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George Quaintance’s Veiled Eroticism

by Rob Blauwhuis in Theatre, Art & Expo , 08 december 2017

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

In an article on a book about nude photography spanning 1840-1986, essayist Rudy Kousbroek once imagined aliens visiting earth over many thousands of years after an atomic war has destroyed all life. These aliens find, as the only source of information about these extinct inhabitants, a collection of nude photographs from 1840-1985.

Extra-terrestrial scholars see that the trunk of the earth’s being end with a smooth triangle between their hind legs. “This has to be something extraordinary, as that particular spot was, if by accident, kept out of sight by another body part, or by a tree branch, a vase, or a piece of drapery. It is as though the one who made the picture was especially interested in that triangle, but was dogged by bad luck,” noted Kousbroek.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, this caveat is gradually disappearing from photography, especially in pictures intended for public use, as for private use there had been for a much longer period of time images that proved that these earthly creatures do not have a smooth triangle between their hind legs. This concealment, as if dictated by coincide, is still present in the works of the artist George Quaintance, who died on November 8, 1957. This concealment had to be present in the work, as in the United States it was legally prohibited to portray male genitals up to 1965.

However, Quaintance had his imagination run wild in this concealment. His skills in hiding the male genitals from view was formidable. Not only did he use the posture of his models and worn attributes, such as towels or leaves, but also guitars, boots, a snake, the manes of a horse, a seagull flying by, or a gun holster. And if his men are surrounded by water, water jets or waves appear to hide their privates from view. In short, the works of Quaintance don’t show any “middle leg.”

Considering Quaintance’s oeuvre, one doesn’t get the impression that these constraints were holding him back. On the contrary, they seem to have given him additional inspiration. It is often to the benefit of erotica when not everything is exposed, leaving enough to the imagination.

Quaintance is masterful at turning this notion into an art form. In addition to this, it should be taken into account that when he depicts dressed men, they are wearing extremely tight trousers that clearly show a relief in between their legs that are not a smooth triangle, although Quaintance remained realistic and did not indulge in pornographic exaggeration.

Also, Quaintance in his paintings used the narrow-minded beliefs of the moral legislators about what is considered “sexually explicit” by glorifying the male buttocks. Moreover, one doesn’t get the impression that he reluctantly did so, as he judged his model Jim Glasper of having “aesthetically ideal” that is “ideally proportioned buttocks,” and he made this eighteen-year-old youngster pose for three out of four characters on his painting “Saturday Night” (1954).

Rural Youth

But who was George Quaintance?

He was born on June 3, 1902 on the countryside of Page County, Virginia, and is described as clearly and actively homosexual from his teenage years, although, as was necessary in those days, he was extremely discreet about his erotic encounters. In an autobiographical sketch he wrote at the request of the Grecian Guild in 1956, he knew that he was not happy in his youth, feeling an outsider: “I was suffering as a child because I knew I did not belong in that valley of rich farms, surrounded by tall blue mountains. My parents must also have suffered when they realized what kind of person they were stuck with. But they were wise and good, and they never tried to change me, or force me to adopt their way of life. On the contrary, whenever I asked for more paint and brushes, they bought them for me.”

In retrospect, however, Quaintance was delighted with his lonely rural youth, as it determined who he would become: “If I had been born in the city, I would have mixed with other children and would have followed the usual childhood pattern. I was completely alone on the countryside, with nothing to lead me other than my own intuitive feelings.”

Due to the circumstances of his youth, Quaintance did not believe that the family in which someone is born has a major and determining influence on what you make of your life. He did not believe in heredity, but he did think that a human being doesn’t come into this world as a blank page, that “we are not born as new in this life. We come here, equipped with the experiences and memories of the many lives we have lived before - with a background of knowledge that has nothing to do with our parents or our immediate ancestors. (...) Of course I grew up in a dreamworld."

"Those high blue mountains did not stop my wandering imagination. In that great, undisturbed silence, I learned to know of all past great events (...). I read a lot. Most historical events were not new to me. I knew I was there and witnessed them. In the course of these years, my dreamworld became my only reality. (...) While we are all human beings on the outside, none of us are equal. The only reality that makes us different is that dream deep in ourselves.”

Dreamworld Versus Reality

Everyday reality does not live up to the dream that someone constructed for himself during his shielded childhood years, and Quaintance had to experience that first hand: “Later, when I grew up and attended the New York art academy and had real experiences, I discovered that in no way they matched my dream - the actual, everyday experiences were inferior to it.”

