Go Figure

Why the human figure? Of the many things an artist can paint or draw, I always come back to figures. Not that I don’t love a good, dreamy landscape or charming still-life. But time and energy are limited, and the flesh is weak, so I go where the urge, the need is strongest.

It’s all about desire, many kinds of desire. At the bottom of heap is your basic horny lust. Let’s just get that out of the way. Yes, this kind of desire has a number of outlets (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and art is indeed one I turn to. Variety is the spice of life. So, you might ask, am I responding to deluge of thirst traps by making more? Yes, but they’re artsy, imaginative thirst traps. That’s gotta be worth something.

Not highfalutin enough for you? How about desire for connection? I’d say we all go through life with a longing to see and be seen, to express, to feel, to move, to give and receive pleasure. And the pleasures of the body can be some of the most delightful and leave strong impressions. Art involving the figure can become a physical artifact resonating with memories or echoes of these moments of pleasure.

As we climb this mountain of inspiration, we come next to desire for the impossible, the unobtainable, the just out of reach. Often, my art is inspired by something beyond the physical, just beneath the surface of an image or stolen glance. An undefinable essence, if you will. Making the art is grabbing some inchoate idea from the ether and trying wrestle it into physical existence. Always failing, really. There is no arrival, end point or success–just continual effort.

Finally we arrive the peak of the mountain and take in the wide vista. The desire now is for visions of justice. Figures in my art can depict characters, characters who are in relation to each other and their worlds, whether inner, outer, or both. People are stories, stories are people, drawing one is drawing the other. When I tell you a story, even about the past, I’m trying to shape the present and the future by planting something in your mind. What is that future, what seeds am I sowing? Beauty, power, desire, growth, freedom, pleasure, ecstasy. I want to cultivate in the garden of your imagination a vision of a just, equitable, and truly free society powered by pleasure. Is it working?

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering comix previews, book recommendations, exclusive sexy art, and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

Cover image: Beloved and God, No. 4 (2019, 6 in. x 9 in., gouache on paper)

We are not free labor, we are not the product!

We can all agree that social media is a currently a mess. In its brief history, however, it has opened up amazing and unheard of possibilities for connection and collaboration. Opting out completely would be hard, and a huge loss. Walking away is not the answer to our current woes.

There are alternatives.

For several years now, a quiet revolution has been taking place. It’s only with the very public meltdown of Twitter that a light has been shone upon the quiet little corners of the web where some smart and dedicated people have banded together to create something entirely new.  And it’s called the “fediverse.” I know, darlings, a terrible name right out of the Star Trek Bargain Basement. Bear with me.

In the realm of social media we’re used to the idea of numerous platforms run by various companies coming and going—today it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter where in times past it was Friendster, MySpace, ICQ and so many others. Imagine that they weren’t competing (or colluding) businesses in a capitalistic hellscape but rather interoperating services: log into Twitter, follow a Facebook friend, share an Instagram post all from one place, all in one app, on one timeline.

Take it a step further and imagine this network of networks built on and adhering to a set standard for interoperability that’s maintained by an international, non-governmental body. Add to that free, open source software that can be used to create an endless array of independent, collectively owned and operated social media. Let a thousand anti-Twitters bloom!

Welcome to the fediverse. A network of decentralized, independent social media platforms willingly interoperating by adhering to protocols maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (https://www.w3.org/). 

Mastodon (https://joinmastodon.org) is currently getting all the attention. You may have heard it touted as an alternative Twitter. It certainly is that, but more. Unlike Twitter, there’s actually thousands of Mastodons,  “servers” they’re called, the vast majority running on donations and volunteer labor. Each has its own criteria for joining and rules for moderation. There are server focused on art, technology, journalism, writing, and even, darlings, KINK!! Search a little and you can find your niche while at the same time being able to communicate and follow people on other servers within the fediverse—even on servers that aren’t Mastodon. As long as the other platform follows the conventions, you can connect.

Imagine, if you will, our own queer, smutty twittergram where we share our work and our thoughts without fear of algorithmic erasure, trolls, or weaponized reports.

So, does the fediverse present an opportunity for adventurous and technically adroit smut peddlers? Perhaps. Picture a small niche platform that sets its own community standards that are truly that—norms for the community, not a euphemism for censorship. Imagine, if you will, our own queer, smutty twittergram where we share our work and our thoughts without fear of algorithmic erasure, trolls, or weaponized reports. The community would be self-moderated so appeals, conversation, and learning could happen when conflicts arise. Harassment can be dealt with swiftly, maybe even proactively, ensuring true safety. We dispense with the dehumanizing automated processes we’re subjected to on the commercial platforms. And, darlings, no ads! Let me say that again for those in the back of the room: NO ADS! And did I mention custom emoji?

