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Figures of lust, or an entire culture in an exhibition

The 70s were prolific in porn flicks. Until the early 80s, there was an array of films associated with the so-called classic gay porn. The industry, liberalized, was making movies after movies, but still within the minimum standards related to scenography, script, acting and photography. Hetero and homo porno, certainly not equal in numbers and output, was sold to sex shops, video clubs and displayed – much to people’s disbelief – in theatres fit for that purpose. In the room’s immense darkness, between the tenuous beams of film light, a salutary depravity of random encounters, sex between seats and crisscrossed glances of teasing and seduction.

Back then, gay porn experienced its golden moments. The absolute flesh lust eagerly delivered itself to freedom, the muscled and hirsute bodies. Bareback. Sex without protection. Direct contact between organs and fluids, sex and blood, pleasure and pain, before the arrival of the Great Harvest, which threw this practice into the chasm of illicitness and disease. Fear was still not present, there had yet to be a medical outcry for celibacy. The productions were unaware of the virus, and so was the scientific community and actors.

The models (the bodies) painted their hair yellow or faux blonde. A peroxide colour, with deep black roots. They shone under the sun, golden, with well-defined tan lines. With some olfactory imagination, we could smell – among other odours much more eschatological – some coconut oil, a fragrant sunscreen mixed with the chlorine from multiple scenes in swimming pools, ever so typical of that period, which David Hockney immortalized in painting.

There was a plot at that time. Simplistic, sufferable, but enough for immersion purposes and the creation of a vaguely truthful atmosphere. Joe Gage directed one of the gay porno productions that would stay in the memory of many pornographers: L.A. Tool & Die (1979). (Memory is an odd concept in pornography. The instant gratification is averse to recalling. The male orgasm is, much to the anger of many feminists – and with good justification – the perfect metaphor of society and contemporaneity. Quick, selfish, fleeting. There are no major studies on pornography in general. Gay porn still gathers some loose fans, scattered around the Internet, in vaguely updated blogs and we can use our fingers to count the published books that strictly approached this subject.) Gage often goes against some stereotypes: strong, muscled man, with a black moustache, alongside blonde boys with slender features. In the aforementioned movie, a young man finds love in a trucker who drives across several American states, a title that belongs to a movie trilogy whose main protagonists are all truck drivers. The final scene is a spurt of water emerging from the ground with the image of two lovers in a joyful complicity. The electronic, minimal music, embellishes the sex scenes, the voices run away from the saturated picture, unsynchronized. Nothing is too serious, but everything appears to be true.

Other studios produced another sort of stories. Cadinot did European productions with boys participating in interracial sex. The French ethnic diversity was visible. Jack Deveau mixed high society with the working class; a homosexual version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Peter de Rome and Roger Earl resorted to iconology and religion to craft their scripts. However, names of actors remained in the memory of many: Al Parker, Jack Wrangler, Scott O’Hara…

The technology was rudimentary. The picture and sound were fragmentary. The landscapes and the sex scenes became almost dreamlike and unreal. The colours were vivid, in some cases, with sharp contrasts. The bodies got orange and the bright hair was incandescent. The music anticipated the pleasure, full of noise, and the voices were harsh and piercing.

It was possible and it was everything and more. The theatres were sold out, they became the plateau of brand new plots, symbols of a marginal, daring, liberating and libertarian culture. A corner was a meeting. Rewinding was not feasible, nor pausing, nor making loops. The film kept moving on its tracks. A gushing river of ecstasy. In the back, the projector rolled the film in the reels and, out there, instants before, in the foyer, tickets were bought in pairs or separately. The bathrooms, places of anonymous pleasure. Gloryholes.

*

This long preamble introduces the exhibition My Favorite Things, of João Gabriel, who relies on pornography for his artistic production, and relaunches, among other subjects, the figuration and the painting in the debate on the contemporary art scene.

A large part of the present-day artistic work is sterile, given its abstract and hermetical traits. Inscrutable, the works of art no longer can seduce and incite the emotion, the feeling. Sentimentality is not what is being asked, rather, perhaps, some familiarity in the art of the inner human complexity. The several paintings of João Gabriel appeal to that and defy us with a mindful look in the midst of so much raucous: the touch, the gesture, the position, the desire and the pleasure. The love. Even when staged. The cliché.

The figures are not traceable. There is, in the artist’s painting, something that is not clear and explicit in the pornography that he relies on: the overlap of intimate plans, the hint, the transparency of the actor when he exposes himself frontally (or backwardly), the passionate start, the mechanical, repetitive and biological end of fucking, of sex, of making love, the bodies that get merged together in a clump of lines and stains. In this perspective, the works are the translation of the invisible, of the subcutaneous and internal layers.

The attention to the atmosphere. The objects, the decor, the ambience, the windows, the chiaroscuro of silhouettes that suggest light. The immense beach landscapes. A certain youthful enui. The cliché.

From the thematic standpoint, when compared with the exhibition Jovens Artistas EDP, My Favorite Things does not present major variations, besides a closer look at the subject manner. But there is a difference in the use of supports that suggest an instability inherent to these themes. The parts are either painted on worn canvas fabric, which engulfs the painting in a sort of translucid impermanence, or on paper with inaccurate contours. The abandonment of saturation, favouring black and white, is also something new. Tiny differences that walk towards a full maturation of an artist who is still very young, with his first solo exhibition at Galeria Boavista of EGEAC, after several joint activities and a small and unique preparatory stage in Bregas.

But the figures. The bodies. The individuals who guess each other.

There are no eyes. The faces’ physiognomy is the one which our mind is capable of projecting. The imagination gives these paintings a hint of hidden lust and, conversely, the paintings provide full satisfaction to the imagination. In this game there is no meat, no fluids. It is all very platonic, yet real. It is rather the anxiety between the real and the unreal, between the desire and the possibility. It is the art of figuration.

It is possible that the models used (the property of the verb) by João Gabriel have died already. In fact, sometimes we forget that those models are real. They were. The virus arrived to splinter the bodies.

Martin Amis, in one of his works, associated the porno actors with gladiators. People who suffer for the pleasure of others, which exists to serve our remotest urges. They sacrificed their lives for a lonely manual work. A sigh, muscles contracted, eyes rolling. And then it ends. In this context, this is an exposure that carries, inadvertently, all the weight of a culture and a community (perhaps) which, despite its vibrant stridency, has been marked by tough moments of solitude, melancholy and sadness. If it actually exists, the queer culture is the most complete Dionysian principle of nature and of human nature. Sparagmos, dilaceration, violence, flesh, death.

*

It is all very human in My Favorite Things because pornography is as human as many other arts. It is not refined, it is not objectively beautiful, it is dirty. But that doesn’t make it less true, sincere, authentic, whatever you may prefer.

And João Gabriel was able to notice it.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) grew up in Campo Maior and studied in the grouping of Arts in Elvas. He earned a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. He completed the admission to order and the internship in António Barreiros Ferreira - Tetractys Arquitectos. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. He is interested in art, cinema, politics, literature, fashion, architecture, decoration...

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