McDermott & McGough

McDermott & McGough, “If You Had Been the Moon”, April 2009, 10:16, Directed by Peter Mc  Gough, Starring Michael  Kavalus, Bryan Deckhart, Claybourne Elder, Christopher Le Rude, Alex Michael Stoll, and Andrew Lord

The art collective McDermott & McGough consists of the contemporary artists David McDermott and Peter McGough who are known for their work in sculpture, painting, film and photography. Their work examines such issues as religion, popular culture and art, medicine, advertising, fashion, and sexual behavior. McDermott and McGough are best known for their gay-themed paintings and the use of historical processing techniques in their photographic work, which includes film development with palladium, gum bichromate, salt, platinum, and carbon black.

Born in Hollywood, California in 1952, David McDermott studied at Syracuse University in New York from 1970 to 1974. He moved to New York City where he became famous in the downtown area for his odd manners and outdated formalwear, such as detachable collars, cummerbunds, and top hats. Born in Syracuse in 1958, Peter McGough studied at Syracuse University in 1976. He relocated to New York City where he briefly studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After dropping out from the Institute, McGough was employed to sell tickets at Danceteria, a famous, albeit illegal, nightclub with several locations in the city.

Peter McGough met David McDermott in a Manhattan theater at the end of the 1970s. As David kept Peter company during the early club hours before sunrise, a strong relationship developed between them  that also included an artistic alliance which would last forty years. In the 1980s, the gay couple became known in New York’s East Village art scene for their immersion in the Victorian era. McDermott and McGough questioned the ideas of nostalgia; they pursued an art form and lifestyle narrative of reorienting the past for the future. Dressed and living as early 1900s dandies with an air of erudition and impertinence, their lives and art became an exploration of time and history, as well as, a challenge to the boundaries of art history and cultural identity.

McDermott and McGough’s collaborative output was expressed through a proliferation of drawings, paintings, film and photographs, and architectural interiors. Their photographs and films, which appropriated images and objects from the late 19th century to the style of the 1930s, explored contemporary cultural issues but produced them through vintage materials and techniques. McDermott and McGough’s obsession with the past is reflected in the styles and subjects they resurrect; many of their works are titled with fictional dates that reference the latter years of the 1800s. 

The later work of McDermott and McGough was inspired by advertising motifs, Hollywood cinema, and the comic books of the 1950s and 1960s. They reinvented major works of twentieth-century photography, Pop Art icon images, and produced photo-realistic paintings of vintage film stars. During the 1980s when their work was selling well, McDermott and McGough were a major part of the downtown New York scene, where the attended clubs and mingled with Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol. They bought three properties including a 1860s French Second Empire style bank, owned horses and vintage automobiles, hosted lavish baroque parties, and bestowed expensive gifts to friends.

 In 1992, the art market began to feel the effects of the stock market crash of October 1987. Out of all the paintings McDermott and McGough had on  exhibit at the Armory Show, only one small painting sold. Their debts, which included framing costs for their exhibitions, came due; many of these debts were paid through the transfer of their existing artwork to galleries and other debtors, among whom was the Internal Revenue Service. Eventually everything the couple had was auctioned off except for a few pieces they managed to save and later shipped to the docks of Dublin, Ireland. David McDermott relocated to a small  rental house near Ballsbridge, Ireland, and in 1995 McGough reunited with him. 

McDermott and McGough started painting and soon were able to rent a small art studio in Temple Bar in downtown Dublin. Through Swiss art dealer and gallery owner Bruno Bischofberger, they received many silhouette commissions. With the assistance of the gallery’s director Andrea Caratsch, McDermott and McGough had an exhibition in 1998 entitled “The Lust That Comes from Nothing” at Paris’s Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont.

McDermott and McGough’s previous exhibitions include the Whitney Biennial, New York, in 1987, 1991 and 1995, and a mid-career retrospective at the Provincial Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Oostende, Belgium. In 2017, their work was the subject of the exhibition “I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going’ held at the Dallas Contemporary Museum in Texas. Other solo and group exhibitions include such institutions as the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Centre Pompidou in Paris, New York City’s Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone, and the Frankfurter Kunstverein in Germany. 

