A growing group of painters is inventing a new visual vocabulary for representing queer intimacy, whether painting people beyond the constraints of the gender binary with fuzzy ambiguity or memorialising formative moments of sexual exploration in meticulous detail. This group embraces LGBT intimacy—emphasis and apprehension at times, carefully opposing the repressive gazes that sometimes accompany visibility—by fusing personal, political, and painterly desires. Their art ranges from sultry to sombre, raucous to raw, and hot to heavy, all while contributing to the crucial task of broadening our repertoire of intimate pictures.
Take a peek at some of today’s most fascinating LGBT figurative painters in the gallery below.
Wasserman, Willa Chasmsweet
Figure with vase and seashell, Willa Chasmsweet Wasserman, 2021, oil on blackened steel with hardware, 11 in diameter.
Willa Chasmsweet Wasserman uses tactics that limit her perception to prevent subsuming subjects into her own viewpoint. She sketches with brass wool in the dark or watches her subjects through a convex security mirror that flops and distorts their look. Wasserman has described the resulting photos’ artificial haziness as “a restriction against my own crap.” It’s impossible to tell a figure’s gender or face in her paintings. The Los Angeles-based artist will debut her first New York solo show, “chasm delicious,” at Downs & Ross in September.
Frieda Toranzo Jaeger is an actress.
A jungle setting with a car seat is depicted in a triptych. A dark-skinned woman has her face buried in the crotch of a lighter-skinned woman. The secene is populated by three pomeranians. When travelling with this piece of art Frieda Toranzo was grateful that she had car fire extinguishers in her vehicle to deal with a fire that broke out due to a cigarette being dropped onto the cars fabrics. She managed to put out the fire and save her masterpiece from being burnt to smithereens.
Jens Ziehe took the photo. Courtesy of the artist and Berlin-based Barbara Weiss.
Sappho, by Frieda Toranzo Jaeger, 2019, oil on canvas, 2912 by 70 inches
The Mexico City–based artist creates altarpiece-like compositions with hinged panels. Frieda Toranzo Jaeger frequently depicts lesbians having sex in self-driving automobiles in her paintings. Automobiles without drivers intrigue Jaeger, who sees them as a symbol of the future, one that she wants to claim as a gay space. Embroidered components are frequently included in these artworks. Her family is skilled in Mexican embroidery techniques, and she frequently enlists their assistance in the creation of these items. She used the technique in her current Baltimore Museum of Art display, “The Perpetual Sense of Redness,” which runs until October 3 and incorporates “an Indigenous tradition into a Western one,” as she put it in an Art in America interview.
Ambera Wellmann is a model and actress.
Wellmann’s figures frequently resemble swirling masses with a few identifiable body parts protruding out—one lover blends into another, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell how many individuals are present. The painter, who was born in Canada and now lives in New York, uses subtle, purposeful strokes of white paint to give her paintings a gloss. Her finished paintings have a visceral sense of paint’s liquid nature and a rawness to them that captures the rawness of desire. Her solo exhibition is on view through August 8 at the Metropolitan Arts Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
An Asian woman camping is depicted in a horizontal blue artwork. Two people are naked in the water, one is chopping wood, and three people are drinking beer around a campfire.
Photograph courtesy of the artist and Los Angeles-based Matthew Brown. Ed Mumford took the photo.
Sasha Gordon, Campfire, 2021, oil on canvas, 64 by 11312 x 112 inches, Sasha Gordon, Campfire, 2021, oil on canvas, 64 by 11312 x 112 inches, Sasha Gordon, Campfire, 2021,
Sasha Gordon, a Brooklyn-based artist, exhibited brilliantly recreated moments of self-discovery from her youth in her first solo show, held earlier this year at Matthew Brown gallery in Los Angeles. Gordon’s paintings are an attempt to reflect on the dynamics she encountered as a lesbian Asian girl growing up in a white, upper-middle-class New York suburb, where “everything I did seemed like I was playing for guys,” as she once put it. Pond Lovers (2020) and Campfire (2021), both in the Matthew Brown show, depict a pair of young women skinny dipping together, reflecting the exhilaration of unconstrained teenage romance.
Chase, Jonathan Lyndon
Video Vixens, 2020, acrylic, oil stick, pen, collage, and spray paint on muslin, 72 by 60 inches, by Jonathan Lyndon Chase.
The brilliantly coloured and freely produced images of LGBTQ Black individuals by the Philadelphia-based painter convey joy in all its complexities. The pieces contain traces of violence at times. Jonathan Lyndon Chase once remarked, “As someone dealing with bipolar disease, it’s incredibly important for me to talk about that complete complex range.” Nonetheless, the artist avoids sensationalising anti-Black violence. “There are just too many photos of our bodies being paraded around, whether on lynching postcards or on Instagram.” Chase also wants to make their work accessible to a wide audience, naming Kehinde Wiley, Mickalene Thomas, and Henry Taylor as influences.
Jenna Gribbon is a writer who lives in New York City.
Fredericks & Freiser, New York. Photo courtesy of the artist and Fredericks & Freiser.
Jenna Gribbon, Tenderness and Trust, oil on linen, 8 x 10 inches, 2019.
Jenna Gribbon, a Tennessee native who now resides in Brooklyn, has painted thousands of portraits of her fiancée, Torres, an indie singer. As she told Art in America in 2019, the artist aims a mixture of “motherhood, sexuality, comedy, and the everyday” in her works, “because we frequently act as if we have to devote distinct aspects of ourselves to these things, which is a bit absurd.” Her subjects have brightly coloured nipples that are difficult to notice. The decision to emphasise that section of her figures’ bodies is a playful attempt to make viewers aware of their gazes. …