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Style: Men with Beards

by Rob Blauwhuis in Lifestyle & Fashion , 01 maart 2014

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Why are men with beards hot, and where does this fascination come from? Are men with beards more attractive and trustworthy, and do they command respect? Is the beard in all its different shapes a form of expression and creativity, or is it a kind of rebellion?

For those looking for an answer to these questions, Gallery MooiMan in Groningen has organized an exhibition about bearded men with works by Joseph D.R. Oleary, Sabatino Cersosimo, Spencer Chalk-Levy, Olivier Flandrois, Fransciscus & Franciscus, Rinaldo Hopf, Vincent Keith / Mascular Studio, Cedric Laquièze, Aone Postma, Hendrik Schink, Ricky Schouten, and Marcel Warmenhoven.

In the gay world body and facial hair enjoy an extremely volatile popularity. In his novel “Männer zu verkaufen: Ein Wirklichkeitsroman aus der Welt der männlichen Erpresser und Prostituierten” [Men for Sale: A Reality Novel from the World of Male Blackmailers and Hustlers] from 1930, Friedrich Radszuweit describes the ramblings of his naive leading character Erich Lammers and his companion Helmut in Berlin’s gay scene during the roaring twenties.

At one point, they end up in an establishment where Erich, although he only sees men presents, but hears women’s names mentioned, observes in amazement: “You know, what really strikes me here [...] is that I do not see any men without a moustache.” Laughing, Helmut replies: “That is precisely what makes it special, it is why they call the restaurant the ‘moustache bar.’” When Erich asks whether these men find each other attractive, Helmut replies: “Certainly, [...] they only take pleasure in each other: without a moustache, it’s impossible to find a lover or a companion here. These men only like mature men with beards, preferably over thirty and up to old age.”

After the Second World War, this emerging bear scene largely seems to have gone underground, at least if the erotic magazines from those days are any indication. In the physique photography of the 1950s and 1960s, body hair and facial hair are conspicuously absent. In the work of painter George Quaintance (1902–1957), who published in those magazines, masculine men are excitingly muscular, but not hirsute or bearded. This also holds true for the work of artists Etienne (Dom Orejudos, 1933-1991) and Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, 1920-1991), in which (full) beards are extremely rare, although in later work, moustaches enjoy a certain popularity. And this is even more remarkable considering that both artists have roots in the leather scene.

Rise and Fall of the Clone

The moustache showed up in the works of these men after the clone had conquered the gay world by storm in the 1970s. The clone, also referred to as the “Castro clone” after the gay district in San Francisco in which he originated, was a gay man who presented himself, both in clothing and style, as an idealized version of working-class men. A primary feature of the clone was a muscular body because of many visits to the gym, while dressing, for example, in a checkered lumberjack shirt with jeans, preferably a Levi’s 501 with button fly. He would wear his hair short, and often would have a moustache and whiskers. The style was both very masculine and decidedly gay. At the time, the clone was compensating for the ingrained prevailing prejudice that all gay men were effeminate sissies. For a lot of men, this style was an external symbol of their liberation from social codes and a celebration of their own masculinity. Some claim that the men who embraced the clone style were much more self-assured about their sexual preference.

The different inspirations of the clone were enlarged and personified by the Village People, in which several group members wore a moustache, and the black cop even had a beard. Even though many straight folks took the Village People’s parade of masculinity seriously, entirely missing the campness of it all, for queers the origin of their image was all too clear. In 1977, they released their first single “San Francisco (You’ve Got Me),” a reference to the city of the clone’s birth, which had already been a gay Mecca for a long time. A year later, it was followed by “Macho Man” from the album of the same name, which breaks into an ode to gym culture: “Every man ought to be a macho macho man / jogging in the morning, go man, go / workouts in the health spa / muscles glow.”

That same year saw the release of the hugely successful single “Y.M.C.A.,” an organization about which a woman on German television recently remarked that those friendly boys not only go there to exercise, but also to intimately meet other nice guys. This hit was followed in 1979 by “In the Navy” (“come on and join your fellow, man”) and “Go West,” subsequently covered by the Pet Shop Boys for a reason.

The 1970s also saw the rise of porn actor Al Parker (1952-1992), a clone who soon would have the status of a hairy and bearded superstar. In his first films, such as “Heavy Equipment” (1977) and “Inches” (1979), Parker still embodied the prototype of the clone, but later on he also cultivated his luxuriant long hair, along with his moustache and beard.

The clone was not meant to last. In the 1980s, the style generated, on the one side, the bear look, but primarily the, in the subculture much more popular spin-off, the twink. The clone look evolved into the slightly more sleek gym-and-diet-induced, slim musculature shown by twinks and prized among gay urban men from the 1980s and onwards.