McDermott and McGough’s work is represented in numerous collections including the International Center of Photography in New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas in Lawrence; Tampa Museum of Art in Florida; Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center; and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, among others.

Notes: In 2017, David McDermott and Peter McGough opened the Oscar Wilde Temple, a non-secular sacred space for LGBTQ people in a chapel at the Church of the Village located in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It is both an art exhibition space and a place for marriages; donations go to homeless LBGTQ youth. A second location at the gallery Studio Voltaire in London was opened in October of 2018.

In 2019, Peter McGough published his memoir “I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going There” through Penquin Random House. Set in New York’s Lower East Side, the memoir chronicles his life withDavid McDermott during the 1980s and mid-1990s.

Top Insert Image: David McDermott and Peter McGough, “Portrait of the Artists, 1928, 1990”, Palladium Print on Paper, 35 x 26.5 cm, Private Collection

Second Insert Image: David McDermott and Peter McGough, “Love is Gone- So What Can Matter? 1966, 2008”, Oil on Linen, 152.4 x 122.2 cm, Private Collection

Third Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, “Joel at Lower Baldonell House, Dublin, 1910, 2003”, Palladium Print on Paper, 50.8 x 40.6 cm, Private Collection

Fourth Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, “The Annointed”, 1991, Photographers and Friends Against AIDS Exhibition, Palladium Print on Paper, 16.5 x 11.8 cm, Private Collection

Fifth Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, Title Unknown (Reading Comics), Image from the “Detroit, 1958” Series,  2007, Carbro Print, Private Collection

Bottom Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, “Portrait of the Artist (With Top Hats) 1865”, 1991, Palladium Print on Paper, Collection of the Artists

Martin Wong

Paintings by Martin Wong

Born in Portland, Oregon in July of 1946, Martin Wong was an American painter of Chinese-Mexican ancestry whose work was a studious blend of visionary and social realism art styles. His work explored different ethnic and racial identities, and acknowledged his own queer sexuality.

Raised by a supportive family in the Chinatown district of San Francisco, Martin Wong began to express his artistic inclination at an early age. He entered California’s Humboldt State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Ceramics in 1968. Wong won a competitive ceramics exhibition held in 1970 at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.

Wong resided in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district from 1964 to 1978. While at home, he studied art history and became interested in subjects such as modern painting and Asian decorative objects. During this period, Wong was active in the art scene of the Bay Area, often painting portraits under the pseudonym of Human Instamatic. He also served as the set designer for the art performance group The Angels of Light, a social trope that was part of the emerging gay consciousness of the period.

Encouraged by his friends’ response to his art, Wong made the decision in 1978 to settle in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a career as an artist. Largely self-taught, his work was inspired by his immediate surroundings and ranged from uncompromising renderings of the Lower East Side’s decay to colorful paintings of the Chinatowns of New York and San Francisco. Wong also painted a series of work entitled “Traffic Signs for the Hearing Impaired”, artworks identical in color and shape to standard city traffic signs that utilized sign-language of the deaf to express their message.

In 1982 at the group exhibition “Crime Show” held at the collective gallery ABC No Rio in the Lower East Side, Martin Wong met poet Miguel Piñero, a leading member of the Nuyorican literary movement and author of the Pulitzer Prize winning play “Short Eyes”. Shortly after their meeting, Piñero moved into Wong’s apartment which began a relationship that would last until Piñero’s death in 1988. Through Piñero association, Wong became more integrated into the local Latino community; he began a series of collaborative work with Piñero that became entitled “Urban Landscapes”. This series of paintings combined Wong’s meticulous cityscapes and stylized sign-language with Piñero’s prose and poetry. Wong presented these paintings at a solo exhibition in 1984 at curator and recording artist Barry Blinderman’s Semaphore Gallery East.

