Visionary Writing, the celebration of the life and work of Antonio Lopez
“It’s all there—all through history we’ve been there; but we have to claim it, and identify who was in it, and articulate what’s in our minds and hearts and all our creative contributions to this earth.”
Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart (1985)
The most neglected aspect of the history of fashion is that it owes a lot to homosexuals. Boldness, talent and ingenuity; graciousness and grotesque, strength and fragility, seduction and contempt; saturation, festivities, the celebration of life and the gloom of death.
Despite their many talents, heterosexual designers had no flamboyancy. They didn’t have (and they don’t have) the fictitious chromosome of the fluid gender, or the genderless gender. They don’t have the exaggeration that feeds the imagination with shapes and colours in ways that few people understand.
Fashion is the territory of gay people: a place marked by acceptance, discovery and self-discovery, liberation, delirium in times when delirium itself harvested and claimed lives. AIDS killed many before they reached maturity; it interrupted lives that never came to be.
With closets without any trace of loneliness or bitterness, gays assume what they kept in secrecy for a long time. Fashion has opened, less vocally and objectively than the words of Harvey Milk, or Stonewall’s violent struggles, the doors of a global closet, revealing to the world the beauty of their creations.
From dressmakers to designers, from models to photographers, from designers to craftsmen, fashion was and will be an inclusive realm. Obviously, it suffered the influence of neoliberalism. And, of course, all this is only possible for a small part of the world’s population, wealthy and with proper networking. But fashion, without that machine, is only the art of making, of ornamenting bodies of all origins and backgrounds. Fashion is the desire and the dream transformed into materials, objects.
But the machine is tempting and an agent can do little if they don’t have an entourage to support them: funders, ego flatterers and, of course, magazines and publishers who promote and disseminate their work on several platforms. This aspect is poorly stated in many exhibitions on the subject.
Antonio Lopez (1943-1987) was a well-known Puerto Rican illustrator, whose talent was flaunted in magazines and through the art of illustration, one that is often forgotten. At the peak of his career, during the 60s and 70s, illustration, particularly in fashion, was not considered as an inferior art, or one that simply transformed the subjective and suggestive into the objective. In fashion, illustration was a kind of writing or translation of forms, gestures, ways and movements. They were a memory or the immediate exhibition of a lexicon that few were capable of mastering. Antonio Lopez knew this and dedicated his whole life to this area, working in the magazine niche.
At the time, the advertising and publishing market thrived. Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Interview and The New York Times, worldwide magazines, outlets of knowledge, art, pleasure and leisure that created and established an industry. Through these apparently expired and disposable media, Antonio Lopez created a portfolio and aroused the interest of great names in American fashion, art and culture. He created trends, through his clean and precise lines, in a surreptitious rudimental approach.
Visionary Writing brings together a part of that portfolio and various drawings and photographs of his work, but also celebrates his life. That celebratory and delirious impetus is beyond polaroid photos, illustrations and sketches. It’s not only the bodies: it’s the bodies and their behaviours in space and time, the walking pace, the movement, the identity mannerisms – the pose. With his creations, Lopez did not just write about life. He also wrote an experience and a way of being, typical of an elite that, when not vilified, is forgotten. Queer and LGBT culture is shown in full. Divine’s portraits are exuberant as is the character; Jean-Charles imitating Mae West is the personification of trash and drag; and also the elite of fashion, pop and disco, with names like Grace Jones, Andy Warhol, Karl Lagerfeld, among many others.
And, despite his tragic death at 44 (with much still to give), Antonio Lopez obviously lived his life to the full, surrounded by those he loved, lively as his traits were, with the power and bravery of the various stilettos with which the exhibition welcomes its visitors. And any reading of his legacy can never be detached from his life and identity.
Visionary Writing, at Centro Cultural de Cascais – Fundação D. Luís I, until October 12.