As becomes clear from his remark about his desire for “more paint and more brushes,” he had an early interest in painting. In 1920, Quaintance departed for New York to study at the prestigious Art Students League. Here, he also trained himself as a dancer mastering different styles, from classical ballet to tap dance and tango. In the decades after saying goodbye to the countryside of Virginia, Quaintance frankly had more careers than a cat has lives.

Late 1930s, for example, he was a celebrated ladies’ hairdresser who designed exuberant hairstyles for various Hollywood stars and members of the New York elite. And before painting his beautiful odes to male beauty, he enjoyed fame as a portrait painter of rich and famous America. He also added photography to his list of skills by taking lessons from photographers, such as Edwin Townsend (known from his nude portraits of body-builder Tony Sansone in the 1920 and 1930s) and physique pioneer Lon Hanagan (Lon of New York).

In 1938, Quaintance met Victor Garcia, who would become his model and life and business partner. They settled in Phoenix, Arizona in a house they baptised Rancho Siesta and became the headquarters of Studio Quaintance, a business venture to produce not only Quaintance’s art, but also to promote his work. Because many gay men in the 1940s and 1950s were very discrete about their activities, sometimes even destroyed all incriminating material prior to their death (or their relatives did this posthumously), it is difficult to ascertain how successful Quaintance’s marketing of his work was (internationally).

An indication of this could be the fact that, in an interview, Tom of Finland once said that he had seen reproductions of Quaintance’s work before he had laid eyes on the famous magazine “Physique Pictorial.” “Never before had I seen gay erotica,” Tom said, “I was particularly impressed with his technique and the beauty of his paintings. I had already made sketches, but I never thought I could do anything with them. But when I saw Quaintance’s work, I realized that it was worth trying something similar.”

Different from the “overwhelmingly white” world Tom of Finland captured during the first forty years of his career, Quaintance, who was of Mexican descent, included “significant numbers of non-white men in his work, though be it often in ‘exotic’ settings and, it would seem, specifically to add extra spice to his erotic scenes. Quaintance’s invocation of racial difference served to widen the distance between the picture and its mainly white audience in the traditional, and comfortable, position of ethnographic observer,” wrote Micha Ramakers in “Dirty Pictures: Tom of Finland, Masculinity, and Homosexuality” (2000).

Daring Imagination

In 1951, Quaintance was responsible for the cover illustration of the very first issue of “Physique Pictorial,” Bob Mizer’s pioneering magazine that appeared up to 1990. His work appeared in various other physique magazines, such as “Grecian Guild Pictorial,” “Adonis,” “Demi-Gods” and “The Young Physique.” In 1954, photographs and prints of his paintings also appeared in the magazine “Der Kreis” in Switzerland, one of the first magazines in the world that openly made gay men its target group. And in the Netherlands as well, Quaintance’s work was becoming increasingly popular; various editions of the C.O.C. magazine “Vriendschap” (1949-1964) incorporated reproductions of his work.

George Quaintance died on November 8, 1957 after a heart attack that had confined him to his sick bed for several months. “Throughout the summer he struggled to regain his strength and finally, through sheer passion for his art, did manage to do some work. (..) Tragically, (...) on November ninth (sic!) the blithe spirit that was Quaintance left our midst,” the Editorial of the first issue of “The Young Physique” lamented. Although Bob Mizer wrote in 1957 that “throughout the world, Quaintance has been acclaimed as a trailblazer of a culture which has been almost ignored for twenty centuries,” his work would soon be forgotten.

It was only in the early 1980s that historically aware gay men revived interest in his work. In 1982, a profile of Quaintance appeared in the San Francisco newspaper “The Voice” in which the author proclaimed: “Quaintance was gifted with so much drive and artistic talent that he had the ability to transcend the puritanical restrictions of the times and leave us something of his daring imagination in his paintings.”

In the following year, the porn magazine “In Touch” published a comprehensive portfolio, in which some paintings were reproduced in colour, which prior to 1983 had only been seen in black and white. In 1989, the Berlin gay publisher and gallery owner Volker Janssen published the monograph “The Art of George Quaintance,” in which a large part of his painted oeuvre was collected, unfortunately in black and white. Only in 2010 did the sumptuous coffee table book “Quaintance” appear at Taschen publishers, which fully corroborates the qualities of “the founding father of gay beefcake art,” as all paintings are reproduced in colour.




In the New Issue of Gay News, 331, maart 2019

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