Thomas Eakins Coming Out Oil on linen 18 × 12 inches
Thomas Eakins Coming Out
Oil on linen 18 × 12 inches

Thomas Eakins was one of the greatest American figurative painters, one of the greatest American painters, period. He also was one of the first to use photography for his source material, and as I paint from photos, I find a great affiliation with him and his work. He probably was also gay, as he never married, and although he painted women incredibly, he painted men with certain warmth that seems peculiar to this gender in his work. He also notoriously had (as what perhaps was part in the free spirit of his bohemia) no problem with nudity, and in fact was firedfrom his teaching job as he infamously would go on outings with his students where they all ran around naked posing for each other and taking pictures—ostensibly for art, but also, truly, in a non-sexual manner. One thing about Eakins I don’t want to emulate is his repression—there is a certain tight-lipped quality about his work that gives it sometimes its energy—or expulsion, when you look at the insertion of instruments into the gaping wound of the man in the Gross Clinic (!??) and it seems that there is a certain freedom in his actual, really good photos of him and his friends and students frolicking in the forest. I wanted to help him along a little bit with this painting, based on a photo of Eakins himself. As always with my more contemporary work, I start with a grid, and try to work it all over, building it at the same time, but sometimes the figure comes out more first. In this case, my husband Andrew saw it and begged me to stop, as I captured a certain something that he worried I would lose if I kept going. I obeyed his wishes, as I liked it too, and felt it was a bit of a metaphor as, if Eakins was gay, maybe in our age he could come out, as he is of the grid in this painting, and into a better place like the heavenly world of this Last Judgment wall.