social–realist painter Patrick Angus died in 1992, at the age of
thirty-eight, of AIDS-related complications. His was a short, unhappy
life but almost miraculously, Patrick died in a glow of contentment,
a kind of apotheosis. His greatest malaise was fear that his artwork
would never be seen and indeed that it would end up in a dumpster.
This paranoia that his work would never be accepted was reinforced
by the reality of the art scene in New York and captured on film
in Resident Alien, a documentary on the life of Quentin Crisp. There
we see the playwright Robert Patrick drag the reluctant Patrick
Angus to show his work to a smart dealer in the chic East Village.
The art dealer does indeed recoil in horror, and Patrick, deeply
humiliated, rolls up his canvases (too poor to afford stretchers)
to retreat to his tiny room. However, in the final year of his life,
after no previous showings of his work, he enjoyed three one-man
exhibitions, and was included in several group shows. On his deathbed
in St. Vincent's hospital, I was able to show him the colour proof
sheets for a book of his paintings, and he whispered, "This
is the happiest day of my life."
Angus, Boys do fall in Love
Patrick would be gratified to know that his work was shown recently
at a prestigious international art institution, the Akademie der
Künste in Berlin. The stupendous 100 Years of Gay Liberation exhibition
was a kind of World's Fair of Art and History. David Hockney once
said if you have to be in a group show send a big picture. Hockney
lent a big picture to this exhibition, and one of its organisers
Andreas Sternweiler (of the Gay Museum in Berlin) chose an equally
big canvas by Patrick, his Boys do fall in Love. The two
hung side by side in Berlin. A detail of this painting was used
as the cover illustration for Die Sehnsucht der Menschenfrescher,
by Alfred Chester (Albino, 1993).
Although he has been called the "Emily Dickinson of the art
world" and the "Toulouse Lautrec of gay Times Square",
Patrick Angus work remains unacknowledged by the American art establishment.
But his genius for observation, his humanism, his compassion for
his subject, and the obvious power of his artistry mean his pictures
have only to be seen once to be remembered, and to create a desire
to see more. They are unique and beautiful accounting of a fascinating
époque, and they will take their place in our cultural history.
They will survive.
Douglas Blair Turnbaugh
Douglas Blair Turnbaugh is author of Duncan Grant and
the Bloomsbury Group (1987); Private: the Erotic Art
of Duncan Grant (1989); Strip Show: Paintings by Patrick
Angus, published by Editions Aubrey Walter (Gay Mens Press),
He is also a contributor to Ecrits sur Nijinsky (1992), and
is a member of the Comite Nijinsky and on the Executive Committee
of the Conseil International de la Danse/UNESCO.
Paintings by Duncan Grant
and Patrick Angus are available for purchase from
Mr. Turnbaugh, 2. West 55th Street, New York City