While I’ve painted quite a rosy picture, creating and maintaining such a space online and interconnecting with thousands of others online communities, some healthy, some not so much, is helluva lotta work. For all the promise, there are perils to consider. In the next post of this little miniseries, we’ll dig into these concerns a little more. 

I’ll also share some advice on how to get started in the fediverse. You may have been warned away by threats of “it’s complicated.” Yes, compared to Twitter or Instagram, it is more complicated. The payoff, however, is more control over the key aspects of your experience, communication, privacy, and safety.

In the meantine, if you’re already on Mastodon or another fediverse platform, hit me up at https://artisan.chat/@papertiger.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering comix previews, book recommendations, exclusive sexy art, and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

Cover photo by Braxton Apana via Unsplash

Watches of the Night

A new series of small paintings

As Shakyamuni Buddha sat under the bodhi tree on the night of his enlightenment, the demon Mara and his hordes attacked him with scores and scores of arrows. Gently touching the ground, the Buddha called upon the power of the earth and quietly transformed the arrows to flowers. An assault became a delicate shower of soft petals, glistening in the moonlight.

A core tenant of Buddhist thought is the power of transformation. Harm becomes healing, pain becomes joy. Among the volleys of Mara’s arrows hurtling towards us constantly are images of aggressive masculinity—athletes, soldiers, superheroes. These chiseled rocks are to be admired or emulated. These paragons of rugged individuality express a need, a propulsion to dominate. They embody this dominance in their physiques. (Just think about how right-wing the pursuit of physique is these days.) These physiques are now deeply connected in the popular culture with a toxicity that is slowly killing us all, even the right-wing, iron-pumping meatheads who think they’re invincible due to the size of their biceps (and egos). In the way the Buddha teaches us to transform Mara’s arrows into flowers, we can remake these physiques, these emblems of toxic masculinity, into dreaming, dancing, and true pleasure.

These small paintings combine abstract floral elements with male figures–active, passive, sensual, erotic, pornographic. Occasional hints of surrealism decorate a few of them. They aim to re-contextualize. Transformation becomes possible because nothing is absolute or inherent. It’s all relative. The same thing (bulging bicep, erect penis) harms in one setting, heals in another. Are the bicep and the penis inherently one thing or another? I want this series to invite you to look beyond a singular object or person and instead zoom out and take in the surroundings as well. Expand your consciousness to appreciate as much of the whole as you can.

These little gems set out to sparkle–not broadcast. They’re diminutive of size but their vivid colors and evocative imagery attract attention. Like a walk in a garden, you catch a glimpse of a delicate creature coyly flirting with visibility among the flowers. You feel a brief spark that invites a longer look and maybe leaves a gently joyous, lingering sensation. They lighten the mood. They add a spring to your step as you catch a glimpse on your way out the door or settle in for a night bingeing the latest MCE (Marvel Cinematic Extravaganza).

Sexy bois with big…botanicals!

A series of miniatures featuring the sensual muscularity of male figures transformed from dominance to delight with graceful floral imagery.

The erotic as continuum–not binary

If you haven’t read the lovely book Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders, I suggest you do. In it she encourages us to tell our stories—even if just to ourselves—to fight the darkness always at the door. Storytelling is important to my work, and to my soul, so I’m always exploring the various nooks and crannies, drives and desires that propel new stories out of the darkness. Darling, when you think about it, it’s really quite amazing: something exists where there was nothing; something different, ever so subtly, from everything that came before and will come after.

The ruminations inspired by her book included thoughts about sex and storytelling. Namely, why is sex, and the erotic in general, segregated in our storytelling? We have our erotic stories in this bucket over here, discreetly tucked away to not offend the utterly hypocritical puritans of modern western society. Then we have everything else over here, proudly displayed in the bright lights. And these two buckets are governed by a host of rules, explicit and unspoken, generally about keeping them as far apart as possible. Never the twain shall meet!

The roots of these taboos are deep, but I did read recently something that’s really stuck with me: “People who are out of touch with their bodies are a lot easier to control.” Indeed! How about we make things a little more difficult for these would-be puppet masters?

