Quaintance: The short life of an American art pioneer

This article by Marshall Shore originally appeared in the September 2015 Issue.

New York. Los Angeles. Phoenix. Though this may sound like stops on a national concert or exhibition tour, but it’s actually the journey of a relatively obscure, but iconic gay artist who changed how we look at male and female beauty.

Despite the fact that his art was a precursor to Tom of Finland and Alberto Vargas, George Quaintance (1902-1957) remains a virtually unknown, unsung pioneer of the arts and queer communities – until now.

Ken Furtado and John Waybright (read Marshall Shore's author interview here), crossed paths on their individual quests for Quaintance information. Through their connection, they realized that there was very little authoritative information available on the man whose resume included dancing professionally, painting early pin-up girls, working as a celebrity hairdresser, directing art for several muscle magazines and, most notoriously, creating beefcake images of beautiful men with bulging Levi’s, six-pack abs and perfectly quaffed hair.

“Thunderhead” (left) and “After the Storm.” Quaintance’s most iconic images are from Arizona, most of which contain idealized young men and casual, but abundant, nudity, in a context that was rugged, masculine, romantic, sensuous and erotic.

This alone made the decision to collaborate on a definitive Quaintance biography an easy one for Furtado and Waybright, and the soon-to-be co-authors agreed that Waybright would write about the artist’s years on the East Coast and Furtado would depict the years Quaintance spent in Los Angeles and Phoenix.

“After 10 years and dozens of publishers’ rejections, the George Quaintance biography that John and I co-authored is available as an ebook,” Furtado share on via georgequaintance.com. “John passed away in 2013, and in 2014 I made a New Year’s resolution to create an ebook version by year’s end. I completely rewrote every chapter, adding about 12,000 words to the original manuscript in the form of new information that we learned since first completing the bio. That task was completed, and this morning, the book became available.”

Furtado stuck to his guns and, Quaintance: The Short Life of an American Art Pioneer is the only comprehensive look at the artist’s life available today. (Read more on Marshall Shore's visit to the Taschen Gallery's show titled “The Flamboyant Life and Forbidden Art of George Quaintance” here.)

George Quaintance loved to be photographed. This was his favorite photo of himself, wearing a blond wig and tailored cowboy duds.

The Original GQ

Born in rural Virginia, Quaintance showed an early aptitude for art, not farming. And, at the age of 18, he went to New York to study at the Art Students League.

Shortly thereafter Quaintance joined a Vaudeville troupe that was the opening act for Sophie Tucker’s farewell performance. He continued to study ballet and modern dance until an injury forced him to pursue other creative outlets.

From there, he when on to become one of America’s preeminent hair stylists, whose clients included such stage and screen stars as Marlene Dietrich, Helen Hayes, Jeanette MacDonald and Hedy Lamarr.

He also painted formal portraits of celebrities, diplomats, socialites and pinup girls for a variety of magazines in the ‘30s and ‘40s. This opened the door for him to become the art editor for men’s magazine Your Physique. This introduction to the sculpted male physiques of the body building community would influence his art in such a way that it would overshadow his prior artistic endeavors.

Stephen Barclay portrait, Mrs. Victor Moore portrait and “Herald.”

Quaintance’s career culminated with the work he produced from his Phoenix home and studio, dubbed Rancho Siesta, where lived, painted and loved from 1952 to 1957.

Through Quaintance: The Short Life of an American Art Pioneer Furtado and Waybright’s shared goal is to tell the complete story of this iconic gay artist’s life.

To purchase a copy of Quaintance: The Short Life of an American Art Pioneer, visit smashwords.com. For more information, visit georgequaintance.com.

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