It’s a situation we’ve all experienced. You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when suddenly a random object snags your clothing and leaves your undergarments exposed in an unfortunate yet comedic fashion.
Actually, it’s a situation more likely to occur for the female subjects of 1940s-era pin-up art, but local artist Paul Richmond is changing things up with a more modern take.
This Thursday, Paul’s work will be featured in the Cheesecake Boy Extravaganza show from 6:30pm to 9pm at the Luxboheme Showroom Downtown. We recently spoke with Paul to find out more about his career as an artist, his inspiration, and what other surprises are in store for Thursday’s event.
Q: Tell us a bit about your personal, artistic and professional background.
A: My art education began at a pretty young age. By the time I was three, my parents couldn’t pry me away from the dining room table where I sat busily drawing myself as a fairy tale princess. They explained that being a princess wasn’t an acceptable career path, but they also presented a compelling alternative – art lessons. I began oil painting classes once a week with a fabulous local artist named Linda Regula, who nurtured my creativity and helped me develop as a visual storyteller. Later, I attended Columbus College of Art and Design, graduating in 2002. It was invigorating to be exposed to so many new ideas and techniques, yet my personal life was a train wreck due to deep-rooted denial of my homosexuality. Fortunately, the year following graduation was a time for personal growth. I formed a mural painting business with my friend, the amazingly-talented painter Melissa Forman, and she helped set me straight (so to speak) in many ways. She was the first person I came out to, and as I began exploring my sexuality with my artwork, she encouraged me to bring the paintings out from under my bed and start exhibiting them. My work and I have been on parallel journeys of increasing gayness ever since. I have displayed my paintings in galleries and museums around the country, and licensed work for novel covers, merchandise, and a greeting card line. Last month I was chosen as one of GLAAD’s Top 100 Artists of 2010, and I’m currently working my own line of designer men’s underwear that will feature my artwork printed on the fabric.
Q: Where did the idea and inspiration for the Cheesecake Boys come from?
A: The Cheesecake series grew out of my fascination with pin-up art from the 40′s and 50′s. It was a more innocent time (at least on the surface), and I love the elaborate scenarios that artists like Gil Elvgren and Art Frahm concocted in order to justify disrobing their subjects. A loose nail, a doorknob, or a brisk wind would all work in a pinch, resulting in hapless models accidentally exposing their unmentionables. I’m interested in exploring how gender roles were reinforced by these artistic expressions of sexuality. It intrigues me that it was considered sexy for a woman’s skirt to be ripped off before a crowd of oglers, while the male pin-up was only exposed when he wanted to be. Times certainly have changed! Men may have had a free pass on wardrobe malfunctions in the good old days, but my Cheesecake Boys are here to even the score. I began the series a few years ago with paintings that were heavily influenced by the vintage beefcake aesthetic — pompadours and all. However, my most recent pin-up work portrays homosexual figures from contemporary pop culture, and I’ve been fortunate that a whole slew of gay celebs (including Perez Hilton, Jesse Archer, Mike Ruiz, and James St. James) have graciously agreed to collaborate with me and be de-pantsed for the sake of art.
Q: What does that collaborative process look like with those celebrities? Are they easy people to work with?
A: When I decided to paint celebrities, I wanted to work with people from various artistic disciplines so I would have a greater variety of background scenarios to incorporate. I also wanted to mix it up a bit from the typical way in which idealized men are presented in erotic art. No strapping firemen or construction workers. Instead, we have Bobby Trendy accidentally flashing his thong while painting a wall bright pink. I was amazed by how open the gaylebrities were to my idea! Via e-mail and phone conversations, they all helped me concoct their own personalized pin-up predicaments. And then they supplied me with hilariously compromising photo references to help illustrate the concepts. I kept them updated as their paintings progressed, and they offered suggestions along the way. For example, Ari Gold felt that he should have a little extra bling in his outfit, hence the studded belt in his painting (even though it’s obviously not doing much to hold up his pants!). When the paintings were finished, I sent all of them a complimentary giclee print of their piece, and they in turn shared it with their fans through Facebook, blogs, Twitter, etc. which resulted in a great deal of publicity and print sales.
Jesse Archer was the first celebrity I approached, and after I finished his painting, he helped me connect with many of the others. He also wrote a wonderful foreword for my Cheesecake Boys book.
Q: What other areas of interest do you draw inspiration from?
A: Life experiences have a significant impact on my work – although I should specify that the Cheesecake Boy scenarios are purely fictional! The first paintings I made after coming out were very introspective and more art therapy than a new career direction. But of course I was too much of a show-off not to bring them out of the closet right along with me. And I was awe-struck by the response they received. People could actually relate to what I had painted! The dark secret that had made me feel so isolated as a child was now helping me connect with people all around the world. Painting allows me to pluck images from the back of my mind and share them with the world. Sometimes they’re of a more personal, sensitive nature, and other times they are just undeniably wacky. Regardless, since I’m convinced the inside of my brain looks like a drag queen exploding, the result is always pretty colorful.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your artistic process, the type of media you use.
A: I’ve used about everything, but my favorite is still good old-fashioned oil paint on canvas. Linda traded my Crayola crayons for a sable brush when I was three, and I depicted gigantic tributes to my favorite cartoon characters. I’ve branched into other techniques and subject matter over the years, but standing at the easel and working on a painting is still as exciting for me as it was back then. And somehow, after twenty-seven years, I still have so much to learn! The good news is I can’t imagine myself ever getting bored.
Q: I read in your bio on your website that you’re involved with Kaleidoscope. Tell us a bit about your involvement there and why you continue to work with them.
A: Kaleidoscope is such an important part of our Columbus community. They are the only organization in Ohio solely dedicated to supporting LGBTQ youth, and they have a wonderful community center on North High Street where kids can gather and feel safe to be themselves. With the rampant homophobia and bullying that still plague our schools, I can’t think of a more noble cause to support. We are donating all of the proceeds from the “Pin-Up Yourself” photobooth at Thursday night’s event to Kaleidoscope.
I’ve volunteered there in different capacities over the years. For a while, I helped lead a weekly art night at the center and I’ve also organized exhibitions of youth artwork. When I had my first solo show at the Ohio Art League several years ago, we hosted a benefit for Kaleidoscope in the gallery.
I hope to be able to do more with them in the future, and anyone else who would like to get involved can find out more information on their website: www.KYCOhio.org.
Q: What sort of advice would you give to your fellow Columbus artists, whether they’re just starting out or have been involved in the local arts community for awhile.
A: First, I would suggest getting a copy of the book “How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul” by Caroll Michels. She does a great job of dispelling the myth that you can’t make a decent living as an artist.
Also, I would encourage other artists to keep an open mind about less-traditional opportunities to promote their work. As a gay artist with narrative oil paintings, marketing them presented an interesting challenge. Galleries that are looking for sofa-matching color schemes aren’t beating down my door, nor are the highly conceptual or minimalist-oriented curators, but I’ve been really fortunate to find my own path. Columbus has an amazingly accepting artistic community, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Q: Last but not least, tell us a bit about your upcoming show, what we can expect and anything else that we should know. ;)
A: The Cheesecake Boy Extravaganza is this Thursday Dec. 2 — an evening of art, fashion, and pin-up couture at the downtown Luxboheme Showroom. The event will feature my Cheesecake Boy paintings and new book “Cheesecake Boys: The Pin-Up Art of Paul Richmond.” We also have sexy male models who will be showcasing pin-up fashions throughout the evening, along with a performance by nationally known drag queen Nina West! And guests will have the chance to display their own pin-up potential in the “Pin-Up Yourself” instant photo booth benefitting the Kaleidoscope Youth Center.
The show is from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. with surprise performances beginning at 7:30. Tickets are available at www.ColumbusIsGreat.com. Hope to see you there!
More information about Paul Richmond can be found online at PaulRichmondStudio.com.