Caveat: Mention the name Robert Mapplethorpe in the right company and you may find yourself the object of curious innuendo.
Mapplethorpe was a gay artist who died of AIDS at the age of 43. His artistically brilliant yet stylistically scandalous photographic images sparked curiosity at the expense of controversy.
He was both praised and degraded for his stark and honest appraisal of the erotic male nude, sadomasochistic culture and practices, and homoerotic and multiracial portraits.
San Luis Obispo is arguably a conservative town, so there probably won’t be any glimpses of Mapplethorpe’s images adorning the walls of the city’s Art After Dark venues.
Art After Dark is an assemblage of artwork created by local artists; the pieces are displayed across more than a dozen venues in San Luis Obispo on the first Friday of every month.
Art sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) and shown in conjunction with Art After Dark will continue to be shown at The Art Center (1010 Broad St.) through July 15.
“It’s a conservative view of who we are,” said Paul La Riviere, artist and curator for the GALA Center. “We’re not trying to show blatant sexuality or necessarily titillate the senses, but if we do, then all right!”
One of La Riviere’s colorful and abstract paintings depicts his A-frame home in Morro Bay. He moved there about 20 years ago. It’s a whimsical, happy place full of positive energy and love, Riviere’s partner, Jim Lipsett, said.
Lipsett, who lives in Morro Bay and has been collecting art for about 30 years, said he appreciates his partner’s work.
“Many of the reds, greens and golds you see here are inspired by oriental art Paul was working on a while back,” Lipsett said. “I could not walk into this gallery and say this is a gay exhibit, and I’m pretty good at that.”
Across the room, there is a black and white photograph of three hands, palms face up. One is clearly feminine, typified by the slender fingers and manicured nails. Another is that of a baby. And the last, which lies below the former, seems to exemplify some rea m of androgyny by thicker, wirier hair and stubbier extremities.
The piece is called “Hands of Love” and was photographed by Lauren Jolicoeur-Saxon. She lives and works in Paso Robles and specializes in on-location photography.
“I’m a lesbian artist,” Jolicoeur-Saxon said. “My partner and I live together in Paso with our two kids and belong to a very straight mommies group. We have never felt any kind of discrimination.”
The display was incorporated into the activities of Pride Week, which ran July 4-8.
During Pride Week in San Luis Obispo, lesbian mothers and gay fathers could be found walking with their children, encouraging more talk of political issues, such as gay marriage. The week featured festivities for both straights and gays to interact.
“In other cities, (events like this) are about celebrating and partying and having a good time. Ours is open for a reason. We want people to feel like they can just wander in. We want the community to celebrate with us,” said Robert Kinport, a member of GALA and chairman for the events board that organizes Pride festivities.
La Riviere believes the art show meshed beautifully with San Luis Obispo’s monthly Art After Dark.
“It just shows that we are really like everyone else. We’re not trying to do a Robert Mapplethorpe; we’re here to just be part of the community,” he said.