One of the great classic prints by that early pioneer and towering figure of gay erotic art, George Quaintance. In this day and age it is hard to imagine the impact these images had on gay men of the 1950s as a pressure built on them (and American society as a whole) that would result in the twin explosions known as the Sexual Revolution, and Gay Liberation. One would be foolish to mistake this for camp. Something much deeper is at work here if you care to read it. The recognition of Desire, the acknowledgment of Self, the encounter with Truth.
George Quaintance (1902-1957) was a gay American painter, photographer and sculptor who produced a large body of homoerotic art of an exaggerated macho, muscular quality. He was a major influence on later artists such as Tom of Finland.
His work became known to his niche market when published in male physique magazines, championed by Bob Mizer of the Athletic Model Guild, publisher of Physique Pictorial (1951-1990). Many of Quaintance’s photographs and paintings depict idealized muscular semi-nude males in an American West setting.
Quaintance was born in northwest Virginia, surrounded by the Blue Ridge mountains, where he grew up on a farm near Luray, 90 miles west of Washington DC. He displayed a strong aptitude for art while still a youth. By the age of 18 he was studying painting and drawing at the Art Students League in New York City (Norman Rockwell and Jackson Pollock were students there), where he also explored dancing, a skill he utilized in numerous stints as a vaudeville performer of classical ballet, tap and the tango. He was briefly married to Miriam Chester, even though he was actively homosexual. In the 1930s he became a hairstylist, perhaps as a way to explore solutions to his own thin, limp hair. From his early 30s he wore wigs to further his macho image as a handsome, youthful body builder. George was one of the most sought-after women’s hairstylists of the 1930s, with star clients the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Jeanette MacDonald, Lynne Fontanne and Helen Hayes.
His first work in the field of art was in (unattributed) advertising, but by the mid 1930s he had begun to sell freelance cover illustrations to pulp and movie fan magazines, sold at burlesque halls and under the counter at discreet newsstands. These illustrations of pinup girls were usually signed with the pseudonym “Geo. Quintana.” By 1937 he was the highest-paid illustrator for Gay French magazine, earning more than $50,000 a year. As such, he was a forerunner to later masters of the female pin-up genre, such as Vargas. During this time he also painted portraits of Washington DC diplomats, society wives and his friends.
In 1938, George teamed up with Victor Garcia, who became his model, life partner and business associate. Victor, the subject of many of George’s photographs, and George were not sexually faithful to one another, each openly taking on other lovers. In 1951, Quaintance’s art was used for the first cover of Physique Pictorial, a homoerotic magazine edited by Bob Mizer. George wrote articles and provided artwork for a slew of magazines catering to the burgeoning bodybuilding cult of the 1940s and 50s. During this time George often judged bodybuilding competitions. Because of the mores of the day, his published work did not include full-frontal nudity, which was depicted only in private commissions. Within a year of George’s death, however, Tom of Finland, who cited Quaintance as a major influence, broke through the barrier of full frontal male nudity.
George and Victor moved to an Arizona home they dubbed Rancho Siesta, the headquarters of Studio Quaintance, a business venture to produce and promote Quaintance’s artwork, which began to fetishize the macho cowboy look. His paintings from this era also depicted Mexican, Native American and Central American men, and for a time George took a Mexican lover. Quaintance’s Arizona “ranch”, as touted in the pages of Physique Pictorial magazine, was described as a landed estate in Paradise Valley. The setting was described as a place populated by livestock, models, staffers, ex-lovers and a coterie of followers who were young, handsome, built like gods and clad in little more than 501 Levis and boots. It was all a ruse. In reality this Arizona studio/residence was a modest 1950s ranch style house in the Loma Linda neighborhood of east Phoenix. The house, built on a small suburban lot, still stands.
In 1953, Quaintance completed a series of three paintings about a matador, modeled by Angel Avila, one of several swarthy Latinos who became the artist’s lover outside of his continuing relationship with his lover, Victor Garcia. In a letter to a friend dated April 27, 1953, Quaintance wrote that the paintings “were done in turmoil, in passion–I might even say in emotional agony.”
This trio of paintings–Preludio, Gloria, and Moribundo–may have reflected the course of the love affair from its prelude to its physical fulfillment to its death-like ending. The paintings are among the best in the Quaintance oeuvre, rising above the almost cartoon-like depictions of cowboys and Roman slaves.
By 1956, the Studio Quaintance business had become so successful that George could not keep up with the demand for his works, often working through the night, taking pep pills to remain awake. George died of a heart attack on November 8, 1957, at the age of fifty-five, but he will not be forgotten. Ken Furtado and John Waybright are soon publishing a biography titled Quaintance: The Short Life of an American Art Pioneer. Stay tuned.