In 1985 and 1986, Wong began a series of work entitled “The Last Picture Show”, a series of life-size images of shuttered storefronts. He amassed a large graffiti collection while living in New York and, in 1989, co-founded with friend Peter Broda the Museum of American Graffiti on the East Village’s Bond Street. By the 1990s, Wong’s work became quieter and more grim as gentrification took over the neighborhood and his peers were dying for drug addiction and AIDS.

In 1993, Matin Wong had a solo exhibition, “Chinatown Paintings”, at the San Francisco Art Institute. In these works based on his own memories and experiences, he presented an outsider’s view of Chinatown that lent itself more to myth than reality. Following complications in his health in 1994, Wong donated his graffiti collection to the Museum of the City of New York. In 1994, he was diagnosed with AIDS and, with declining health, moved back to San Francisco. He died under his parents’ care at the age of fifty-three from AIDS-related illness in August of 1999.

A retrospective of Martin Wong’s work was held at the Bronx Museum of Arts in 2015. His work can be found in many public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Syracuse University Collection, the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.

Note: Martin Wong’s 1984 painting, “My Secret World”, included in the above images, is an image of his first residence in Manhattan, a cheap hotel bedroom on the Lower East Side with a view to the South Street Seaport. The bedroom pictured is tidy with three of his earlier works on the walls. One depicts a series of hands sprouting from white cuff=links, The hands spell out in American Sign Language the words “Physiatrist Testify: Demon dogs drive man to murder”, which references the serial killer Son of Sam who stalked New York in 1983. Included in the books presented on the dresser are fictional works by Raymond Chandler and John Cheever.

Second Insert Image: Martin Wong, “Starry Night”, 1982, Oil on Canvas, 55.9 x 76.2 cm, Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York

Third Insert Image: Martin Wong, “Crossing Sign”, Traffic Signs for the Hearing Impaired Series, 1990, DOT Aluminum Steel Signs

Fourth Insert Image: Martin Wong, “Angelito”, 1992, Acrylic on Canvas, 61 x 56.2 cm, Private Collection

Bottom Insert Image: Martin Wong, “Tell My Troubles to the Eight Ball”, 1978-1981, Acrylic on Canvas, 122 x 122 cm, Private Collection

Patrick Mizumoto

The Artwork of Patrick Mizumoto

Born in Los Angeles, California, Patrick Mizumoto is a figurative painter whose work features male figures and landscapes. Self-taught, he also studied painting at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art under the mentorship of Mexican painter, muralist and printmaker Sergio Sanchez. Mizumoto currently resides and maintains a studio in California.

Mizumoto executes his work in oil paints or charcoal with a primary focus on themes of human nature and queer identity. His work, heightened by an understanding of light and shadow, portray figures in energetic and often suggestive poses which are set in backgrounds of swirling colors. In his work, he attempts to capture those moments of discord and harmony we experience in our daily lives.

Patrick Mizumoto has shown his work in multiple exhibitions in California and Hawaii, including the prestigious annual group exhibition, “Commitment to Excellence”, which is presented by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce through the Honolulu Museum of Art. He also presented several works at the Tom of Finland Foundation’s 2014 Emerging Artist Competition. Among these works were the oil on linen “Acceptance and Renewal” and the acrylic on canvas portrait “Sean”, both painted in 2014.

Mizumoto’s work was presented in a 2011 exhibition at Los Angeles’s The Hive Gallery & Studios and, in 2019, at the “My Youth” exhibition held at the Tag Gallery. In 2021, he exhibited work at the “Pow! Wow!” The First Decade: Hawaii to the World” exhibition held by the Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City, California.

Images of Patrick Mizumoto’s work, purchasable prints, and contact information for inquiries can be found at his site: https://patrickmizumoto.com

Bottom Insert Image: Patrick Mizumoto, Title Unknown, 2020, Oil on Panel, 22.9 x 30.5 cm-3

Edward Carpenter: “Clouds and Daemonic Thunder Through the Blue Vault”

Photographers Unknown, Clouds and Daemonic Thunder Through the Blue Vault

O APRIL, month of Nymphs and Fauns and Cupids,
Month of the Sungod’s kisses, Earth’s sweet passion,
Of fanciful winds and showers;
Apollo, glorious over hill and dale
Ethereally striding; grasses springing
Rapt to his feet, buds bursting, flowers out-breathing
Their liberated hearts in love to him.

