As various camps in the gay community continue to debate, begrudge or champion gay assimilation into mainstream culture, Sin City Gallery’s Laura Henkel mounts a heaping dose of queer art demonstrating that not everybody got the memo, nor does everybody want it.
San Francisco artist Suzanne Shifflett’s tattooed woman packing dick in leather pants, erotic trans models posing explicitly and portraits of sexual ambiguity are more than just a reminder of the Q at the end of the LGBT. They’re the exclamation point and the double underline.
Shifflett documents life as she knows it and lives it: a tattoo artist and studio owner who works on cars, rides motorcycles, has a fine art background and paints in traditional realist style, exquisitely. In The Sum of All Its Parts, she pairs the art historical with the queer contemporary. Tools, leather boots, butch cuts, ink-covered arms, stilettos and erotic poses are her subjects.
Her “Self Portrait With Bullwhip,” created from the perspective of the viewer looking up at a nude Shifflett decorated in tattoos, has her staring down at the viewer, confident and playful. But while erotic art is the norm for Sin City Gallery, the arrival of Shifflett’s show (on the heels of the JK Russ exhibit) prompted gallery owner Henkel to host a panel talk about what queer art is, exactly.
It’s not unusual to pose the question, explore and reinvestigate, even for queer art experts whose answers are as open-ended and evolving as the term “queer” itself. And in this conservative, corporate gambling town, it seemed prudent and almost necessary, says Henkel, who not only found herself having to explain queer art, but also having her explanations challenged.
So, following the opening, Shifflett and local artists falling under the big Q discussed identity, tribe, codes of the past, truthfulness, inclusiveness, labels and reverence for the gay and lesbian forbears who fought for so much (including the right to honestly express oneself). Mostly they distinguished between gay and queer—whether one or the other is more political and narrow or cultural and inclusive—not surprising given that in some circles the word “gay” is passé, limiting and no longer relevant. The otherness, ambiguity and authenticity that fell under the panel response can definitely be seen in the biographical The Sum of All Its Parts.
The Sum of All Its Parts Through September 21; Wednesday-Saturday, 1-7 p.m. Sin City Gallery, 702-608-2461.