The Wizard of Oz Quintet, 2006 Oil on linen 48 × 80 inches
The Wizard of Oz Quintet, 2006
Oil on linen 48 × 80 inches

This is a picture from the scene in the film The Wizard of Oz after Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man find the Cowardly lion and accept him into part of their group to find the Wizard. This was a painting from my exhibition "Kings & Queens," and was part of a larger, non-linear narrative invoking the Last Judgment. In the show, I was trying to depict positive models of Kings and Queens in a time when so many people are abusing their power in negative, monarchal, ways. The Wizard of Oz is one of the most viewed and beloved films of all time, and has truly affected the world consciousness. This was a "miracle film," it should have never survived being made (it had many troubles before and during production, including having three directors, etc.), but had a "life of its own" and seemingly willed itself into being. It was successful upon release in 1939, but really gained its notoriety from being broadcast every year from the ’50’s onwards. Generations of people have been raised now by this movie, in that they are absorbed as young people while watching this narrative, and it affects their ideology, in addition to becoming part of their dreams and nightmares. Many believe the movie is an allegory for Capitalism, and while this is probably true, I like to think about it more benignly as being about finding yourself, your inner strength, standing up for what is right, and coming into your own.

I have created many images of Judy Garland, at first in my questioning about how many older gay men love her, while many younger gay men are terrified of her. Like many reporters, I became a member of the cult I was investigating, and now love Judy Garland. She was one of the greatest entertainers of the Twentieth Century, and like Elvis, brought real emotion and life into her songs and into her acting. She was a strong-willed woman, and I believe part of her appeal is that she always fought for her agency in a patriarchal culture that strove to take it away in their exploitation of her as a talent and as a woman. But Judy always fought back, and succeeded in having many comebacks in her career. The weekend she died tragically, finally succumbing to the pressures around her, the Stonewall bar in NYC was raided by the Police. The gay men there, beset by grief from the death of their idol, decided to rage against this oppressive force in the Stonewall Rebellion that gave birth to the LGBT civil rights movement.

In this scene in the film, Judy later told a story how Victor Fleming, the director of the sequence, was yelling at the men, hammy vaudeville actors, to allow for her to have room in the scene. I think there is that pressure here, as she fights, like she did in real life, for her rightful place. These male characters all have a different idea of masculinity than the more aggressive, John Wayne-like character of the time. While the Cowardly Lion is commonly seen to be "gay," the Tin Man and the Scarecrow also have "something missing," which gives them an alternate, or more sensitive male gender identity, which also might be appealing to a progressive audience. Despite the hassles that Judy Garland put up with as a teenager during the time she made the film, from her family, and from MGM (a studio that made her eat only chicken broth because they told her she was "fat"; Louis B. Mayer called her "ugly," she was kept on "pep pills" or the speed she became addicted to later in life by the studio to keep her in overproduction, etc.), she carries the movie, and is truly its star and its driving force. The song "Over the Rainbow," became a performative symbol of her life, and despite her tragedy of never quite getting there, her talents gave the world wonderful entertainment, and helped politically, to change world culture.

I think of this as a "history painting," and ultimately want to paint through the iconography image to bring out the real moment of these actors on a soundstage creating a movie that will change the world. I at first listened to Chopin music, for its harmonious mathematical logic, because of the many colors that fit together so well in the photo of a perfect movie. I then would play the film over and over in the background while I was painting, along with the many DVD extras. Most of all, I listened to the 4½ hours of outtakes and recordings of the music of the film as I painted, and would wake up in the morning with the songs running through my head. I wanted to fully immerse myself into the world of the Wizard of Oz as I painted it, allowing my conscious and subconscious to "leak through" in the forms and colors to give the work an internal energy and life of its own.