This was an image that was my 1984 High School Senior Yearbook photo, that I also used for my Brown Freshman "Pigbook" image, that has also stayed with me through the years. I also used it as my postcard image for my infamous New York City solo show debut at Jay Gorney Modern Art in 1997, and currently for my Facebook portrait. In 1983, years before Photoshop, I put on my dad’s tuxedo, and held the empty frame before me and we shot the picture, then, after taking the separate portrait shot, I simply cut around the inner part of the frame and thumbs in the larger photo creating a window that I then taped the portrait photo to appear. Interestingly, it appeared in the yearbook without my name underneath, but became a little famous both in high school and amongst my friends at Brown who always remembered and wondered how it was created. I knew, or at least sensed, that I was gay in high school, and in addition to being a young artist cartoonist, was a closet punk rocker/new waver, things somewhat transgressive (or transcendent!) to be in my fairly conservative upper-middle class cul-de-sac suburbia of my childhood. Although I was true to myself and friends and family as a teen, I was aware of the feeling of performativity, and although I was ‘popular"—elected Prom King at a huge public high school in addition to and maybe because of my extracurricular involvement as the campus cartoonist and president of my high school radio station—I knew something lingered beneath the surface of the affable youth I presented to the world.
In many ways, I feel the image was the first true "artwork" I created—working mostly instinctively but also fueling the image with sublimated ideas and desires that exceed my conscious intentions. Hopefully this gives something to the image beyond the obvious tricks I used to create the work that gives it a life. Also, I hope it serves as an allegory for an artist, that we are always literally behind our art.
I have always wanted to make a painting from this work, and decided instinctively that it might be a good time to do so, not realizing that in the summer of 2013 that it also happened to serendipitously be my 25th high school reunion. Although sadly I couldn’t attend it was fun during the meditation of painting the work thinking about who I was then and who I am now. Art is obviously about self-expression, and it was deeply edifying to know that I was a happily married gay man to my partner of 20+ years, who finally, after a twenty-year career achieved a post-graduate goal of being in the Whitney Biennial. While painting, to get into the head space of my youth, I listened to my favorite music of that time—from the pop fluff of the Spandau Ballet to the truly meaningful Clash, Talking Heads, and the music that helped me to survive the conservative culture in which I grew. If it weren’t for punk rock and smart music that was political as it was conceptual and exuberant (and involving community and aspirations that really did and does have a positive effect on the world then as it does now) I don’t think I would be the artist I am today. It was also painful to revisit the repressed anguish of those years, to wish that we lived in a better world where gay people and artistic expression could be accepted, valued, and respected. But how great to know how the world has progressed—that hopefully LGBTQ kids have a much easier time now than they did, and how the politics I felt of my youth have become part and parcel of our world today. But I really ultimately had a great time in high school, and love to be accepted as being different as I allowed others and myself to be—and what a great culture we did have at that time in movies, music, comics, and more—that I enjoy as much then as I do now, and importantly a family and friends that accepted me and my endeavors enough to embrace me and the expression of myself.