During the month of October, Lichtundfire on Rivington in the Lower East Side exhibited the painting solo, “Standing on the Shoulders of Queer Martyrs and Saints,” an exhibition of mixed media paintings by New York-based artist Christopher Stout concerning queer abstraction, and his third solo show at the gallery.
Artist, writer, and queer activist Alexandria Deters visited Lichtundfire to tour and study the exhibition and interviewed the artist for 511 Magazine.
AD: I was immediately struck by the title of your solo exhibition, “Standing on the Shoulders of Queer Martyrs and Saints.” When thinking of the title in regard to the works on view, are there any queer artists/individuals that you feel that you and your work are standing on? If so, who and how?
CS: That’s probably the very best way to begin our conversation. My research into gay and queer abstraction began rather abruptly and in earnest in the early spring of 2016. A painter who I am close to, and whose work I strongly admire; sent me an artist statement he was drafting to request my feedback. His short essay expressed both a pronouncement that he had determined himself to be a queer abstract painter; and at the same time, an uneasiness about taking on this definition to describe his work.
His explanation for this continued that on the one hand, he felt convicted that his queerness was directly activating his abstraction; however, because his work didn’t pertain to the time honored themes in contemporary LGBTQA art, (AIDS, death, sexual revolution, marginalization), there wasn’t anything recognizable to tie his work to the art world’s understanding of queer art.
The end of his piece surmised, “I need to do more research and thinking in order to understand how my work might create a place for itself within the larger system of LGBTQA art…. and for me, it’s time to work on this.”
This essay statement by my friend was both a formidably aware and galvanizing piece of writing, in that it helped me articulate a resonating set of feelings. I was also an abstract artist whose queerness was fundamentally activating my minimal sculptures and paintings. And just like my friend, I had never reconciled a way to discuss my queerness within my art; precisely because my work didn’t fit visually or philosophically in the set of things we think about when we discuss queer art.
I experienced a profound comfort, freedom, and permission in his words, and commenced upon my own parallel research/discovery process because I also wanted to determine what the words “queer abstraction” might mean to my work. Through this endeavor, I slowly happened upon work being made in the late 1970’s by gay men living in New York in the Village and the Lower East Side.
I couldn’t find a linear record of anyone drawing a circle around a set of gay abstract artists and proclaiming, “the ideas contained herein belong together” however I was able to realize the energy and hopefulness that gay artists were feeling and expressing in New York in the late 1970’s; that brief, albeit utopian era existing both 10 years post-Stonewall and prior to the blight of the AIDS plague.
Much of the work (both visual and performance) during this timeframe imbues the Queer Renaissance energies of hope and liberation, as well as the splendor found in “otherness”. I was also reminded that during this time, all genres of artistic expression served as a creative vocabulary for queer people, by reason that art was an inherent part of queer culture.
These are the shoulders that I’m standing on …
AD: That’s a powerful and helpful entrance into the work. You consider your new works in a way, self-portraits, how do specifically see yourself in these works? Was this your original intention in their creation?
CS: From the onset, it felt very natural to label these works as self-portraits, which is an archetype in Queer contemporary art. Self-portraiture provides a grounding mechanism in the work to share my perspective about the “WONDERMENT OF OTHERNESS” which is how I perceive my queerness.
AD: Oh yes, the “WONDERMENT OF OTHERNESS” … Your works are made through a layered process, and the 2nd layer consists of a nest of shredded writing (tautology) “WONDERMENT OF OTHERNESS”. Tell me more about this layer and process.
CS: Happily. In the center of every work is a large nest of shredded writing which is formed by typing the phrase, “WONDERMENT OF OTHERNESS” in Photoshop until the phrase fills the frame, and then printing it double sided, trimming off the edges, and then shredding it. I fill a large container with this shredded writing with water and wood glue and then into the center of the plaster mold it goes to set up before the pouring of plaster begins … I am not often excited by art that feels resolved; and so this is an (almost) invisible aspect of the work that does a lot of heavy lifting for those seeking for clarification as to “how the work presents as queer” or “how the work might represent portraiture.”
AD: Your aspiration with these works is to hopefully expand people’s understanding of queer art, and ‘queer’ in general. For you, what would that expansion entail for a viewer?
CS: In terms of my own art, I’m most excited to present this work emblemed with queerness and espousing the beauty and power found in hope and a sense of idealism that transcends what we conventionally perceive as activism. Far beyond of the margins of my work, I celebrate queer abstraction specifically as a fulcrum to empower a whole new set of conversations about the queer experience that can be championed by entirely different segments of artists, and most especially by women and artists of color.
AD: You have shared how queer abstraction was formed in the 1960s and flourished in the 1970s. Where do you see queer abstraction today? Is it flourishing, and if so how?
CS: Queer abstraction is something that queer artists are rediscovering and is yet relatively unknown by the Contemporary art world at large. This is also obviously changing. How it is used and what it could represent it ultimately up to us. I suspect that as queer artists are able to embrace abstraction as a medium to uncover new debates and new thinking, the movement will rapidly grow. I also hope that queer abstraction will also foster and spawn other new categories of queer art that move the needle forward on telling a fuller spectrum of our stories.
AD: What do you have planned next in your work? A new series or a continuation of the “WONDERMENT OF OTHERNESS”?
CS: I do plan to continue my thinking around paintings that involve the “WONDERMENT OF OTHERNESS.” In addition to this, I am showing a new piece in Lichtundfire’s 4-year anniversary exhibition, “Edge of Abstraction, a Quantum Leap into Multiple Futures,” during the month of November. The title of this new work is, “Sitting with the formation of light in a place (On Queer Abstraction).” I also look forward to exhibiting new work with space director Priska Juschka at Lichtundfire in spring 2020 around Queer abstraction and creating additional visual conversations in exploring the subject.
Alexandria Deters (Insta: @alexandria.deters.art) is an artist, writer, and researcher in the Bronx. She received a BA in Art History and a BA in Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University in 2015; and in 2016, received her MA in American Fine and Decorative Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York. She has written for Gallery Gurls, EL CHAMP, and POZ.com and currently works at Peter Blum Gallery, New York. In addition, she is exhibiting new work in a group exhibition at Smack Mellon titled, “Idol Worship” curated by Emily Colucci, exhibition dates: November 16 – December 29, 2019.
175 Rivington Street (betw. Clinton & Attorney)
New York, New York 10002
Director: Priska Juschka
Metro Stop: F/M and/or Essex J/Z
Gallery Hours: Wednesday—Saturday noon to 6pm, and Sunday 1 to 6pm.
Telephone: (917) 675-7835
Instagram: @lichtundfire and hashtag #lichtundfire