Monday, November 19, 2018

Why are you so gay?

1993 San Francisco, Comedy Club in the Castro

We got to the club little bit late and there were only seats at the front table right before the stage. My older brother Mark ordered the drinks, while his partner Kirk pulled the chair out from my wife. We sat down and the set began.  He immediately launched into a tirade about how straight people were driving up the rents in the Castro and that they should “Go back to where you came from.”

The comic looked down and rested his eyes on me and my wife.  “Are you a fag hag or just slumming it?”  She shook her head and held up her ring finger.  He looked at me and at my left hand.  “With him?”  He tilted his head towards me.

My brother and his husband scooted their chairs away from me and Anca. Mark raised his eyebrow and chuckled at me. 
“Well?”  

I shrugged, “We’re just visiting.  Some of my best friends. . . ”

“ARE GAY.” The comic and audience shouted out, completing my sentence.

I guess that’s the story of my life. I went to high school in New York in the late 70s at the time when it was fashionable to be bisexual. (I went to the High School Art and Design) and it was just before the AIDS epidemic. My brother, was also my hero, and when he would come to visit from college he even partied with some of my friends. I had experimented because I looked up to most of the older gay men around me and my friend Johnny and I love to go down to the village and cruise men on Friday and Saturday nights. It was the most I ever got looked at. I was a skinny geeky Jewish looking little guy and I really love the attention. I wasn’t straight or gay I guess you could say I was always a bit of a “stray.” 

2004 Fremont California, Ohlone College, Art History Class

“Prof. Mencher why don’t you paint women more?”  

“I guess it’s because I think it’s a little misogynistic. In graduate school my teachers drilled into me the idea of the ‘male gaze’ and how it’s degrading to women. Besides that, even when I painted women and thought I was making a feminist statement, the gallery director at Hang Gallery, dropped me for what she said, and I quote, ‘you are making the female gallerist your uncomfortable with your work. I think that there to wry and perverted.’  So, after that I had another show up in Sacramento and they censored me for the same thing.”

I went on, “the controversy was really good for me. I got several shows out of it and a couple of newspaper articles, but I do feel uncomfortable painting women because it ties in with a history of misogyny even if I think I’m making a feminist statement.   The work can be reappropriated or co-opted by a straight male audience and looked at him and anti feminist way. I’m trying to paint images that actually means something to me, are beautiful, and also responsible.”

I had always had galleries working with me but it was always a bad experience, even when it was a good one I felt that the prices were too expensive and they refused to show any of my male figurative work which I had always loved to do.  

In 2007 I started selling the work that the galleries wouldn’t show on Etsy.com, and on-line marketplace for handmade stuff.  I kept the prices really low (most of the smaller stuff less than $200) and I was able to sell off a lot of the older large paintings, my “white elephants” to people for much more reasonable prices.  
https://www.etsy.com/shop/kmencher

2008 Redwood City, California, 

“I can’t believe how many hits I’m getting on that painting ‘Shared Space,’ on tumbler and other blogs. It’s been shared so many times I can’t even count.  In this one guy’s feed, ‘Chubby Jay’ and all these guys are commenting about how hot it is.”

David laughed, “You should go with that.”

I flicked the lighter and sucked in some ash and too much smoke and had a coughing fit. 

“The reason why you cough so much is because you suck on that thing like it’s a dick.  You have to sip the smoke.”  David admonished me.  Gilbert, David’s partner, poured another glass of white. Valerie, my wife, nodded her head in agreement.  Yeah some of my best friends are still. . .

David said, “You paint men so much better than you paint women.”  Then he asked me if I would paint him a couple of male nudes.

So, I did.

I presented David with a small oil on panel painting a couple of weeks later. He called me up to tell me that one of his friends and tried to swipe the painting out of his curio cabinet and he thought I should make more.

So, I did.

Now, I almost exclusively paint men who are either bears or other types of homoerotic wildlife. I have quite a following and I quit my job last May to paint full-time. Mostly I like to paint idealized versions of 50-year-old man who look a little like me, but without the bags under the eyes and of course they have bigger shoulders. I feel like what I’m doing fills a need and is actually sort of a political statement.

I’ve been amazed at how the community has embraced my work. I stay in touch with a ton of collectors, I have regular phone conversations and email exchanges with a whole new group of friends that I wouldn’t have been able to have had I remained a “straight artist.”

David’s been trying to get me to raise my prices but I don’t really think I want to. I’ve made so many friends and I making so much more money selling the work at about 10% of the cost that I used to sell work in galleries, that I feel really fulfilled.

The other thing is that I really am better painting than women. I guess because part of it is that I do feel uncomfortable painting women because it makes me feel like I’m degrading them. However, throughout my entire life when I’ve been out with my friends cruising and getting cruised, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. David and Gilbert don’t care if one of them looks at another guy and comments about how cute they are. I know that some people say that their wives cruise other women with them, but I suspect women just do that to be titillating. It’s not sincere.

Painting beautiful middle aged men has also given me more confidence.  Now I get why I might be considered attractive.  Something I’ve always had trouble with.

The gay community is going through another Renaissance, despite the aggression of the trumpet administration and the backlash by the right wing against basic human rights. There are a lot of men who are in their 40s and 50s who have had long-term relationships and are older, harrier, and quite a bit chunkier than they were when they were tweaks in their 20s. These men are now embracing their beauty. I still paint twinks, young muscle, and even women, because I know that this fills a need too.  But not too many women.  I always think I make them look like caricatures.  
Issues of Form

One of the wonderful things about painting something that I’m good painting is that practice makes perfect. Since I’ve been painting almost exclusively male anatomy my drawing skills have improved and I’ve also been studying anatomy for the last six or seven years. It’s a good excuse to look at porn, oh yeah, and I’ve learned a lot about the skeletal structure and the muscle structure underneath the skin.

The other thing that I’m working on is trying to get as much paint onto the canvas as possible. I’m trying to build up the thick and thin of the painting as much as I can. I want the flesh to be solid and built up off the surface of the canvas as if it was real flesh. To do this, I also had to learn a little bit more about certain kinds of oil paint. For example, I’ve had to buy more expensive paint from a company called C. A. S. Who makes a kind of paint that’s called alkyd paint. This type of paint has more brilliant color but also has the added benefit of drawing much more quickly and more solidly. What this means is I don’t have to panic is much about shipping paintings to Europe or other places where they might stay in a box for a long time.

I’m also becoming quite an expert on color and pattern. Most of the paintings that I make I try to work with what’s called a warm and cool color scheme. Meaning that the flesh tones of the figure are usually warm, oranges and yellows, but I try to make the background a little cooled off, for example using a lot of blues and purples and grays.

I became interested in patterns, and realized that I could hand paint them, and the pattern in the background would help to set up the figure that interrupts it. Since then, I’m kind of addicted to it and I include patterns that I’ve made up in the backgrounds of quite a few of my paintings, such as this one, “Brace Yourself.”