Mark Golder reflects on LGBT+ themes within our current exhibition ‘Wiltshire on Paper: Post-War Prints From the Bath Academy of Art’, open until 2 April. This exhibition has been made possible thanks to Mark Golder and Brian Thompson’s generous gift of works to Chippenham Museum’s permanent collection, in memory of their friend Arthur Norman.
Portrait of Derek Jarman, 1998, Maggi Hambling, © The artist
February is the month for celebrating LGBTQ+ history and Chippenham Museum has asked me to write a blog making reference to some of the artists in their present show about Bath Academy of Art. I want, however, to personalise this account by starting with a note of homage to a gay artist who died from AIDS in 1994, aged 52. Here Derek Jarman is portrayed in a print by Maggi Hambling. This hangs at home. I think the saturated blue is a reference to his film ‘Blue’ (1993), which Brian and I saw being introduced by Jarman at the Edinburgh Film Festival at a time when he was losing his sight. He mattered very much to me when I was a young adult. His ‘Sebastiane’ (1976) was the first gay-themed film that I dared to go to see in a public cinema. Jarman has a link with Wiltshire in that one of his early short films is entitled ‘A Journey to Avebury’ (1971). This is a beautiful, haunting, honey-coloured piece of cinematic art which reminds me of the rolling countryside which I loved to explore on my bike during my Moonraker childhood.
LoveGlove, 2011, Michael Craig-Martin, Courtesy Michael Craig-Martin and Cristea Roberts Gallery London
An artist may be a member of the LGBTQ+ community without that showing itself in their work. An artist is first and foremost an artist. Indeed, some artists do not like being pigeon-holed because that can make others think of them as belonging in a niche… and from there go on to dismiss them as ‘not mainstream’. Michael Craig-Martin is a gay man who came to teach at Corsham in 1966. He is well known for his vibrant colours and clearly delineated outlines whereby you are forced to focus on the beauty of everyday objects. He is also a lover of puns, as in this screenprint from 2011, where the word LOVE hovers in front of a pink glove. A gay viewer may read into this work – an acceptable thing to do once the work is out there on its own – things that the artist never intended… or did he? The glove is pink and pink was the colour of the early years of gay liberation, and in 1958 London there was a short-lived gay bar called – yes, you guessed – ‘Pink Glove’. In London today there is another ‘Pink Glove’ described online as ‘a queer indie, post punk and new wave disco for common people’. I think Craig-Martin would chuckle.
All Alone in the Museum of Modern Art, 1979, Howard Hodgkin, © The Howard Hodgkin Estate. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021
As a boy Howard Hodgkin was evacuated to the USA (1940-43). Whilst there he visited the Museum of Modern Art, where he saw works by Matisse and Picasso. This print is entitled ‘All Alone in the Museum of Modern Art’ (1979). Often his titles are associated with a memory, a key moment of experience. I have never known how to ‘read’ this print, but am drawn into that mystery. I love getting up close and looking at the different blacks he has used and marks he has made. Hodgkin was a student at Corsham (1950-54) and later a part-time teacher there (1956-66) before settling at Long Dean (1966-82), just to the west of Chippenham. He married in 1955 and had two sons. Twenty years later he came out as gay and by 1979 he was visiting David Hockney in Los Angeles. He met Antony Peattie, the man with whom he would spend the rest of his life, in 1984. There is nothing overtly gay in his work, but Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate (1988-2017) and a long-time admirer of Hodgkin’s work, opined that coming out freed something in him and thus in his work. With good reason the words ‘Know Yourself’ greeted anyone approaching the oracle at Delphi.
Untitled, 2014, Anish Kapoor, © Anish Kapoor. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021
To end this blog, here is a splash of celebratory (?) colour by Anish Kapoor, the UK-based sculptor born in Mumbai. Kapoor won the Turner Prize in 1991 and was knighted in 2013. He taught at Corsham in the 1980s. This polymer gravure etching titled ‘Untitled’ was published in 2015. As with the Hodgkin, I am not sure how to ‘read’ it. The colour makes me think of blood and the shape makes me think of an eyeball or a cell. In turn this makes me think of Jarman going blind when he had AIDS. This is most apt because Kapoor produced this print as a fundraiser for the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, The Terence Higgins Trust. Although HIV is no respecter of persons, being ready to infect anyone of any sexuality, back in the 1980s it was gay men in particular who seemed to be in the firing line. It was a very emotive issue. Some on the right wing of society thought it OK to say in print that gay men got what they deserved. Some gay men, having fought so hard to be free to express their sexuality through sexual activity, did not want to use condoms. The Trust, named for a gay man who died, has fought long and hard to help all and educate all, so that today being HIV+ is not a death sentence. HIV can be controlled.