Bruno Gmunder issued a book retrospective ‘Verboten’ in 2012 (the more controversial images were not included in this edition reflecting more nervousness around the subjects). A retrospective ‘Persona Non Grata’ was held at the nascent Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art's early Prince's Street Address in 1994 (Rex's work is held by the Museum), but the complex and compelling imagery of the late 1980s and early 1990s in particular is still largely ignored and invisible in the mainstream art world (Sex Freak Circus was shown for one night only on March 7, 2013 under the auspices of the Lohman Foundation and The Saint nightclub). In a book about his friend the Photographer David Hurles Rex discussed what he regarded as the hypocritical attitude towards his brand of gay erotica, over "cookie cutter nudes" and "antiseptic, nonthreatening males posed in luxurious settings ... an idealised homoerotism with which viewers could feel at ease." Exhibiting with CNCPT13 in Amsterdam and Uncle Crickey's Closet in San Francisco. The artist lives and works between Amsterdam and the USA and maintains a pay to view website. An exhibition of his work will take place During Folsom Europe in Berlin in September 2016.

Rex è l'artista dei servizi igienici urbani, degli alberghi operai, lavoratori edili sporchi, fantini grassi del gas, muscolosi ciclisti, combattenti tatuati, bei giovani vagabondi senza tetto, pissing ex-cons, belle borchie ascella-sudati che necessitano di testa-tutti questi unshaved "lupi solitari "in jockstraps, cuoio, stivali e tanktops strappati, con anelli alle loro tette e cockheads, legati con cinghie di cuoio, che pagano-per-notte in alberghi sleaze-bag dove i marinai, marines, poliziotti, e sbandati si trovano di nuovo in cum-macchiato materassi, il fumo delle loro sigarette alla deriva fuori il crack delle loro stanze, fino alla toilette dove l'orinatoio piscia birra gocce incrinato, e la stalla ricoperto di graffiti si è esercitato con Gloryholes glassate con sperma da grandi cazzi. In un altro filone, Rex attira medici nazisti folli e semidei del fascismo verboten che prendono piacere lascivo dalla tortura erotica.



I wish to thank the members of the Foundation for honoring me with this award.

I accept it for myself and on behalf of all the nameless and now forgotten gay artists of my generation who pioneered in making both the art world in particular and society in general, first become aware that an audience for such art existed.

Against prejudice, violence, and bigotry we took pride in openly displaying our lifestyles to the larger world a half-century ago.

Mine was the first generation that came out of the closet to the art world a decade “before” STONEWALL.

We paid a heavy price in those early days for drawing dirty pictures as they were then called, sacrificing in many cases, our lives, jobs, familly ties and homes for daring to depict The Love That Dare Not Speak it’s Name.

Our art was burned and destroyed in raids by police and postal authorities.

The work was condemned and spit upon by church and state, and especially by the legitimate art world for whom we were rude intruders storming the gates of their conservative ivory towers.

What we dared to depict of the naked male form were criminal acts back then and those of us who portrayed them, criminals.

So addressing you today in this Pantheon of gay art that Durk Dehner has created from scratch, is for me coming full circle with our shared past which began 38 years ago.

I dare say Durk and I go back to the “very beginning” of our separate but similar journeys to form a cohesive American gay art movement in the nineteen sixties.

Since day one and over the decades since, I have borne witness to his unrelenting dedication in raising public awareness of gay art, first nationally and later internationally.

He achieved this incrementally step-by-step over the decades against overwhelming odds and intense hostility until finally bringing it to the wide acceptance gay art now holds today.

Without Durk the art on these walls, the books on these shelves, infact this very building and the people gathered in it would not be here today were it not for his fierce determination in bringing his vision of a universal gay aesthetic into reality.

Without his unstinting dedication the entire gay liberation movement of the nineteen seventies would have lost a major cornerstone of its foundation and ongoing success.

I among many other artists exhibiting here today, and at all the previous ToFF art fairs, would not have had the opportunity to exhibit our work to a wider public without that dedication.

Therefore it is with great humility I accept this honor on behalf of all those fallen artists of my generation who fell in our epic battle to bring gay art to the prominence it currently enjoys.

Thank you.


Per i suoi successi artistici e convinta adesione alla ARTE E CULTURA della nostra comunità
Desidero ringraziare i membri della Fondazione per me onorare con questo premio.
Io accetto per me stesso e per conto di tutti gli artisti senza nome gay e ora dimenticati della mia generazione che hanno aperto la strada nel fare sia il mondo dell'arte, in particolare, e la società in generale, prima diventare consapevoli del fatto che un pubblico per tale arte esistito.
Contro il pregiudizio, la violenza, il fanatismo e abbiamo preso l'orgoglio nel mostrare apertamente i nostri stili di vita per il mondo più grande di mezzo secolo fa.
La mia era la prima generazione che è venuto fuori dall'armadio al mondo dell'arte un decennio "prima" STONEWALL.
Abbiamo pagato un prezzo pesante in quei primi giorni per disegnare immagini sporche come si chiamavano allora, sacrificando in molti casi, la nostra vita, lavoro, legami familly e case per aver osato raffigurare l'amore che non osa Parla il suo nome.
La nostra arte è stato bruciato e distrutto nel raid da parte della polizia e delle autorità postali.
Il lavoro è stato condannato e sputi da chiesa e stato, e in particolare dal mondo dell'arte legittima per il quale siamo stati maleducati intrusi assalto le porte del loro torri d'avorio conservatori.
Quello che abbiamo osato rappresentare la forma maschile nuda erano atti criminali di allora e quelli di noi che li ha ritratto, criminali.
Così rivolgermi a voi oggi in questo Pantheon dell'arte gay che Durk Dehner ha creato da zero, è per me venire il cerchio con il nostro passato comune che ha avuto inizio 38 anni fa.
Oserei dire Durk e torno al "principio" dei nostri viaggi separati ma simili per formare un coeso movimento artistico gay americana negli anni Sessanta.
Fin dal primo giorno e nel corso dei decenni successivi, ho testimoniato la sua dedizione implacabile nella sensibilizzazione del pubblico dell'arte gay, prima a livello nazionale e poi internazionale.
Ha raggiunto questo modo incrementale passo-passo nel corso dei decenni contro forze schiaccianti e l'ostilità intenso fino a quando finalmente portando alla ampia accettazione arte gay ora detiene oggi.
Senza Durk l'arte su queste pareti, i libri su questi scaffali, infatti questo edificio e le persone si sono riunite in esso non sarebbe qui oggi se non fosse per la sua feroce determinazione nel portare la sua visione di un'estetica gay universale in realtà.
Senza il suo impegno senza riserve l'intero movimento di liberazione gay degli anni Settanta avrebbe perso un importante pietra angolare della sua fondazione e continuo successo.
Io tra molti altri artisti in mostra qui oggi, e in tutte le precedenti fiere Toff d'arte, non avrei avuto la possibilità di esporre il nostro lavoro a un pubblico più ampio, senza che la dedizione.
È quindi con grande umiltà accetto questo onore a nome di tutti quegli artisti caduti della mia generazione caduti nella nostra battaglia epica per portare l'arte gay per il rilievo che essa gode attualmente.

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REX, “Helping Hand” (Detail), 1989, Pen and ink on paper, © 2012 Rex

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