(The little black-cap garrulous on the willow
Perching so prim, the crested chaffinch warbling,
And primrose and celandine, anemone and daisy,
Starring the tender herb which lambs already nibble.)

Month of all-gathering warmth,
Of breathless moments, hotter and hotter growing-
Smiles turned to fire, kisses to fierce earnest-
Of sultry swoons, pauses, and strange suspense
(Clouds and daemonic thunder through the blue vault
threateningly rolling):
Then the delirious up-break- the great fountains of the
deep, in Sex,
Loosened to pouring failing rushing waters;
Shafts of wild light; and Sky and Earth in one another’s
arms
Melted, and all of Heaven spent in streams of love
Towards the Loved one.

George Carpenter, April, Towards Democracy, 1911

Born in August of 1844 in Hove, a seaside city located next to Brighton, Edward Carpenter was an English poet, utopian socialist, philosopher, and an early activist for both prison reform and gay rights. Among his most notable philosophical publications was his 1889 “Civilization: Its Cause and Cure” which contained Carpenter’s famous essays on civilization and his theory that it is a disease of mankind that must be cured. Papers included in this collection discuss the rampant ill-health suffered by society as well as criticisms of modern science to support this theory. 

One of four siblings, Edward Carpenter was educated at nearby Brighton College where his father served as governor. A late starter academically in life, he was still able to secure a position at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, Carpenter was influenced by the teachings of Christian Socialist theologian Frederick Denison Maurice, who had recently founded London’s Working Men’s College. He also began to explore his sexual identity; the most notable example of which was his close relationship with fellow student Edward Anthony Beck, who eventually ended the relationship.

In 1868, Carpenter graduated from Trinity College as tenth Wrangler, having earned first-class honors in mathematics. After graduation, he remained in Cambridge and was ordained, by convention and not conviction, as a curate of the Church of England where he served at St. Edward’s parish under F. D. Maurice. In 1871, at the age of twenty-seven, Carpenter was invited, but declined, to become a tutor to Prince George Frederick, later King George V, and his brother Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence. This position was accepted by his lifelong friend from college, John Neale Dalton, whom Carpenter continued to visit during Dalton’s fourteen-year tutelage to the princes.

Discouraged with his life in the church and university and weary of the hypocrisy of Victorian society, Edward Carpenter immersed himself in reading, particularly finding solace in the works of Walt Whitman whom he would later meet in 1877. He was released from his duties in the Anglican ministry and left the church in 1874. Moving to Leeds, Carpenter became a lecturer with the University Extension Movement, formed to provide education to deprived communities. His lectures on astronomy and ancient Greek culture and music were, however, not attended by the working classes but by mostly middle-class people who expressed no real interest in the subjects. 

Disillusioned, Carpenter moved to Sheffield, a crucial center of England’s Industrial Revolution, where he came in contact with its manual workers and, inspired, began to write poetry. During this time in Sheffield, Carpenter became increasingly radical and joined the Social Democratic Federation, Britain’s first organized socialist political party. Upon his father’s death in 1882, Carpenter inherited a substantial sum of money, in excess of six-hundred thousand pounds in today’s currency. This inheritance allowed him to cease lecturing and start a simpler life on a farm managed by Albert Ferneyhough and his family. 

Edward Carpenter and Albert Ferneyhough eventually became lovers and moved in 1883, with Albert’s family, to Millthorpe in Derbyshire. In Millthorpe, Carpenter built a large house with outbuildings constructed of local stone with slate roofs; a small business was started with marketable garden produce and handmade leather sandals. As a member of the Social Democratic Federation, Carpenter worked on a number of projects to improve the living conditions of industrial workers. He left the SDF in 1884 and, along with textile designer and author William Morris, joined the Socialist League. 

