Beginning with film stills and photographs from 1970s gay cinema and print erotica, Robbie Handcock’s paintings explore historic depictions of gay sexuality in order to consider contemporary queer existence. Indecent Literature comprises a suite of works that revisit canonical North American examples of gay media including the film Pink Narcissus (1971) by James Bidgood and Physique Pictorial—a quarterly magazine produced by Bob Mizer which featured young muscled men in bodybuilding poses, passing off the erotic as an interest in fitness in order to evade the period’s censorship laws.
By re-working the visual imagery from these sources through casual sketches that becomes the basis for each painting, the artist acknowledges the social and historical contexts of a particular kind of gay underground aesthetics. Engaging with the idea of a queer utopian memory, these works present a framework for looking back to moments of “sexual possibility” in order to invoke utopian visions across intergenerational divides. Through revisiting the past, Indecent Literature explores gay sexuality, its ability to reimagine and restructure notions of intimacy, and its role in resisting gay assimilationist narratives.
"[d]rawing’s second-class status increases its eroticism. The more “pathetic” an erotic practise, the more I esteem it. The more “pathetic” an artistic medium, the closer it resembles my ideal sexual underground."
Wayne Koestenbaum, “On Doodles, Drawings, Pathetic Erotic Errands, and Writing,” in Contemporary Erotic Drawing, ed. Stuart Horodner, Sara Kellner, Harry Philbrick (Connecticut, USA: The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2005), 21-29.
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Listen to Thomasin Sleigh and Martin Patric discuss Indecent Literature on the Circuit Podcast from 21:34.
About the artist
Robbie Handcock is a painter concerned with queer subjectivity and aesthetics. He completed MFA in 2016 at Massey University. Past exhibitions include Cruise Lounge, Rockies, Auckland (2016); Parallel Play, The Engine Room, Wellington (2015); and Newcummers,19 Tory Street, Wellington (2013).