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. …
We captured Susanne's looks during a 5 week period while she was hosting her 'On Top' party via Zoom...
There is only one Susanne Bartsch. The queen of New York nightlife has been throwing parties for decades and nothing can stop her, not the first plague to affect our community, during which she threw balls to raise money for those most impacted, and not this current pandemic. Susanne is continuing to bring together the best of nightlife, but now online. The digital events she’s been organizing are a joyful escape for those stuck at home, and a lifeline for many performers who have no other way to earn a living right now.
Do you want to start with history or do you want to start with now? Oh, you know the history.
Well tell me a little bit about how you came from Switzerland and how you first got into doing parties? I came to New York for a love affair. It was February 14, 1981 and I came for love but I fell in love with New York instead. I loved everything, the energy, and the possibilities.
At the beginning, I was in the fashion business. I had a store on West Thompson Street where I was importing young English designers like Body Map, Galliano, people who were still in college then, Stephen Jones, Leigh Bowery, Rachel Auburn, and to grow I decided to put on a show called “New London in New York.” I did that at the Roxy in May of 1983. There was a line around the Roxy of people waiting to get in. …
Magenta low-key hates the color magenta. So how did this rising New York drag star end up with her name? Well, turns out an old lady in a coffee shop was the inspiration. In high school Magenta was sitting with a friend with “long ass pink braids” when an “old, old, old bitch” walked up to them and said “I love your hair. I had magenta hair once too.” And so “Magenta” was born. “All my friends hated the name,” she explains, “but I was like ‘It’s cunt! It’s gonna stick,’ and now it’s stuck.”
Magenta, who turned 21 this year, grew up “way deep in the Bronx.” She has been performing in New York for six years. It all started on Halloween at age 15. She woke up at 6 a.m. that morning so his mom could paint his and a friend’s faces before school. Afterwards they took the train from the Bronx to 56th and 3rd in full drag. Magenta acknowledges that it was reckless, but if they acted confident then nobody would fuck with them: “And that’s kind of what happened.”
Magenta is most inspired by Rihanna “because you can’t compete with the energy of a bitch who says ‘I can do whatever I want, say whatever I want, and wear whatever I want, and you’re just gonna eat it up.’” She’s also inspired by Adore Delano: “I love that bitch. She also looks like you can’t fuck with her.”
Magenta wears bathing suit by Just Cavalli, pants by Veronique Leroy, jacket by Vintage Saga Furs, necklace and belt by Chanel, vintage earrings. …
Brooklyn-based Diego Montoya creates extravagant masks and headpieces using beads, gems, pearls, broken jewelry, dismantled clocks, animal bones...Everything. His decadent facades have been donned by queens such as Jinkx Monsoon, Bob the Drag Queen and his No.1 muse, Sasha Velour.
Dancer-choreographer Erik Cavanaugh moved and grooved from a pizza parlor in Pittsburgh to some of the biggest stages in the world. The former dance major ended up on America’s Got Talent and in the pages of Oprah Magazine after a video of him pirouetting and backbending went viral in 2016, eventually racking up tens of millions of views. His mission has always been to change how we imagine the “dancer’s body,” urging us to celebrate each others’ bodies because they are one thing we all inhabit. Today he continues to spread this message posting performance videos to his loyal fanbase on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, showing that dance is a language we all share, speaking to the heart and soul of who we are. We caught up with Cavanaugh to hear him translate, to words, his body talk, and get to know the mind behind the movement.
How would you reflect on the media coverage you’ve received? At Dance magazine, they voiced frustration that mainstream media centered on the spectacle, rather than your art. When I read that, I teared up because I believed it: Rather than focusing on me as a dancer, they focused on what my body looked like… mislabeling me as a ballerina. A ballerina is a female professional ballet dancer, which I’m not.
I liked when they asked if the media was missing the point. While I appreciated all that was given to me, I didn’t like being labeled as “burly,” or “linebacker,” or all these images that they used to create this persona of who I am and what my body looked like. …
Michael Love Michael is an independent musician and writer based in Manhattan, whose latest single, “6 Jaguars,” holds up a magic mirror to wealth inequality. Enchanted, we had to catch up with them to ask about their reflections on crafting music as a lens through which to see what money makes of us.
How do you navigate the relationship between storytelling and selling stories? We don’t have another system right now. This is where we are, and I’m a person who has a certain amount of ambition. I’m putting music out there, which is an ambitious endeavor on its own, you know? I’ve worked within corporate hierarchies, so I can make a living. I understand this is necessary until we invent a new way of living and being, and supporting ourselves. But my desire to tell stories comes from a place disconnected from the idea of making money. I lead with my heart. I try to not live my life based on what’s gonna make me the next quick buck.
Like the film Parasite, “6 Jaguars” is a portrait of someone in their high tower while we suffer below, but there’s a certain luxe appeal. You end up wanting it, but also knowing that it’s awful. I’m really drawn to that juxtaposition, always. I’ve been binge-watching a ton of TV, like everyone, and I’ve been watching a lot of Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy shows. I’m obsessed with how they have these central characters who on the surface are corrupt, but you find goodness within them. They’re complex. And that’s how real life is. Nothing is one way or another.
At the end of “6 Jaguars,” as you repeat that phrase, “Bitch if they don’t like me / Cunt if they despise me,” it transforms in meaning. …