rick castro après pierre molinier: a la maison avec moi-mêmer~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

originally appeared in NAKED BUT SAFE

Los Angeles based Rick Castro is an emblematic figure of this particular school of contemporary artistic developments. Not only is he an acclaimed artist himself, working in a variety of media since the 1980s, but he has also collaborated with some major masters of queer creativity, thus firmly establishing his name in the annals of queer art. Additionally, he runs the Antebellum Gallery, proudly advertised as “the only fetish art gallery in the world”, supporting and introducing the art of like-minded artists. Exclusively for Nakedbutsafe, Rick Castro photographed a series of images paying homage to Pierre Molinier, the 1950s French artist whose self-portraits in drag remain testaments to the power of fetish iconography, having influenced artists ranging from Cindy Sherman to Steven Meisel.

rick castro après pierre molinier: deux figurines~ 8x10 ~2014~ 





rick castro après pierre molinier: deux figurines~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

Interview, exclusively for Nakedbutsafe, by Panagiotis Chatzistefanou
PANAGIOTIS CHATZISTENFANOU~ Your biographical note reads like a “who-is-who” of the last few decades of queer aesthetics, politics and art with a strong angle about fringe sexual sub-cultures. Gore Vidal, Kenneth Anger, Bruce La Bruce, Peter Berlin, Tony Ward – the icons of renegade sexual liberation and thorny, confrontational politics seems to be a central theme of your career. How much of this presence of heavy-weights is happenstance?

RICK CASTRO~ I believe all like-minded people eventually meet.

rick castro après pierre molinier: la dame masquée~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

PC~ Are these people and the worlds they represent just your friends or acquaintances or did you go out of your way to meet them and work with them?

RC~ For the most part, we started out meeting on a professional level; then, in the case of Tony Ward, we became friends.  With Peter Berlin, I knew who he was and picked him up on Christopher Street, NYC. We had sex, became friends, and later collaborated professionally.

PC~How much of a conscious effort is it on your part to reflect and document a specific scene or movement you feel you are responsible towards or personally related with its protagonists, in terms of having similar interests, tastes or artistic aims?

RC~I've always explored subculture, fetish, homoerotic. This has always been my driving force since pre-puberty. With age, that hasn't subsided. 
I'm a curious person and love seeking out the information and people creating the same. I explore the nooks & crannies of whatever genre I'm obsessed with of the moment.
And then, I did make it into a business; so i guess there was a life plan there somewhere.

PC~You are one of the few contemporary artists who choose fetish iconography as a main theme of your work. Robert Mapplethorpe, Tom of Finland, Nobuyoshi Araki, Steven Klein come to mind as members of your artistic family, also.  What is it about ritualized sexuality and adult role-playing that excites you so much?

RC~ I love the pageantry and drama. I'm an aesthetic person so this resonates with me. When you say "adult role-play," that is the key. As children we're allowed to have imagination. We can be whatever we want. As adults it becomes narrowed to career and social norms. Adults need playtime as well, especially in the hectic, stress-filled 21st century. Fetish allows for that. This is why I believe fetish ideals will define the 21st century.

PC~ Do you feel this particular side of human nature is under-documented?

RC~ With the premiere of Tom of Finland & Bob Mizer exhibitions at MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), West Hollywood, the whole thing has now changed. The oyster has been opened and cannot be closed.
MOCA's approval has now allowed for homoerotic/fetish artwork to be legitimate.  People like me have pushed for this all our lives. I'm happy to see this brave new world.

PC~ How important is it that your work is defiantly homo-erotic? Is it more politically charged or socially provocative than an average heterosexual scenario of bondage and leather? 