I’m sad to admit it, darling, but I totally observed—even believed in—these horrible rules for far too long. Too many times have I thought: “can’t add that to the story” or that being suggestive is more “artistic.” (Seriously, wtf does that even mean?) What about treating the erotic as a continuum rather than binary? Hiding it away makes it an either/or proposition. Really, isn’t it about the range of options from Debbie Does Dallas to Hallmark after schools specials? (Wow, did I just date myself there or what, darling?!)

Work that is pure celebration of the erotic? Wonderful! Work that has no visible presence of the erotic? Also wonderful! I’m sure there will be lots of both in my future. Deepening a scene, character, or image with an erotic charge? Still a work in progress. Using explicit sex scenes as a way to move a story forward? Yep, still figuring that one out. Not slut-shaming myself? God, where to begin?!

Wonderful as all this is, there’s another consideration. Self-expression is deeply interconnected with responsibility. The more expressive I am, the more responsibility I carry to inform and respect your consent. You, darling, need to know what you’re in for so you can say “heck yeah, bring it on!” or “nah, thanks, I’m good.” This is as much a work in progress for me as all the other quandaries I enumerated above. This is not slut-shaming or censorship, it’s something else, something more caring.

So, darlings, I hope you’ll join me on this erotic adventure to unravel the binaries wherever we find them!

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering comix previews, book recommendations, exclusive sexy art, and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

The office, but not THAT office

The word “office” wears a lot of outfits. It can be a job, the place to do a job, some religious something or other or a big-ass bureaucratic smorgus-bord of stuffy egos and stuffed pockets. Peel off all the layers of clothing and there’s a nice surprise at the bottom (known a few bois like that): the latin opifex. It sounds cool, right outta Star Trek, but also means “maker, artisan, craftsman” (Yep, man, as in male. Doesn’t seem to be feminine form. So sorry about that bit of historical sexism). At once we’ve got both the maker and where they make.

Where the making happens doesn’t always get the spotlight, compared to the final product. But who doesn’t like a good behind-the-scenes? Like where am I making these words right now? Start with the clacky-clack of the three-year old Macbook’s grimy keys forcing letters onto the white area of the screen meant to represent a piece of paper. (Love how we stick with these digital archaisms: paper, rotary phones, camera shutters.) This piece of “paper” is a Google Doc (hey, Big Brother, how’s it hanging?) inside one of way too many browser tabs.

The Macbook is perched on a lovely wood desk I’ve had for decades. The ultimate in simplicity: wood, metal legs, casters. Done. Roomy and surprisingly unblemished considering the amount of time I’ve spent slumped over it trying to do any number of things. Peeking out from behind the laptop and the stand for the second monitor are some laughing buddhas reminding me to have fun and not take myself so seriously. There’s a lamp, a little plastic organizer that’s anything but organized. Lined along the edge of the desk are a notepad and “the pile”: an assemblage of books and paper that represent things I’m doing, meant to be doing, hope I’ll get to or have completely forgotten about. Physical manifestation of my brain and soul.

This all surrounds an open plane, kept bare at great daily effort so as to be refashioned at a moment’s notice for any number of activities: writing, drawing, scheming, staring listlessly out of the window. Yes, the desk faces the window. Always has, hopefully always will. I’ve sat at desks facing a wall and it’s horrible and lifeless. Natural light and some notion of the outside world are as essential to me and my officing as are a desk, computer, and electricity. Oh, and coffee. There’s just about always a cup of coffee nearby. On a coaster, of course. I’ve preserved the surface of this desk for 20 years, and aim for another 20.

Yes to light, but no to walls. I’ve carved out half of the living room of my small apartment to dedicate to making things: pictures, words, sometimes code. Desk, drafting table, shelves, and little roly-poly cart with painting supplies. (The fancy word is taboret, if you go in for such things.)

All of that is as open and adaptable for making a variety of things as is the desk. It’s not closed off, it’s not separated. It still maintains a bit of distinction so I can “leave” when I need to–usually after returning the office to as pristine a state as I can. 

Today I make one thing. I may make something different tomorrow. I close down by hitting a kind of reset button, restoring it to a ready state–ready for tomorrow’s adventure.

Workshopping Reality

Sitting in a circle at the end of a very intense 10-day workshop, our yoda-in-residence offered one final, very intriguing insight. Short–not Yoda short–big fluffy white Santa beard, and a gentle, non-threatening midwestern demeanor all conspired to hide his deep intellect and vast well of creative experience. In other words, he didn’t look the part of theatrical genius at all. Actually, thank fucking god. I’ve seen enough black turtlenecks for one lifetime. We’ll get to the epiphany. But first, a little bit of “previously on” to set the stage.