The Return of Hair

With the disappearance of the clone and the glorious rise of the twink, the electric razor became the gay man’s best friend for quite some time. Facial hair and body hair were banned to the crypts of the scene. But lately, this seems to have changed. The most exuberant example is the appearance of James Jamesson in “Timberwolves” from Raging Stallion. The porn actor can be seen with a wild and red Viking beard. Its size is so remarkable that in October last year, Zach wrote on Manhunt Daily: “Raging Stallion is well known for Photoshopping the cocks in their publicity stills to make them look bigger, but have they finally gone too far by Photoshopping James Jamesson’s beard to make it look bigger? There can be no other rational explanation, can there? [...] Oh, but to be clear, I love the beard, Photoshopped or not. Like a hybrid of a thick-cocked hobo and a slutty Santa, James Jamesson is serving sexy Unabomber realness, and I wouldn’t want him any other way.”

Jamesson’s appearance could still be seen as an exceptional gimmick from a porn producer desperately looking for a niche in the market. A more striking example of the resurrection of the beard is the fact that Bruno Gmünder, a publishing firm with an eye for what stimulates gay buyer response, after their 2012 tribute to the erotic manly hirsute physique “Fur: The Love of Hair,” recently published the sumptuous coffee table book “Beards - An Unshaved History,” compiled by Kevin Clarke.

The exhibition at Gallery MooiMan, which was opened during a bear weekend in Groningen by Herman Stoker of the Foundation Big & Bear Netherlands, was inspired by another book, to know “Of Beards and Men” by Joseph D.R. Oleary. This American photographer called on all the men in Minneapolis to give their beards the fifteen minutes of fame they deserved. His call was answered. In the end, Oleary photographed over 140 men with facial hair in eighteen months. Long, dusty beards. Short, trimmed and neatly styled beards. He photographed all sizes and shapes that intrigued him. A selection of twelve portraits is part of this special theme exhibition in the gallery in Groningen. All 140 men with beards are in this bulky, limited edition coffee table book, which is in Europe exclusively available at the gallery. Besides biographies of the portrayed men, “Of Beards and Men” also contains essays by Douglas Beasley, George Slade and Andy Sturdevant, an interview by Beardrevered, and a statement by Vicki Goldberg, the photography critic of The New York Times. The book has 212 pages and costs 99.00 Euro.

Bearded Models

Besides Oleary’s pictures, there is a lot more art with beards on display at the gallery. Just as remarkable is the work of the young American Spencer Chalk-Levy, who is working in Germany. He painted numerous variations on beards from one rough basic concept. These works of art were collected in the book “Boys with Beards,” which contains a foreword by the exceptional American queer artist AA Bronson, who was honored this winter with a large manifestation in Witte de With, Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. Or take the line drawings by the also young Frenchmen Olivier Flandrois, consisting almost entirely of hair patterns. The painter Sabatino Cersosimo was born in Turin in 1974, but just like Spencer Chalk-Levy is working and living in Germany. After experimenting with “romantic” and “metaphysical-surrealistic” art, he made a return to the human shape, at first almost exclusively to the face as a mask or as a true carrier of emotions. His oil paintings are characterized by a certain degree of irony, which is expressed in facial expressions that are over the top and sometimes even grotesque. In his more recent work, he has made the body as a whole his subject.

For the very first time, the British photographer Vincent Keith of Mascular Studio in London is showing work in an art gallery. His models can best be described as beard flirtatious Santas! Works by the German artist Rinaldo Hopf (1955), who is living in Berlin and has shown work in New York, Berlin, Istanbul, Munich and Madrid, has been exhibited in The Netherlands before. The Frenchman Cedric Laquièze is a young, versatile artist who showed work at gallery MooiMan in 2012 at the group exhibition “Precious Paperworks.” He combines playful humor with a cartoonesque cheerfulness. The porcelain works of the German Hendrik Schink, who has previously shown work at gay bookstore Männerschwarm in Hamburg, combines the useful with the aesthetic. His nudes, torsos and portraits can also be used as mugs! Sculptor Marcel Warmenhoven is also an inventive artist, especially when it comes to the material his sculptures are made of. For example, he has used old wooden furniture and other recycled material for his work. Often, the origin of the material is still visible, while it takes on a new shape at the same time.

This list shows the large diversity at MooiMan’s exhibition, but all works of art have one thing in common: beards!

Those who want to enjoy beards and hairy men in real life, will have to wait a bit, but then, they can indulge during the Amsterdam Bear Pride, which will be held from March 20 till 24.



In the New Issue of Gay News, 327, November 2018

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