In 1883, Carpenter published the first part of “Towards Democracy”, a long poem expressing his idea of spiritual democracy and a freer, more just society. This tome, heavily influenced by Walt Whitman’s poetry and passages from the Bhagavad Gita, was later expanded several times with the complete edition published in 1905. In 1887, Carpenter published his “England’s Ideal”, a collection of essays which included his “Simplification of Life”. From 1888 to 1889, he lived with Cecil Reddle, an educational reformer whom he helped found the Abbotsholme School, a progressive alternative to public education.

Drawn increasingly to Hindu philosophy, Edward Carpenter traveled to India and Ceylon where he developed the conviction that socialism would bring about a revolution in both economic conditions and human consciousness. His account of the journey was published as the 1892 “From Adam’s Peak to Elephanta: Sketches in Ceylon and India”. On his return to England in 1891, Carpenter met George Merrill, a Sheffield working-class man twenty-two years his junior. After the Ferneyhough family left Millthorpe in 1893, Merrill became his partner, cohabiting from 1898, and remained with Carpenter for the rest of their lives. 

 Carpenter and Merrill had many friends among activists and artists, including Henry Stephens Salt, founder of the Humanitarian League; author Aldous Huxley; essayist and sexologist Havelock Ellis; actor and producer Ben Iden Payne; Labor activists Bruce and Katharine Glasier; and feminist writer Olive Shreiner. One of his closest friends was the writer E. M. Forester, who often visited the couple at Millthorpe. Carpenter and Merrill’s relationship would inspire Forester during a 1913 visit to write his gay-themed novel “Maurice”. 

In 1902, Edward Carpenter published his anthology of prose and verse “Ioläus: An Anthology of Friendship” and, in 1915, published “The Healing of Nations and the Hidden Sources of Their Strife”, a tome against class-monopoly and social inequality. His 1921 book, “Pagan and Christian Creeds” espoused the story of Christ as mythology. In 1922 after the death of Carpenter’s former lover George Hukin, Carpenter and Merrill relocated to Guildford in Surrey. On Carpenter’s eightieth birthday, he was presented with an album, signed by every member of the Labor Party Government, in recognition of his support for the working classes. 

In January of 1928, George Merrill, who had grown dependent on alcohol since moving to Surrey, died suddenly. Carpenter was devastated and sold their house and lodged for a short time with his care giver Ted Inigran. They took a small bungalow in Surrey where, in May of 1928, Carpenter had a stroke. He lived for another thirteen months and died on the 28th of June in 1929, at the age of eighty-four. He was interred in the same grave as Merrill at the Mount Cemetery in Guildford, England.

Note: A collection of Edward Carpenter’s works and papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin. This collection includes letters and the hand-written manuscripts of “Toward Industrial Freedom” and “The Trojan War & Constantinople”, among other items.

A transcript of a discussion, given by poet Allen Ginsberg, on Edward Carpenter’s 1888 “The Secret of Time and Satan” can be found at The Allen Ginsberg Project website. An audio of that discussion is also provided. The discussion is located at: https://allenginsberg.org/2014/03/expansive-poetics-42-edward-carpenter-4/

Top Insert Image: Fred Holland Day, “Edward Carpenter”, 1900, Black and White Photogravure, 9.9 x 7.3 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London

Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Edward Carpenter and George Merrill”

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “George Edward Hukin, Edward Carpenter and George Merrill”, Date Unknown, Photogravure

Fourth Insert Image: Henry A Bishop, “Edward Carpenter”, 1907, Oil on Canvas, 47.3 x 43.8 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London

Bottom Insert Image: Alvin Langdon Coburn, “Edward Carpenter”, November 28 1905, Photogravure, 20.8 x 15.7 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London

Marlene Dietrich, “Lili Marleen”

Marlene Dietrich, “Lili Marleen”, 1945, Decca Records

Marlene Dietrich was born on December 27th of 1901 in Berlin, Germany, with the given name Maria Magdalene Dietrich. Growing up, she studied French, English, and the violin at a private school, with the aspiration of becoming a professional violinist. Later in her teen years, Dietrich decided to explore acting, enrolling in Austrian-born theater director Max Reinhardt’s drama school, eventually acting in small parts on stage and in films. Because of her family’s disapproval of theater as a profession, she changed her name to Marlene Dietrich.

