This is the first of hopefully many interviews spotlighting queer artists. Up first is Scooter LaForge. A New Mexico native, LaForge honed his style in the San Francisco and New York art scenes.
After speaking with LaForge, I quickly realized that he'd never pigeonhole his style, so I thought I'd give it a try: His work is what you'd get if you combined pop art, abstract impressionism, and a mall airbrush kiosk -- and then begged a punk rocker to have his way with it. He presents a dangerous and hedonistic world where clowns and cartoons pull out their genitalia, cuddly animals act out leather-bar fantasies with cultural icons, and a simple vase of flowers becomes something your mother would tell you to avoid. The word "clusterfuck" springs to mind, in the best way possible.
LaForge was kind enough to spend a few days with me discussing being gay and making art. Below we discuss repression, going mainstream, and the trouble with naked pics floating around the Internet.
Phillip M. Miner: What was it like for you growing up queer?
Scooter LaForge: I had a really great time growing up in Las Cruces, N.M. [Being queer] was very difficult. There weren't a lot of people there [who were gay.] ... I felt alone my whole life. I mean, that was really challenging.
Miner: You said something in an interview once that repression makes for good art. I'm wondering if what you just said plays into that idea. Does repression make for a more interesting artist?
LaForge: I think it does. I don't think I'd be here if I didn't have that. I was really repressed. I had a friend who is an artist, and his parents let him do anything he wanted. I wanted to wear makeup and dresses and wigs [like he did]; I just wasn't allowed to. So I was raised against the grain of who I wanted to be. All of that stuff gets stored inside of you and has to come out in some way.
Miner: So you use your art to resolve some of these issues?
LaForge: No, I don't do that in my art. I do that mainly through writing and talking and therapy. The stuff I reconcile through my artwork is anxieties. I remember I used to have a lot of panic attacks, and I used to paint these big abstract paintings: Panic Attack 1, Panic Attack 2, Panic Attack 3. That's how I get the anxiety out of my system. I actually donated one of them to Bellevue Hospital. But art is a great way to work out fantasies. It brings them from your subconscious to your conscious. When you visualize stuff, it tends to come true. I've painted people I've secretly wanted to have sex with or date. And they see it and realize, "Hey, he's interested in me." And then maybe something happens.
Miner: Do you identify as a gay artist or as an artist who's gay/queer/etc.?
LaForge: A lot of my fellow gay brothers and lesbians love it, but I've never considered myself a gay or queer artist. I've never wanted to be boxed into a group like "gay" or "lesbian" or "transgender" or, you know, whatever. It feels claustrophobic. I know artists who consider themselves gay artists. I want to reach a really broad audience: LGBT and the whole world! I was asked to do this art show window, and the theme is gay people who've broken into mainstream pop culture, and he's like, "Robert Mapplethorpe did an ad for Rose's Lime Juice...."
Miner: Ha! Tell me about your reception in the mainstream art world.
LaForge: When I'm getting mainstream work, I think a lot of people don't know that I'm really gay. I don't announce it or talk about it. And the further I go into my art career, the less my [artistic] identity is about being gay. Right now I feel like I just do "me." I think maybe I used to up the queerness to get some sort of attention. No one was paying attention to what I was doing, and I was new. I couldn't get anyone to show one of my paintings in a gallery or a store or a club or a laundromat, so I started painting these shocking ones to get people to look at them. I kind of upped the queer factor to get the attention, so now I'm able to do what I wanted to do. It's funny because a lot of my stuff breaks into the mainstream, non-gay world. I just had this painting that's on the cover of Elle Décor. If anyone does research, they're going to find some pretty hardcore stuff. And here's my work in this mainstream, feminine, Martha Stewart-esque magazine. I just love that. I'm on the cover, and there's this backstory readers would never know.
Miner: You've said the subject of your work changes. Do you think you have your smuttier work out of your system?
LaForge: Oh, yeah. I got that out of my system. I still do it, for perverse reasons, for my own personal thing, but I haven't really done that in a while, and I only made like two or three paintings that were really publicized.
Miner: Sex sells.
LaForge: Yeah, sex sells. They are the ones that get reblogged, and they're all over Tumblr and the Internet. Believe it or not, that stuff has prevented me from getting into galleries or pieces into museums, so I've had to... I mean, I don't care about nudity, but I've had to ask people to take my name off [some Internet posts] because that's what comes up first in a Google search. People are really afraid of [my smuttier work.] ... I was in a group show at a gallery, and the curator said the gallery owner didn't want to use me because he looked me up online, and I was too gay or whatever, because I have a few naked pictures online! Can you believe that? Are you serious?! He told me never to tell anybody, but I'm telling you. And I don't care that I'm telling you. That's really fucked up!
To read more about LaForge's process, what he has coming up, and his feelings on Lady Gaga, and to see some of his racier work, view the complete, not-at-all-safe-for-work interview here.