Eight Queer Artists in their Own Words

Tannon Reckling, Untitled (in the dark), dimensions vary, blender render, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.


If it feels like gayness has been thouroughly consumed by wider society, it’s because it has. You can’t go anywhere in person or online without being bombarded with rainbows - even the White House (something almost unimaginable decades ago). But, as you can imagine, this symbolic gesture is, well, symbolic. 

Many members of the queer community have critiqued the integration of gayness, like in Ryan Conrad’s Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion. It’s almost a tired trope at this point, with commentators constantly pointing out how corporations and governments update their social media profile pictures to include a rainbow strictly for the month of June. Try searching “pride” on Google and see what happens.  

Rainbows are pretty, but there are many aesthetic universes outside of this color scheme. Here are eight queer artists talking about their practice.  

Paolo Arao, Frottage, 2021, sewn canvas, cotton, hand-woven fibers, 84 x 9 x 1.25 inches. Photographer: Cary Whittier. Courtesy of David B. Smith Gallery, Denver, CO.

Paolo Arao - West Shokan, NY 

My name is Paolo and I live and work in West Shokan, NY which is upstate in the Catskills. I make sewn fabric paintings, hand-woven textiles and site-responsive installations that are rooted in geometric abstraction. I am mending this lineage of abstraction through the use of textiles; stitching patchworks that honors my Filipino heritage and explores the elastic nature of queerness. 

Because my work is abstract, the queer content isn’t always obvious. This is intentional. It’s a form of resistance and a way of subverting expectations of what queerness looks like. Sometimes the queer content is conveyed through the specific materials I use (like my husband’s old clothes, which carry a personal meaning.) Or the way fabric behaves when it’s stretched over traditional wooden stretcher supports. The tension softens the rigidity and “straightness” of the hard-edged geometries, creating quivering seams. Other times it’s through awkward or unexpected color relationships; oddly shaped canvas supports; or suggestive titles. 

Tannon Reckling - NYC, NY

Tannon Reckling uses their creative practice to write, curate, and construct transdisciplinary formal work for an esoteric queer audience to develop later kinship on the internet. Reckling is currently thinking about queer death drives, rendering systems, slime, pink capital, genetics & agriculture, moiré, dyslexia, and enby farmer raves in near future agrarian-scapes, among other things in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which will soon enter the realm of other historical health care emergencies before it. 

Jamie Ho, Comb to the End (Still), GIF, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

Jamie Ho - Lincoln, NE 

When a beam of bright light hits the convex and polished surface, an image is reflected back onto the wall. This is a description of a magic mirror, an object from the Han Dynasy (206 BC -24 AD) and one that is synonymous with how Euro-America views China: both technically advanced and shrouded in mystery. Like magic mirrors, the GIFs I create generate mirror images, an alternate world that highlights the ways rituals are both private and public and the ways my body cannot fit into the impossibility of euro-centric beauty standards.  

Through GIFs, photography, sound, and installation, I use the aesthetics of Camp, the lighting studio, theatre-esque curtains, and spotlights to stage drag performances that confront audiences’ understanding of queerness and gender. My work explores the long-term impact of assimilation through simulating and subverting my ancestral Chinese traditions and rituals and references historical Chinese objects as a method of reimagining connections to my ancestral roots. Though I’m inspired by Chinese historical objects, ancestral traditions, and current experiences within the Chinese diaspora, my work is future facing. Like a magic mirror, I’m building a reality where the horizon is infinite and absurdly beautiful - absent of these pressures to conform to societal constructs that are white, heteronormative, and able-bodied. I’m creating an alternate place to not just exist freely and safely, but also to have joy and humor and play.

Jorge Bordello, ANTIRETROVIRAL ESQUITES, 2023, C-Print. Image courtesy of the artist.

Jorge Bordello - Tlaxcala, Mexico

I am a visual artist, farmer, and activist born in Tlaxcala, the smallest state in all of Mexico. My artistic work is interested in the wrinkles between the fabric of history, the places of contact between apparently irreconcilable concepts as a form of protest. It's an idea I learned from the filmmaker Harun Farocki: if you steal all the parts of a vacuum cleaner, when you put it together again you will always get a machine gun. For me, that is the strength of editing - cut, paste, put together, before, after - the possibility of interrupting the story with your own rhythm.