Dietrich married Rudolf Sieber in 1923 and, with his help, was able to get the small role of ‘Lucy’ in director Joe May’s 1923 “Tragedy of Love”. After the birth of their only child Maria in 1924, the marriage began to fail, leading to a separation but not a divorce. During this time, Paramount Studios signed to a contract director and filmmaker Josef von Sternberg, who already had produced a number of notable films. In 1929, Sternberg was sent to UFA, Paramount’s studio in Berlin, to direct the sound production of “The Blue Angel” based on Heinrich Mann’s book “Professor Unrat”.

Sternberg cast the little-known Marlene Dietrich in the female lead role of Lola Lola, the cabaret singer and dancer whose allure would attract and lead to the decline of Professor Unrat. With her sophisticated manner and sultry looks, Dietrich naturally fit into the role and became a star. The 1930 “Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel)”, the first talking picture in Germany, became a big hit, eventually making Dietrich an international star with its English language version in the United States.

In April of 1930, Marlene Dietrich moved to America. Working once again with Sternberg, she starred in the 1930 romantic-drama “Morocco” with actor Gary Cooper. The film received four Academy Award nominations; Dietrich was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, her one and only Academy Award nomination.She continued in her next films to play the femme-fatale roles, creating new more-masculine fashion trends for women and challenging accepted views of the female image.

Dietrich made several more films working with director Sternberg: the 1931 successful spy film “Dishonored”, “Shanghai Express” in 1932, “The Scarlet Empress” in 1934, and her personal favorite film “The Devil is a Woman”, a 1935 romance film set in Spain in which she played a cold-hearted temptress. A strong opponent of the Nazi government in Germany, she disassociated herself from the German film companies and became a US citizen in 1939, resulting in the banning of her films in Germany. During the war, Dietrich traveled extensively, entertaining the troops, selling war bonds, and recording anti-Nazi messages to broadcast in Germany. 

Following the war, Marlene Dietrich worked with director Billy Wilder on his 1948 film “A Foreign Affair” and the 1957 film “Witness for the Prosecution” with actor Tyrone Power, based on the book by Agatha Christie. She also played strong supporting roles in director Orson Welles’ famous 1958 film-noir “Touch of Evil” and in Stanley Kramer’s 1941 courtroom drama “Judgement at Nuremberg”. As her acting career faded, Dietrich began a successful singing career in the mid-1950s performing from Las Vegas to Paris, and finally singing in Germany in 1960, her first visit since the war.

Marlene Dietrich gave up performing in the middle of the 1970s, moving to Paris and living in near-seclusion. She did agree to provide some audio commentary for the documentary “Marlene”, filmed by Maximillian Schell in 1984; however, she would not appear on camera for the film. Marlene Dietrich, one of the most glamorous leading ladies of the 1930s and 1940s, died in her Paris home on May 6th of 1992 and was buried next to her mother in Berlin.

The song “LiLi Marleen” is a German love song that became popular during WWII throughout Europe and the Mediterranean among both Axis and Allied troops. Written in 1915 as a poem of three verses by Hans Leip, a school theacher, it was set to music by Norbert Schultze in 1938 and recorded for the first time by Lale Andersen in 1939.  In 1944 the Morale Operations Branch of the US Office of Strategic Services initiated the Muzak Project. Marlene Dietrich recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including “Lili Marleen”, which became a massive success. This version of the song with Dietrich singing eventually became recorded as a single by Decca Records in 1944 and released in 1945.

