Jericho Brown, a poet originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, won 2020’s Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his 2019 collection, The Tradition. This is only the latest feather in Jericho’s hat — he’s been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts, and The American Book Award to name a few more. Written from a perspective both black and queer, his poems are imbued with the images, codes, and vernaculars that criss-cross his experience. In a conversation bridging Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and Walt Whitman; burning down Walgreens and elite institutions; and the burgundy mystery that closes The Tradition, we wove a cat’s cradle from some of the threads his work lays so bare. Read on, then get lost in The Tradition for more of the story.
In past interviews, you’ve quoted Whitney Houston with the same seriousness as John Milton. There’s something radical about giving that much authority and intentionality to the female pop lyric. It’s usually completely disregarded. Diana Ross has always been my diva. Having her as my diva has helped me understand a lot about my life as a poet, about longevity, stamina, and how to make use of my particular talents. I mean, I feel like not having a diva is like living life without a zodiac sign. [Jericho is an Aries.] If I find out someone’s diva, I find out more about them than I do if I know their sign. It’s like having one’s own muse, or one’s own Greek god over your shoulder. …
With blankets created in collaboration with PAOM and refreshing cocktails provided by Supergay spirits
Archie Alled-Martinez is at the helm of a blossoming Spanish label that eschews trends and embraces sex. For this story the dancer Jean Lemersre modeled some of his most recent looks.
In the frosty chill of early 2020, we visited Louis Fratino at the Bushwick studio he shares with his partner, designer Thomas Barger. The open plan was split by the couple’s starkly different styles, the colorful romance of Fratino’s paintings both in conversation and at odds with the puffy and softly spiny architecture of Barger’s furniture. As their dog, Margaret, glowered sharply at us from her roost, the couple welcomed us graciously. With candor and charm, Fratino entertained my inquiry of his recent foray into sculpture and the current landscape of queer figurative painters. Our conversation often returned to the non-linearity of space and time — to the spurious notion of progress and the recognition that art history is not a monolith. After taking notes during our tête-à-tête, I sent him a series of questions.
How does the act of drawing compare to painting or sculpting? Drawing is subconscious and capricious. If art making is about revealing an interior self, then it is drawing that brings me there. Painting or sculpting becomes heavy because it asks to live in our world, which is burdened by rules of perception. Drawing can be anything from a written letter to a hair — it is more free to wander.
When you draw, do you make work from your own perspective, or from a state of astral projection, floating outside of yourself? It depends on the source of the drawing, which ranges from total invention, appropriating other artworks, or photography. When I draw from invention or memory, I am often several feet behind myself — seeing myself and others. …
There is an accessibility to the work of Daniel Marcellus Givens that is rarely matched. His marker drawings of bodies radiating auras, colliding and fusing together, kissing, wrestling, dancing, or flying through the air, in their abstraction, are at once both mysterious and instantly identifiable. They are unpretentious in their simplicity, being as much about the unfussy materiality of marker on paper as the metaphysics of meditation and love — difficult to describe, but easy to know once experienced.
Growing up as an ‘80s child in Chicago, Givens was raised by MTV. He digested music videos as multidimensional art, exhilarated by their combination of catchy melodies, poetic lyrics, and hypnotic visuals that satisfy the senses and saturate mass culture. He often sat in the DJ booth as his brother spun tracks for parties, and later with a drum machine and keyboard sampler, he became a DJ too and also made his own music. “As a little kid, one of my best friends and I were really into Prince,” he remembers. “We watched Purple Rain every day for a whole summer. We were way too young, but I had a friend who could get us into the movie theater.” Later Givens and that friend decided to start a band. “We didn’t have any instruments, so we decided to make them with some markers and construction paper. We copied the [artist formerly known as Prince] symbol-shaped guitar, using rulers as the guitar necks. We’d hang out in the backyard lip-syncing to Prince songs. …
Introducing The GAYLETTER Back Page
River Wilson is an erotic film performer and artist. He spends his time between Montreal (where he grew up), New York City, and Berlin.
A few years back he self-published a book of nude photographs of himself shot by friends he’d made during his travels. For River, the book was a way to gain control over his fear of death. “I’m afraid of disappearing. So, this book felt like something I would hold until my old age. I could say, ‘Look at me when I was experimenting.’”
River has always been a sexual being. “When I was younger it would be like midnight and I would stay up jerking off to this show called La Nuit. It was like a movie but with sex; it was not even like full frontal. Sometimes I’d watch the story even after I’d finished jerking off, and I’d be like, ‘woah what’s she saying, where is she going?’ And when another scene would be hot, I’d jerk again.”
The reality of the porn business is vastly different than the expectations River had when he started performing. “I thought I was going to cum and get paid to just have sex. But oh my god — it’s such a thing! Behind the scenes, there’s a script and long hours. Sometimes you have to take Viagra if you can’t get hard. Sometimes you work with people that you may not find attractive, but you still have to perform because it’s work.” Ultimately, he’s more creatively fulfilled shooting with alternative porn directors. …
A photographer exposes his desires and his pains of coming out.
Before ‘gay visibility’ if a person discovered same-sex attraction within their heart but was not wealthy and privileged enough to construct underground networks to live comfortably in an alternate lifestyle, for some, the only answer was to seek meaning in life through esoteric study. In global cultures, comparative anthropology, non-western religions, and erotic mysticisms, one could inhabit an identity nobler than ‘local cocksucker.’ Who wouldn’t rather be a Uranian, a sexual invert, or follower of Ganymede than a mere homosexual stuck in a hetero-normative culture?
Forrest Bess lived in a shack on the gulf of Mexico, not far from Houston, Texas. He woke before dawn each morning to sell bait to local fishermen. He led an isolated life, painting his ‘visions’ in oil on small canvases and maintaining a distant but steady correspondence with sympathetic fellow travelers in New York and elsewhere. In time, Bess would meet prominent gallerist Betty Parsons, gain popularity as a pure abstract painter, and become an art world legend, his paintings revered as objects of desire.
Texas is quite unlike the rest of the United States. Physically bigger than most countries in Europe, many residents understand their state to be another country. Texas’ libertarian ideology allows for a greater personal eccentricity to be socially and institutionally supported in ways that are rare in the highly controlled worlds of Boston, Washington DC, and New York. Houston only became a major city after 1900, when a hurricane wiped out the bigger city of Galveston. The city then grew quickly after the lucrative commodity of oil and natural gas were found in abundance. …