RC~ Yes, to all up until now. Homoerotic was very important because of the double-standard. The heteroerotic has always had acceptance, somewhere, somehow. 
Homo not so much, but this is changing in all large cities, in all parts of the world. For America. I see a time when gay bars and exclusively gay establishments will seem old- fashioned. In LA, it's already like that. Whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable.
 rick castro après pierre molinier: la dame en fourrure~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

PC~ Do you feel an affinity with the tortured, heady, possibly dangerous world of Jean Genet or John Rechy

RC~ Well, I absolutely adore Genet....  Anyone who can write a story about louses having sex on homeless gay men's bodies has won my heart!

And, of course, I’ve meet John Rechy a few times over the years.
The first time was way back in 1977 at a clothing store where I was working. I didn't know who he was, but got a big charge from the way he carried himself and his sexy, tight clothing. Throughout the 80s, i would see him from time to time in Griffith Park, wearing little speedos on a well-oiled physique. He claimed to be "sunbathing."
Then, later in 1998, I was proposed to team up with him for a story about street hustling for Genre Magazine, his writings and my photography. We had a phone chat, where he informed me he had absolutely no interest to write about hustling ever again. "I've already done that," he stated. Then recently, like last month, I attended the 50th anniversary of City of Night, and there was Rechy, looking like a grand statesman with a toupee. He told the group how much he despised Gore Vidal and other gay writers, and about how he didn't know how to use the Internet. When he would go to Amazon.com and give Four Star reviews of his own books, unbeknownst to him, his name was included with all his postings.

PC~ Do you think homosexuality, as an experience, has been assimilated and air-brushed,  since all efforts of the gay community are focused on being accepted by mainstream, hetero-centric society, and in the process of negotiating equality, glbt people, either consciously or not, have been obscuring, shunning, or even denying those other, more sordid, dirty and marginalized aspects of their nature? Could we speak of a peculiar brand of Puritanism as being the dominant ideology of current glbt politics? Do you consider yourself being a guardian of the “outlaw” flame?

RC~ Yes, but I fear I come off as quaint. I'm like that crazy old uncle pushing hedonism in a young, Calvinistic utopia.

PC~ I’ve never been to Los Angeles, but of course my subconscious is colonized with its culture and imagery. In my mind, your work seems to depict a shadowy side of the endless sunshine and movie glamour façade that Hollywood would like the world to have as the definitive image for this mythical city. As we all know though, L.A. has a seedy underbelly, well documented in books like Hollywood Babylon, by writers like James Elroy, Bret Easton Ellis, John Rechy, criminal cases like the Manson family murders, or even the constant rumors, scandals and intrigue surrounding the Scientology church and other cult-like groups. Hedi Slimane spoke of “satanic L.A.” as a mood influencing his first Yves Saint-Laurent collection out of his new atelier over there. Would you care to give your definition of “the dark side of Los Angeles”?

RC~ Los Angeles is so dark you can burn in its shadows. 
You have to remember that Hollywood was founded by cults and religion. There are more Methodist churches in Hollywood than anywhere else in California. Hollywood was founded by Methodists back in 1870s.
Once the film industry began to flourish, thousands of cults, sects and religions came to find freedom and a fast buck. This has always been the makeup of Hollywood. As far as Los Angeles, it’s no more or no less 'evil’ than any other city.
Have you been to Las Vegas lately?  

PC~ Is there such a genre as “Los Angeles Gothic”?

RC~ Most definitely. That is my nickname.
 rick castro après pierre molinier: L'amour POUSSE~ 2014

PC~ You run the Antebellum Gallery, which you proudly present as the only space explicitly devoted to presenting fetish-orientated art. Do you think that art that focuses on the expression of marginal sexual identities is a specific sub-category of art in itself or do you think this is a necessary denomination created by the censorship or heterocentric curating of major art institutions?

RC~  Sex in art traditionally has been looked down upon. Even artworks that are considered classics have faced censorship, such as Wilhelm von Gloden and Pierre Molinier. Homocentric art has been largely ignored, especially in America, completely ignored, unless there is no getting around the artists’ success, like Warhol, Mapplethorpe or Bacon.  I see 2014 and beyond as the time when homoerotic art gets its proper respect and is finally seen as simply art.