The mid-aughts. NYC. A group of hopeful and fiercely talented writers and composers have gathered to hone their craft by writing songs and musical scenes in ridiculously short time frames. If you’re thinking this is a reality TV setup, you’re not wrong–it had all the makings.

That was now some time ago and many details have faded–but not all. For instance, I wrote a kick-ass song in less than two days and for the first time experienced a real sense of accomplishment and possibility. Two, we leared real collaboration is fucking hard. I’ve never been married–or really even dated. (Darling, aromantic is a thing. Google it.) I can’t compare it to that, can’t really compare it to anything. So I won’t. It’s fucking hard. If it’s not fucking hard, you’re not doing it right. The image offered during the workshop was of a tug-o-war where only one side is pulling. Don’t shy away from the tension, discomfort, disagreement. Lean into it, learn from it, deal with it–and then get shit done. Clock is ticking! Oh yeah, and there will be glorious moments when the scales fall from your eyes, you see the whole vista, and realize that the shit strewn on the road up the mountain is totally worth every stinky moment.

But we’re still not at the yodarific nugget I dangled in front of you. That came at the very end, after the work was done, the songs performed. We were doing a kind of debrief and farewell.

Someone (fuck, was it me?) made a comment about having to go back to the “real world.” Ben (aka Yoda) stopped us in that moment and countered my sigh of desperation with a bit of reframing. The workshop, the 10 ball-busting days of glorious creativity and raucous collaborations, is actually the really real world. Everything that’s not burning hot like that hothouse, not pushing and pulling to reshape us into our most glorious selves, not utterly committed and vulnerable, is the mistake, the fake, the loss, the near miss.

Our mission, should we choose to accept, was to go out and start fixing it. Grab on to what we learned and created there and burst forth, taking ass and kicking names. Bends reality to our will and make it look like the workshop, like something you’d actually want to be a part of. You’ll have to collaborate, and that’s really fucking hard. But that beautiful Workshop Reality™️ we want to make is a group effort. It’s not worth a damn if it’s not the best and most courageous, most exquisitely beautiful and terrifying challenge for every last damn one of us. Leave no one behind.

Cover photo: Allec Gomes via Unsplash

Move Better, Draw Better

Your physique is not a product, or even a goal, it’s a process. One that never stops changing. Approaching physique as process has changed my relationship with my body and shifted my approach from one of desperately trying to achieve a single, static and perfect appearance to an open-ended exploration of movement.

What does this have to do with art, you ask? Paradoxically, understanding movement more deeply (like as lived, embodied experience) helps to capture it in the static images I create as an artist. This makes the pursuit of movement a benefit to both health and creative practice. Physiques crafted through intense movement and skill also happen to be more appealing to me. Your mileage may vary.

I’m a lover, not a fighter

But damn, fighters do have the most amazing physiques! If one wants that physique, without pummeling people and profuse bleeding, what’s a body to do? Enter calisthenics! Or aerial, dance, gymnastics, certain styles of yoga, and quite a few other options, I’m sure. Basically, think outside the gym.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering comix previews, book recommendations, exclusive sexy art, and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

Like so many well-indoctrinated gays, I treated the gym as temple and religious obligation. This went on, not without some benefit, for decades. Then, the pandemic happened and they all closed. I went back briefly when they started re-opening. But, when poor old Astral Fitness (where I belonged for years) went out of business, I decided it was time to shake things up. I had been slowly sampling and adding things beyond the weights/cardio dogma for years. Dropping yet another aspect of outdated gay culture was surprisingly easy.

Briefly, my current routine mixes qi gong, yoga, and calisthenics, either at home or in nearby parks. (Exercising outside is glorious!) There have been a few other interesting things along the way, too. It’s a perpetual work-in-progress derived from a variety of sources and a great deal of self-reflection. You must chart your own path by finding your ideal companions for the journey. Mine will not necessarily be the same as yours. Enjoy the journey.

And remember, you are what you eat, so give a thought to that, too.

A thotful himbo

Getting outside the gym, literally and figuratively, freed up my thinking about health and physique, freed up my body and, believe it or not, freed up my art, too. Shifting my health routines to be more playful and expressive has added more fluidity to my figure drawing. It’s helped me better remember and visualize anatomical details while drawing. And if I’m really feeling it, I have the wherewithal to try out some ambitious poses for myself to both feel and see the reference.

