by BRIAN BURNS AND JUDD PROCTOR
photo illustration by Doug Dobey
Daring Painter, Paul Cadmus
Paul Cadmus was a famous painter in the social realism movement, which began in the 1930s. At the time, he was perhaps the only mainstream realist incorporating the element of homosexual desire. His work often centered on the male physique, with burly men in skin-tight attire and in suggestive poses. One of his signature pieces was titled, “YMCA Locker Room.”
Some of his paintings weren’t just controversial, they were actually censored, such as “The Fleet’s In!”
The problem wasn’t that his paintings were even remotely pornographic, it was that they simply suggested homosexuality during the repressive 1930s.
Cadmus’s later works crossed another line, depicting the domestic life of gay couples. Those paintings served as a window into his life with his companion of 35 years, Jon Anderson.
The Man in the Red Tie
Paintings by social realist Paul Cadmus often sparked controversy. His famous painting titled “The Fleet’s In!” was commissioned by the U.S. government in 1934. It depicted sailors in skin-tight uniforms making advances toward curvaceous women, possibly prostitutes. It also suggested homosexual seduction with a sailor’s glance and the offer of a cigarette to a well-groomed civilian wearing a red tie. At the time, a red tie was code for gay.
The painting was displayed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. But since many found it obscene, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it removed. This was arguably one of the first examples of government censorship of art.
Ironically, the painting as restored by the Navy in 1981, and put on display at the Navy Art Gallery in Washington D. C.
Starving Artist, Beauford Delaney
Beauford Delaney, a premier African-American painter, was under-appreciated during his life because of racism and homophobia.
Born in 1901 in Tennessee, his mother was born into slavery. With an early interest in art, Delaney learned the essentials of classical technique in Boston.
He moved to New York City in 1929, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Although he became part of a black gay circle of friends, he was deeply introverted.
Delaney’s pastel portraits showed his fascination with the play of light, and a love for the color yellow. With exhibits in Harlem, he worked as a bellhop to scrape by. At times, he lacked food and shelter.
Today, his portrayals of Marian Anderson, Duke Ellington and James Baldwin are considered classics.