PC~ Would an ideal society need a specific space dedicated to fetish art or would sexually transgressive imagery be judged on its own merit, along everything else?

RC~ One of the reasons I opened Antebellum was to present erotic/ fetish art without judgment, with the goal of viewing that art with the same standards as all other art. Transgressive culture is desirable to me, always has been. The reality of transgression is that once something is accepted, it loses its edge. There's no going back from there. I guess one can continue to push buttons forever, but why? To be extreme for the sake of being extreme? There is no reason to do so. 

PC~ America has been at the forefront of the glbt fight for equal rights in terms of marriage, possibly adoption and a general acceptance by the mainstream media of homosexual and queer issues and personalities. The world is grateful to the U.S.A. for leading the discourse about equal rights for glbt people. However, public life in the U.S. seems to have an equally homophobic strain, a sort of backlash against the progress glbt people have made since the Stonewall riots. Religious fundamentalists, one-million-mom lobbyism, lunatic fringe extremists like the Westboro Baptist “church”, and other covert or overt expressions of homophobia rear their ugly heads in American public life, quite often. Do you think the tide has finally turned or do glbt still need to be as radical and organized as ever lest the pendulum swings back to much darker times?

RC~ There are very few closet doors to break down these days. The fetish closet is also now wide open for all to see. When I say this, I'm referring to Western culture, metropolitan cities. I don't want to dismiss gay-rights abuses in Russia, Africa and the Middle East. As we gain worldwide acceptance, there is also extreme push-back from less enlightened cultures. This is all fear: "Why does the world have to change from the traditions we've established?"  I say to these cultures, "Well, dolls, say goodbye to the 1950s, because they ain’t coming back."
rick castro après pierre molinier: jouant avec l'amour cylindrique~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

PC~ Artists like Jack Smith, of “Flaming Creatures” fame, Steven Arnold, Ira Cohen, Wakefield Poole, or even Tom of Finland, whose work and legacy are canonical in terms of developing and defining what we would today call the queer aesthetic, do not seem to be included in the ruling critical discourse of what is considered important by established 20th century art academics. Suspicions of homophobia are brushed aside because artists like Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon or even David Hockney have been much appreciated and successful on all levels, even as their work explicitly grappled with the theme of homosexuality. One senses that there is a special place reserved for those who transcend some boundaries, such as showing a preoccupation with sexually charged imagery, or expressing a love for visual excess as opposed to keeping the work detached and primarily focused towards intellectual rigor. Does overtly sexualized work by homosexual artists signal a limit for their acceptance?

RC~ As I mentioned, MOCA West Hollywood just presented the first exhibition of Tom of Finland and Bob Mizer. This is historic and groundbreaking. Overnight, culture has changed. Why? Because MOCA gave its seal of approval. I was discussing this at the opening. The art is the same. Tom and Bob created personal art — in the beginning privately for their own enjoyment; then underground, illegally; then as porn. Then, the art was considered as camp vintage. Now it’s accepted as world-class art. Why is it now considered art? Because MOCA says it is. The door is now open for all the artists you mentioned including myself. We now all have a shot at being in a museum. Now the big question is, can my art be in a museum before I die?
rick castro après pierre molinier: l'arrière de la belle man~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

PC~ When we were discussing the photographs you will create so as to accompany this interview, you asked me, quite disarmingly, whether you are allowed to show penises. I answered, of course, but then again I was born in the land of Praxiteles, where the naked male body has been indelibly associated in my mind with the most refined and universally admired subject of sculpture. Do you believe the male nude is still penalized in art? Even the recent “Musée d'Orsay exhibition, Masculine / Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day” seemed to shy away from the most provocative aspects of it, choosing to stay on the safe, or one might say campier side of things, like Paul Cadmus or David LaChapelle.

RC~ Once again the double standard.  Since forever, art was created by men depicting nude women, for the most part without controversy or with less controversy. Then history reveals that Michelangelo was most likely gay. Caravaggio was gay. Does this change the dynamic? By that I mean does a male artist eroticizing a male body change the conversation? Apparently it does.

PC~  Of all the legendary people whom you have collaborated with, which are those that taught you the most?

RC~ I watched closely when I was working with "the masters."  I would never have learned as much at a university. My education was hands-on, and I was getting paid!
From Herb Ritts, I learned ambient lighting, organization of crew and time schedule. From George Hurell, I learned studio lighting, posing and allowing for the perfect photogenic moment to happen. From Joel Peter Witkin, I learned tungsten lighting, composition and creating a visual tableau, also, how to work with animals.

PC~ Do you believe your artistic sensibility is part of a larger group or movement?

RC~ If it is, it's not organized, more of an organic reaction based on the times we're living in.

PC~ Which other artists, either widely discussed or obscure, would you suggest as your “artistic relatives”, their work representative of the kind of aesthetic you propose?

RC~ I'll address this as complementary aesthetic, as opposed to artistic peers, since my creative interest is not confined to one media. I see people working within the realm of fetish, whether they realize it or not:  Rick Owens, Ron Athey, Attila Richard Luckas, Zachary Logan, Luizo Vegas,  Amhed Shihab-Eldin,  Marc Andre Grondin,  Tom of Finland, Peter Berlin, F. Holland Day, Brassai, Pierre Moliner (obviously) , Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Roman Polanski,  Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Gilles De Rais.


PC~ We live in times that almost totally accept the idea of gender as flexible, optional, infinitely malleable, or even just a theatrical performance. Mainstream phenomena like Ru Paul’s TV show and general ubiquity has popularized what once was strictly marginal and disenfranchised culture. From “Paris is Burning” to Carmen Carrera, realness is finally as real as it will ever be. Do you ever feel that marginal/minority sexualities and gender options are in danger of becoming no more than another facet of the “society of the spectacle”, their media presence just another entertaining attraction, the audience captivated by the exotic aspect of a drag queen and glossing over the real issues sexual/gender minorities face every day?

RC~Yes, totally. It's boring and facile.  Mainstreaming kills the message.

 rick castro après pierre molinier: La femme homme~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

PC~ What is your relationship with the online world?

RC~ We have an understanding of one another. It is a good relationship.

PC~ Ironically, this interview, which is for a print-only publication, could not be possible without the internet. How comfortable are you with these paradoxes and regimentations of our digital reality?

RC~ I'm very comfortable with it. There is no stopping the future. 

PC~ Do you navigate between real and online life with ease or do you have a preferred mode of communicating?

RC~ I'm online a lot — pretty much 18 hours in a 24-hour day. With that said, I prefer R.T. — real time. The Internet works best when it's used for what it was meant to be used for: as a tool. I don't think it should be a lifestyle, or for that matter a reality. For many young people, this has become the preferred reality. I can understand this, since by nature I am an introvert, but eventually the novelty will wear off, and people will find interest in life once again. This will take the next generation to rebel against what their parents enjoy, in this case, online living.

PC~ The world domination of online pornography has allowed universal access to sexual images and practices never before seen or experienced by humanity. Pornography has expanded to include notions and sub-groups whose exoticism radically transcends any stereotypical categorizations such as lesbian or straight. Your documentary about “plushies” – people who have a fetish for furry costumes and adopt animal characters as their sexual personae – is a testament to this broadening of sexual imagery in our culture. Do you sometimes feel the language of erotic art is the result of censorship, since art institutions have definite if unsaid criteria about what is considered artistically worthwhile or mere pornography, unworthy of critical appreciation?

RC~ As far as plushies, I spotted that subculture immediately way back in 1998. I knew it was a lifestyle and culture being created online. I believed at that time it was the first culture to do so.
Boy did I get a lot of flack! From the general public and furries as well. They felt I betrayed them and outed them before they were ready to do so, if they even planned to come out at all.
The Internet has brought people together like no other time in history. Anyone can find someone who enjoys their ideas. People can confirm they are not alone in their fetish.
As far as censorship, there is always a knee-jerk reaction. If you look at the Victorian Era, considered a restrictive era, scratch the surface and you will find a vast array of fetishes, erotic practice and kinky relationships happening all at once, clandestinely. 

rick castro après pierre molinier: Le maître~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

PC~ Do you have a close relationship with youth culture?

RC~ I do, but it's a love-hate relationship. I agree with  Andy Warhol that youth culture is what matters, because by default they are the voice of the future, but I wonder if Warhol could've foreseen "Millennials" and whatever generation comes next.  For the first time in history youth have less to say about everything than the generations previous.
I have found a few young “diamonds in the rough” and present them with pleasure at Antebellum

PC~ Do young artists seek your tutelage or do they approach you online asking for advice?

RC~ Yes, on a regular basis.

PC~ How would you define, from your point of view, contemporary youth culture?

RC~ Glib, attention-deficit-riddled, self-absorbed, flaky, and surprisingly humorless.

PC~ Are younger people radically different than us oldsters?

RC~ Yes, unfortunately not in a good way. I'm sorry to say I don't find a lot of enlightenment with the younger set. This is my observation living in America, living in Los Angeles, some consider it a cultural vacuum. I'm assuming Europe is still presenting bright young things onto the world stage.

PC~ If you had to choose a defining moment in your life as an artist, which one would you choose?

RC~ I can only choose one??

PC~ What is your relationship to the international art world system?

RC~ It was very strong in the 90s when my film, Hustler White, came out (1996).  I screened my film and presented my photographic exhibitions all over the world. These days I feel somewhat cloistered here in Hollywood. 

PC~ Do you participate or ignore biennales, festivals and other mainstream or institutional events?

RC~ I think perhaps it's the other way around.

PC~ How important is it to you to remain an artist close to his underground roots?

RC~ I've always liked things raw. It makes more sense to me. I also like to be within an environment of originality. 

PC~ Do you feel a constant relationship with the mainstream would dilute your identity and curtail your freedom or even legitimacy of expression?

RC~ I'm sure this has already happened. I see Antebellum as somewhat antiquated. The artwork I present is not shocking for the times we live in. At one time, very recently, it most definitely was.

PC~ Are there “glass ceilings” for how far an artist can rise within the international art world system if his iconography is explicitly sexual?

RC~ Time will tell. For the first time, I am invited to exhibit at Photo LA during January 2014. This is the biggest art photography fair in California. We'll see how it goes.

rick castro après pierre molinier: Le maître~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

PC~ You seem to change your artistic practice with relative ease, moving between photography, film and curating. Which medium satisfies you more?

RC~ Each one has been pleasing during the time I was creatively involved. I may once again be moving into a new area, but for now it's too soon to know.

PC~ Can we expect more your involvement with cinema?

RC~ No immediate plans, but I never say never.

PC~ Beyond media, you also seem to change genres, with some of your work classified as fashion, other erotica, or documentary, or fiction movies. How does each specific genre influence your output?

RC~ I move within the confines of each genre, somewhat creating my own idea of each, then move to the next.


PC~ Would you label your work as “outsider art” or do you find constricting, or even patronizing, the dichotomy that exists between academically trained “fine” and self-taught artists?

RC~ I don't know if it's possible to be a 55-year-old outsider. If it is possible, then I guess that is me. I am self-taught, but I was a hands-on observer working with the best in the business,


PC~ What would you advice a young artist who admires you?

RC~ If they admire me, they should buy my work. That is always the best compliment. 
As far as advice: Don't treat your art as a business. If your main goal is to make money, sell drugs or sex.
You'll do much better.

rick castro après pierre molinier: La femme voilée~ 8x10 ~2014~ 

No comments:

Post a Comment