The formula is simple: move better, draw better.

Cover photo: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash; the rest is all me.

Got a favorite routine, health hottie, or wanna show off? Drop your comments below…

Exclusively Queer?

I have written, and said a few times, semi-earnestly “don’t make characters straight unless you have to”—or words to that effect. Yes, there is irony at work. But there’s something deeper to it. Buried in the snark is also a question: is it okay to focus my work entirely on the queer?

The scales of representation still skew heavily to the straight, white, and cisgendered. People that don’t check off those boxes—or just aren’t that interested in seeing more of the same—are made to feel less than. Made to feel invisible. Told we don’t belong and our stories aren’t worth telling.

That shit hurts. Always has, always will.

When you start to engage with the cishet power brokers and gatekeepers, pundits and pontificators, you’ll often get the well-intentioned advice to straighten it up or go nowhere.

Why do these gatekeepers speak with such authority? How do they actually know? In fact, the runaway success and glorious Black representation of Black Panther and Into the Spiderverse suggest a different story. Is there perhaps a hunger out there for diversity? Will my queer stories tap into that hunger? Could I instead find success because of the queerness of the work, not in spite of it?

If I choose a path ahead that is primarily, even exclusively, producing queer-focused work, I will definitely leave behind the dominant corporate content structures. It’s a scary but exhilarating thought, in a stick-it-to-the-man kinda way.

Those structures, offering the illusion of security and success, are layered in centuries of heteronormative and white supremacist suppression. Are they really salvageable? Suppose I toed the line, played it straight, worked by butt off and somehow managed to “get in” without totally losing myself. Then what? Is there any possibility of change from within? Enough to really make a difference?

Perhaps, but I chose a different path. It will be an interesting adventure. I hope you’ll follow along.

Cover photo: Dominik Lalic / Unsplash

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering comix previews, book recommendations, exclusive sexy art, and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

What kinds of questionable advice have you been given about navigating a world that wants to you disappear? Drop your comments below…

Of course he’s looking

2021, 14 in. x 11 in.
Casein on paper
$200, unframed

Alright everybody, hit the showers!

This scene is inspired by the at once highly erotic and highly restrained ritual of group showering—usually in hyper-masculine settings. But it’s also a rare opportunity, in American society, at least, when men can both freely see and be seen.

Appears in the forthcoming book Shower with Affection, vol. 2, from Raw Meat Collective.

If you’re interested in purchasing this work, or just have questions, hit the button below to send me an email. I also have DMs open on Instagram and Twitter, if that’s your jam.

Thicc of Heart

Some recent reading of Kickstarted goodies got me thinking about muscles. Like I ever stop. What was I reading? Well, since you ask: Comrade Himbo, an anthology by POMEgranate Magazine and Beef Bros by Aubrey Sitterson and Tyrell Cannon. Both books put some beefy physiques front and center (bring it on!) but more than that, we get big heart with our big biceps. The courage, generosity, and compassion of these folks are just as well developed.

Beef Bros, art by Tyrell Cannon
Comrade Himbo, art by Mengmeng Liu

Upon reflection, I started wondering about the various associations we make, nearly automatically, when it comes to physique—especially the carefully cultivated beefy variety. Too often we expect (or experience) some combo of dumb, mean, and vain.

How did we come to a place where physique is the realm of toxic masculinity?

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bullshit, our should I say broshit, in our society that feeds this. Walk into just about any gym anywhere in the US and you’ll see (or experience) some instance of broshit going on. Social media is a minefield of greed, trolling, and misinformation. Advertising and mass media are exercises in pure exploitation. In the midst of all this insanity, what’s a would-be beefy body to do?

The two books above, and dare I say my own work, show some alternatives. I hope some glimmer of a more enlightened thiccness reaches the denizens of the gym, calisthenics parks, trainers and fitness gurus, the fitness media, and all the purveyors of the toxic broshit. We seriously need it. Let’s grow more than just the biceps and traps, let’s grow our hearts as well! Let’s encourage and support everyone, no matter where they are on their fitness and physique journeys.

In fact, it’s actually happening in Oakland as we speak. Here’s a glimpse of the future I’d like to see.

Cover photo: Charles Gaudreault

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering comix previews, book recommendations, exclusive sexy art, and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

Got some recommended reads, workouts, or places to move your fabulous body? Drop them in the comments below…