That's the clearest notion I have about queerness, a pace more than an identity. There is no “queer” in Mexico. It is a very large and ancient land that predates any academy. Having no theory, we invented words for the things we saw. After learning Spanish, we invented new words: joto, puto, maricón, mayate, loca. They all defy identity by holding contradictory ideas within their bodies. That is what I am interested in, what others perceive as queer, the overflow of history.

Daniel Arthur Mendoza, Tias, second hand bed sheets, second hand window sheers, sequin backdrop curtain, sequins, colored pencil, thread, acrylic paint, metal hardware, 113” x 113”, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

Daniel Arthur Mendoza - San Francisco, CA

The figures in my work are often cartoon renderings drawn mostly from images of my friends, and stills from queer cinema or gay pornography. The cartoon figuration came from searching for hidden, possible queer narratives in cartoons such as Fleischer Studios’ and Disney animated films from the 1920s to 60s. These stories often were built to construct normative, heterosexual, social structures of daily life and to repress the “other” which was often assigned to queer coded characters (the savage, anthropomorphized animals, objects, plants and gestures). I think about my cartoon renderings as a way to reintroduce figures and scenes as a way to give space for imagining new worlds. Something more complex. Something more tender. 

Tamara Santibañez, Upon all the apparatus, 2023, hand-tooled leather, jump rings, chain, eyelets. Image courtesy of the artist.

Tamara Santibañez - Brooklyn, NYC

My work is rooted in storytelling and the visual language of identity construction. I employ oil painting, ceramic and leatherworking craft techniques to animate symbols of queerness and rebellion, and to memorialize the tactics and resistance strategies used by “othered” populations in building alternative worlds. In my practices as a tattoo artist and oral historian, I am fascinated by the body as a site for archiving personal and collective narratives, and by the secret languages we devise toward connection while preserving safety and privacy. Enlisting inanimate objects and architectures as stand-ins for human figures and relationships, I complicate the undulating exchange between power and vulnerability, otherness and assimilation, generational expectations and individual capability. 

Justin Yoon, Goodbye to Spring, acrylic, acrylic gouache, glitter on canvas, 40” x 40”, 2023. Courtesy of Anat Ebgi Gallery and the artist.

Justin Yoon - Brooklyn, NY

I am Justin Yoon, Artist based in Brooklyn, New York. In my practice, I use these recurring characters, almost like a cast of actors being used over and over in different seasons, episodes, or iterations. This idea started off similar to the concept of Graphic novels or a sitcom, where I wanted to create a relationship and a familiar feeling with them, both for myself and also the viewers. These characters, a Hyper masculinized and feminized Asian Queer imagery of idolatry, are eventually an amalgamation of all the people I knew, all of my feelings, wants, emotions, and things that made me who I am. 

The queerness, especially the queer irrelevance I feel that is prevalent with them, is something that I always had naturally, coming from a yearning to see a hyper seunsualized imagery of queer Asians out of the context of fetishization, or pornography, which I failed to see often in my youth. Especially in Queer art, I wanted to see a romantic depiction of platonic sensuality and platonic intimacy in a glamorized way that has nothing to do with sexual intimacy with romantic/sexual partners or lovers- which is most of all I see when it comes to depiction of queer sensuality and romantic intimacy in queer art. In my practice, I strive to capture those subtle moments in life, where one is hanging with their friends, their people, or by themselves fully engaged with their own sensuality and sexuality. These fleeting moments eventually fill out our entire lives, and support the thesis of our existence being so transient, yet, so romantic and funny as well. I think the Queer irreverence becomes so relevant, when these seemingly meaningless small moments with "Your people '' are highlighted through hyper glamorizing, self aware campy glasses- especially by exaggerating their masculinity and femininity within these Asian Queer Characters.

Joey Terrill, When I Was Young, acrylic/xerox collage on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.

Joey Terrill - Los Angeles, CA 

My artmaking over the course of 50 years has always explored both my Chicano and gay identity, when and where they overlapped as well as where they clashed.  Autobiographical and figurative, my works were considered “queer” well before the term was reclaimed and became the popular field of study in academia and the umbrella term for inclusion, in popular culture today. Queer used to be something that was provocative, a slur used for expressing hatred towards same-sex attraction, romance, and the homoerotic. I’ve come to embrace that there is a national conversation about queer identity, but I have reached a point where I fully recognize that’s a very wide rubric that has evolved.  WM

Jonathan Orozco

Jonathan Orozco is an independent writer based in Omaha, Nebraska. He received his art history BA from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2020. Orozco runs an art blog called Art Discourses, which primarily covers Midwest artists and exhibitions.

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