When words weren’t enough, or the language simply wasn’t available, these artists kicked down the closet door with a more powerful tool – art. Queer artists have left a powerful impression on the art scene, inspiring generations past, present and future. From glitter, mythology and activism to photography, painting and sculpture, these artists blazed their own trails of defiant self expression and empowerment.
11 October is International Coming Out Day, so let’s reflect on some of the queer artists who have faced adversity and shown us what’s possible.
1. Andy Warhol
Warhol’s bold, bright prints and suggestively sketched male forms show a rebel spirit that pushed back against the social status quo. While homosexuality was criminalised, Warhol’s art studio The Factory was a hub for unconventional gender and sexuality expression. With pop-sensibility, Warhol made art at the climax of the 1960-80 sexual revolution, which was embodied by Marilyn Monroe.
Did you know? After the starlet died in 1962, Warhol went on to produce 23 paintings of the icon that same year.
Looking to find Andy Warhol in Amsterdam? Moco Museum exhibits Marilyn Monroe from the artist’s Reversal Series, one of the most recent acquisitions to the Moco Collection.
2. Mickalene Thomas
Mickalene Thomas is a contemporary, New York based artist channelling the bold, unswerving spirit of female sexuality through rhinestones, enamel, patterned fabrics and bright acrylic colours. With proud portraits and collages of Black women, Thomas tells potent visual stories of same sex love and pleasure. In her exhibition, The Origin of the Universe, Thomas uses her art to suggest that God is a woman. Her work is inspired by 20th Century movements like Cubism and French Modernism, but the underlying message is about present tense empowerment.
3. Raqib Shaw
Bring on the golds, jewels and opulence: Shaw is the Indian-born, London-based artist queering traditional subject matter with contemporary narratives. His Garden of Earthly Delights series transforms a serious 16th Century oil painting into a world of fantastical splendour and colour. By blending myth from East and West, Shaw’s landscapes refer to rich cultural histories and, most importantly, point to more free, fluid futures.
4. Claude Cahun
The French Surrealist artist of the 1920s & 30s detached from the strict identities of man or woman, and opted for a gender neutral name – a daring decision when the concept of gender was hardly considered. At a time when the awareness and terminology was lacking to discuss such fluidity, Cahun found expression in an equally fluid variety of artistic forms: writing, sculpture and photography.
5. Keith Haring
Even before Keith Haring’s AIDS diagnosis in 1988, the young artist was committed to advocating for safe, homosexual sex through art. Although he used his art to address political and social issues, his playful linework always expressed the joys and freedoms of life and sexual liberation. AIDS continues to carry a social stigma, underscoring that Haring’s art remains as critical and influential as ever.
Modern and Contemporary art holds a rich, colourful history of resistance and queer artist perseverance. Bravely and brilliantly, these artists have taught us how to accept ourselves and express our desires freely. Their art embodies a defiant, creative spirit that ripples out across the art scene and into the wider world.