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Marlene Dietrich”, 1948, Gelatin Silver Print, Encyclopedia Britannica

Second Insert Image: Eugene Robert Richee, “Marlene Dietrich”, Publicity Photo for 1931 “Disnonored”, Gelatin Siver Print, Paramount Pictures

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Marlene Dietrich in Uniform for USO Camp Shows, London”, September 25, 1944, Gelatin Silver Print, Associated Press

Bottom Insert Image: Clarence Sinclair Bull, “Marlene Dietrich”, 1944, Publicity Shoot for “Kismet”, Gelatin Silver Print, Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Pavel Tchelitchew

The Artwork of Pavel Tchelitchev

Born in October of 1898 in Dubrovka, a settlement of the Russian Empire, Pavel Tchelitchev was a surrealist painter and a costume and set designer. He was an exponent of the Neo-Romantic movement, a group which included French fashion designer and illustrator Christian Bérard and the Russian painters Eugène and Leonid Berman. This group, active in Paris during the 1920’s, drew their inspiration from Picasso’s ‘Blue’ and ‘Pink’ periods and the metaphysical paintings of de Chirico.

The only son of an aristocratic landowning family, Tchelitchev was educated by private tutors and expressed an early interest in art and ballet. After the 1917 revolution, his family was forced to flee Russia and settled in Ukraine. Tchelitchev studied at the Kiev Academy and at the studio of painter Aleksandra Ekster, one of the most experimental women of the avant-garde Art Deco movement. After graduation, he worked from 1920 to 1923 as a designer and builder of theater sets in both Odessa and Berlin. 

During the early 1920s, Pavel Tchelitchev, who was openly homosexual, met American pianist Allen Tanner in Berlin; the two men became lovers and moved together to Paris in 1923 to pursue the artistic careers. That year in Paris, Tchelitchev became acquainted with Gertrud Stein, who introduced him to the Sitwell sisters and the Gorer family, both wealthy families who supported the arts. He developed a long-standing close friendship with Edith Sitwell, which led to frequent correspondence between them and the painting of six portraits of Sitwell.

In Paris, Tchelitchev created multimedia painting, film and dance experiences that led to collaborative works with choreographer George Balanchine, later the founder of the New York City Ballet, and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who founded the preeminent Ballets Russes. Tchelitchev’s first show in the United States was a group exhibition at New York’s newly opened Museum of Modern Art in which he showed his drawings. In 1934, he left his lover Allen Tanner and moved to New York City with his new partner, poet Charles Henri Ford, whom he had met in 1933 shortly after Ford’s arrival in Paris.

Pavel Tchelitchev continued to collaborate with choreographer Balanchine and was introduced to writer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet, Lincoln Kirstein, who became Tchelitchev’s greatest patron. For seven years tarting in 1940, Tchelitchev produced illustrations for the literary and art magazine “View”, whose coverage of the avant-garde and surrealist art scene was published by Ford and gay poet and film critic Parker Tyler. 

Tchelitchev’s earliest paintings, abstract in style, were influenced by his study in Kiev with Ekster and by the Russian Constructivist and Italian Futurist movements. With his move to Paris in the 1920s, he became influenced by the assertive emotions contained within the brushstrokes of the French Neo-Romantic artists. Tchelitchev continued to experiment with new styles throughout his career and eventually incorporated elements of fantasy and surrealism with multiple perspectives into his body of work. 

Pavel Tchelitchev became a United States citizen in 1952 and moved to Italy with Charles Henri Ford in 1949. He died, with his partner by his side, in July of 1957 in Grottaferrata, Italy. His body is buried in Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tchelitchew’s works can be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His correspondence, writings, photographs and printed material are housed in the Archives at Yale University. 

Note: For those interested in a more comprehensive study of Tchelitchew’s life and work, I recommend James Thrall Soby’s 1942 “Tchelitchew: Paintings, Drawings” published by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. This volume in its entirety can be found at: https://www.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_3117_300061977.pdf

Top Insert Image: Cecil Beaton, “Pavel Tchelitchew”, circa 1930s, Bromide Print, 22 x 18.7 cm, National Portrait Gallry, Washington DC

Second Insert Image: Pavel Tchelitchew, “Fallen Man”, Date Unknown, Gouache on Paper, 65 x 50 cm, Private Collection

Bottom Insert Image: Pavel Tchelitchew, “Study for Bathers”, 1938, Ink on Paper, 44.5 x 28 cm, Private Collection