New York city has a long history with LGBT rights and awareness. As far back as the 1920s, when a lesbian-themed play – God of Vengeance (1907, Sholem Asch) – opened on Broadway, the LGBT community has fought to make itself heard, find its place, and contribute to the city's culture and society. In 2011 same-sex marriage in New York became legal, and five years later Hillary Clinton became the first presidential nominee from any major party to march in the famous city Pride march.
Well here we are – a year later, and the sun is shining brightly down onto the 2017 New York City LGBT Pride March. It couldn't be a more perfect day for celebrating the successes and achievements that the LGBT community has achieved so far. And just to add to the celebrations, we're going to shed light on a few of our favourite artists from the community – many of them New Yorkers. Happy Pride everyone!
1. Catherine Opie
Opie is a photographic artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, America. She first received attention for her work in the 90s with her collections titled Being and Having (1991) and Portraits (1993–1997), each focused on the portrayal of queer communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Her work is laden with art historical references. Her subjects are treated with the same compositional reverence as religious Renaissance paintings. She builds on the visual vernacular of traditional art to create new deities or saints in their own right. At the same time she challenges the conventional visual tropes that are linked with personalities from the LGBT community.
Opie is interesting in portraying communities in her work – whether inanimate (Los Angeles freeways) or living (surfers, lesbian families). She also made use of sadomasochistic allusions in her work, exposing a sub-community of the LGBT population that she was a part of and which she claimed to have given her a sense of belonging.
"There's very few people who look at the world anymore. I mean, they look at the world of what they're eating and they post it on Facebook."
Catherine Opie, I Do Like To Stare, npr
2. Grayson Perry
Like Opie, Perry's art also draws on traditional art historical iconography and format. He is know for his ceramic pottery and more recently his large-scale tapestries. He is the first and only transvestite to win a Turner Prize. Perry female alter-ego, Claire, is a large part of the artist's persona and work.
Perry's unique and staggeringly adept talent for using classically decorative techniques to depict unconventional and at times taboo subject-matter is what makes his work so captivating. His vases are so preciously executed that viewers are gripped by an element of tension whilst in their presence – that same feeling you get when you're in a history museum surrounded by artefacts that are thousands of years old. But the imagery showed in Perry's decoration is as far away from history as is imaginable. He broaches matter of class, identity, sexuality, life, death, consumerism, nationalism, and more.
3. Keith Haring
Keith Haring was an openly gay artist who lived and worked in America and whose work is synonymous with the visual language of the 80s. He is regarded as one of the most important LGBT artists of the 20th century, having portrayed themes of sexuality, homosexuality and the threat of AIDS in most of his work.
"There has to be openness about all these issues. Kids are going to have sex, so help them have safe sex"
Keith Haring, An Intimate Conversation, Rolling Stone
Haring's style has become almost as ubiquitous as Warhol, Lichstenstein, his motifs as recognisable as Robert Indiana's Love sculpture. His work was so iconic that it's quite easy today for people to know it without even knowing who and why it was made
But Haring's art was a product of his social activism, his effort to de-marginalise the gay community and gay men living with aids. He also created art that discussed drug use, most famously in his Crack is Wack mural on 128th street in New York – a phrase later famously used by Whitney Houston in an interview with Diane Sawyer.
4. David Hockney
Hockney is one of Britain's greatest, most well-known 20th/21st century artists. He's is openly gay and included gay imagery in his work from as far back as the 60s.
Hockney is known for his portraiture, bold and bright colours, and flat application. He has exhibited his works all over the globe and his paintings exist in many of the world's most prestigious museums and galleries.
He's somewhat of a visual icon himself – his round-framed glasses, neatly parted hair and light hair recognisable to all. Hockney is now 80, and his work was just shown at a huge exhibition at Tate Britain in London. More popular than ever, he continues to provide pure, uncomplicated joy to viewers, as he has done for decades.
"The moment you put down two or three marks on a piece of paper, you get relationships. If you draw two little lines they might look like two figures or two trees"
David Hockney, David Hockney on what turns a picture into a masterpiece, The Guardian
5. Berenice Abbott
Berenice Abbott lived till she was 93 and took some of the most beautiful urban photographs of New York in the 1930s. She was heavily influenced by her trips to Europe, and was widely known for her work in Paris in the 20s. She worked with photography legend Man Ray and generally moved in artistic and literary circles.
Throughout her life and career she produced some of the most iconic photographs of New York city. She was also an open feminist and lesbian, a long, long time before it was okay to be.
6. Alvin Baltrop
In between his work as a taxi driver Alvin Caltrop captured the hidden life of gay men in New York in a series of delicately and tenderly shot photographic portraits. The New York piers between 1975 and 1986 were a notorious site for gay cruising, drug-taking and prostitution. Baltrop – who was bisexual – made it his mission to document the moments of these hidden characters.
Although there is an undeniable erotic current running through his black and white series, what has most impact is Baltrop's ability to capture instances of emotional purity. Pure vulnerability, pure joy, pure boredom, pure fatigue. The subjects he documented in his work are now gone, wiped out of New York's history, just like the piers themselves were once the AIDS pandemic broke out. Thankfully their anonymous legacy lives on in Baltrop's beautiful sun-burnt world.
"Baltrop's portraits are wide open, neither defiant nor shielded. There is no judgment, no resistance, nor a need to justify their existence."
Valerie Cassel Oliver, Under The Piers: Alvin Baltrop's Gay New York, AnOther
NEXT: From Moonlight to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye