A Quaint(ance) Experience

By Marshall Shore, September 2015 Issue.

I first became aware of George Quaintance while on vacation in Provincetown, Mass. This hyper-quaint New England town is now a popular LGBT vacation destination.

As I was browsing antique shops, I stumbled upon a stack of ‘50s muscle magazines with such titles as Physique Pictorial, Your Physique and Body Beautiful, featuring oiled up men with lots of rippling muscles in posing straps to cover their naughty bits.

While perusing the yellowed pages, I spied an advertisement for Quaintance’s art, but the shocker was that the purchases would have been shipped from Phoenix. Yes, this Phoenix, in the 1950s.

Needless to say, I bought that magazine.

Just for perspective, Quaintance’s art predates the Stonewall Riots, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the idea of same-sex marriage equality.

Instead, the repressive atmosphere surrounding homosexuality in 1950s, meant being gay was a taboo, jail time was quite possible, police raided gathering places and being out or caught could jeopardize your livelihood.

Hollywood was portraying gays as limp-wristed sissies, serial killers and cross dressers, and an anti-homosexual Public Service Announcement from that time, called Boys Beware, labeled sexual predator as a generic homosexual.

So, I knew from that one advertisement there had to be an interesting story, but sad to say little information was available, until now.

Soon after reading Quaintance: The Short Life of an American Art Pioneer (read more about author Ken Furtado here or read Marshall Shore's book review here)serendipity struck like a bolt of lighting. I was tending bar on a slow night, getting ready to close down, when a couple walked in and ordered a round. We chatted as they drank, and I learned they were visiting and that he worked for Taschen Publishing.

I immediately brought up that a few years ago Taschen had published a book about Quaintance and his art, and that Quaintance had lived in Phoenix.

He asked, “You mean that guy who paints the half naked cowboys?” What he said next caused my jaw to drop onto the floor. “We are hanging a show of his right now at the new Los Angeles Taschen Gallery,” he said, followed by an invitation to attend the opening.

If you know me, you know I typically dress in my own unique style, but this event called for something extra special. I already had the perfect outfit that artist Jordan Diamant hand painted with Quaintance homage images, for an LGBT history walking tour around Roosevelt Row, called the Fruit Loop.

The Taschen Gallery show titled “The Flamboyant Life and Forbidden Art of George Quaintance” – which opened July 2, 2015, and will run through August – marked the first time for such public display of Quaintance’s artwork.

Having previously only seen reproductions of the work, I was stunned at the intense colors and sheer beauty of the nearly life-size works. Even the small paintings were large. It was breathtaking to see the gallery full of people looking at art from a long-gone era when these beautiful works were seen as bordering on obscenity.

Today they tell a visually stunning story of a pioneer artist that worked, lived, and loved right here in Phoenix. Oh, how times have changed!

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