Wayne Koestenbaum, the eccentric literary wunderkind, has always had a propensity for singing the body electric. His countless poems, essays, and books, including a highly-acclaimed Andy Warhol biography, have earned him a solid fanbase among urban sophisticates, and Rebecca Mead once declared him the philosopher of fabulousness. A few years ago, Koestenbaum decided to explore a new language and the thrills that come with it, and picked up the paint brush. Of course, Koestenbaum is not entirely new to the visual arts: he has written extensively about art since 2003 and has been a visiting critic in the MFA painting department at Yale. But his decision to create and exhibit his own paintings amounts to an extraordinary leap of faith.
Koestenbaum's shift from writing desk to easel, from mind to matter, from written word to glittering images, can be admired in his first solo exhibit at White Columns, where his unabashed sweeping series of colorful male nudes make a convincing case for risktaking. Koestenbaum clearly revels in his new-found passion which allows him to keep his back to the literary world - and his tongue firmly in cheek. It must be the height of glorious unfettered Whitmanesque folly to shift one's creative makeup from respectable writer to novice painter. Indeed, Koestenbaum's bold move does evoke the American bard's line, "What is known I strip away / I launch all men and women forward with me into the Unknown."
Pink Groin With Orange Body
As essays in paint, Koestenbaum's nudes are pure pleasure rockets fired into the high stratosphere of the art world: they are striking in their freestyle and dazzling with their bursts of erotic, neurotic energy. Koestenbaum professes to be willfully naïve about color theory and to use colors that simply turn him on, relying on what John Keats called one's "pleasure thermometer." Hot pinks, fiery reds, and other burts of color abound, as in Pink Groin and Orange Body and Self-Portrait With Kindling. Every line, every brush-stroke reveals a great deal about Koestenbaum's long-time preoccupation with homoerotic desire. Only here and there, as in the guise of a table stacked with unmarked books, one can observe a nod to his literary self. At their best, Koeostenbaum's oil paintings evoke a mood of the early Eighties, when gay city life was vibrant with a creative energy that insouciantly mashed the arts together for the sheer pleasure of it.
Self-Portrait With Kindling
Koestenbaum doesn't seem to have any plans to retire from writing, but it's clear from this show that he will continue his pursuit of painting with the same zeal that has marked his literary career. In this practice, Koestenbaum remains faithful to broadening his life of an aesthete. There are growing pains, but there is no doubt that this is a journey well worth observing.
White Room: Wayne Koestenbaum
320 West 13th Street, New York, N.Y. 10014
Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 12-6 PM
Oct. 27 to Dec. 15, 2012