About John Burton Harter

John Burton Harter (1940-2002) documented the richness of gay experience through his prolific artwork. Harter is most known for exquisite figure studies, especially fine compositions of the male body. These works range from classical studio drawings to completed paintings and self-portraits. He created over 3,000 works of art during his life largely based in New Orleans, La.

Born in Jackson, Miss., Harter — known as Burt to friends — grew up in Louisville, Ky. He nurtured a keen interest in anthropology, archaeology, and the arts, later earning degrees from University of Louisville and Louisiana State University.

Harter worked at the Louisiana State Museum in the late 1960s and gained a reputation for his attention to detail in caring for fine art. The museum promoted him to curator and then collections manager, overseeing all holdings.

“I am an artist first and a gay artist incidentally, but a large part of my work reflects a gay orientation. It isn’t an agenda especially, but it is representative of imagery I feel important both to me and to viewers of my work.”

Meanwhile, Harter produced paintings and drawings that often reflected his explorations as a gay man. He credited Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) for establishing an artistic climate that motivated him to explore the male nude and relationships between men openly in art.

Harter’s body of work documents gay male culture, especially of the 1970s. Gay genre scenes range from the fraternal to the affectionate to the erotic. Many convey camaraderie and affection and are filled with joy.

Harter participated in the AIDS discourse, leading to his creation of AIDS Wall. Executed from 1992-2001, AIDS Wall is a tribute to friends and people he admired who died from AIDS-related complications or who were living with HIV.

In addition, Harter’s landscape paintings convey time, space, and a mood often powerful and lonely. Cloud formations and pines in Louisiana landscapes reflect his years spent in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Harter’s portraits include friends and acquaintances. His own likeness remained a frequent subject throughout his life in self-portraits. He also painted still lifes in detail — tight studies in texture, color, and shape. He created etchings, lithographs, and woodcut prints in his early years as well.

Harter often took photographs to use as inspirations for paintings and borrowed elements to create compositions. His photography captures people and places from his global travels in the 1980s and ’90s. Hindu philosophy and mythology fascinated him, and favorite destinations included Bhutan, India, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Patagonia, and Tibet.

The artist set up the John Burton Harter Foundation in his will. He died in an unsolved murder at his home in New Orleans.

Curriculum Vitae

Career
  • Curator of Collections, Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans, LA — 1986-1991
  • Assistant Curator of Visual Arts, Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans, LA — 1974-1986
  • Assistant Curator of Paintings, The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA — 1974
  • Library Assistant, Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans, LA — 1967-1974
Education
  • Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA — Master of Arts in Painting, 1970
  • University of Louisville, Louisville, KY — Bachelor of Arts in Art History, 1963

Harter engaged in post-graduate work at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA, in South Asian Studies. He also studied at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, Fine Arts Studio, 1964-1965; Fisher Institute, Philadelphia, PA, life drawing, 1963-1964; Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, Field Archaeology, 1963; Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ, 1961; University of Vienna, Austria, 1960; and Hanover College, Hanover, IN, 1958-1960.

Exhibitions

2017

  • Expanded Visions: Fifty Years of Collecting, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY

2016

  • Awash with Color: Seldom-Seen Watercolor Paintings by Louisiana Artists, 1789-1989, The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA

2015

  • On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY
  • Work in Progress: Life Drawing Students and J. B. Harter, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Los Angeles, CA

2014

  • Classical Nudes and the Making of Queer History, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY
  • Work in Progress: Life Drawing Students and J. B. Harter, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Los Angeles, CA

2009

  • HERE Arts Center, New York, NY

2007

  • Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY

2006

  • Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY

2005

  • The Culture of Queer, Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans, LA
  • Louisville Visual Arts Center, Louisville, KY
  • Studios Plat du Jour, Paris, France
  • New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA

2004 

  • Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY
  • University of Southern Mississippi Museum, Hattiesburg, MS
  • Nicholls State University, Thibodeaux, LA

2003 

  • Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY

2002

  • Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY

2001

  • Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY

2000

  • Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY
  • Louisiana State University Museum, Baton Rouge, LA

1999

  • Louisiana State University Museum, Baton Rouge, LA

1998

  • Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY

1986

  • Arts Council of New Orleans, Gallier Hall, New Orleans, LA

1969

  • Louisiana State University Campus, Episcopal Student Center, Baton Rouge, LA
Collections
  • The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA
  • Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY
  • Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans, LA
  • New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
  • Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT
Bibliography
  • Smith, H. P. (2018). Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Saslow, J. (2015). On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life. New York, NY: Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
  • Clarke, K. (2015). The Art of Looking: The Art and Treasures of Collector Charles Leslie. Berlin, Germany: Bruno Gmuender.
  • Queral, G. (2015, January-February). Sexual Freedom and the Classical Ideal. The Gay and Lesbian Review, 47-48.
  • Katz, J. D. (Ed.) (2014). Classical Nudes and the Making of Queer History. New York, NY: Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
  • Weiermair, P. (2008). Treasures of Gay Art from the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation. Innsbruck, Austria: All Saints Press.
  • Rubin, D. S. (2005). The Culture of Queer: A Tribute to J.B. Harter. New Orleans, LA: Contemporary Arts Center, 2005.
  • Lucie-Smith, E.,Saslow, J. (2015). On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life. New York, NY: Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
  • Clarke, K. (2015). The Art of Looking: The Art and Treasures of Collector Charles Leslie. Berlin, Germany: Bruno Gmuender.
  • Queral, G. (2015, January-February). Sexual Freedom and the Classical Ideal. The Gay and Lesbian Review, 47-48.
  • Katz, J. D. (Ed.) (2014). Classical Nudes and the Making of Queer History. New York, NY: Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
  • Weiermair, P. (2008). Treasures of Gay Art from the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation. Innsbruck, Austria: All Saints Press.
  • Rubin, D. S. (2005). The Culture of Queer: A Tribute to J.B. Harter. New Orleans, LA: Contemporary Arts Center.
  • Lucie-Smith, E., & A. H. Merjian (2005). Classicism Subverted: Gay Art in the XXI Century. Paris, France: Studios Plat du Jour.
  • Harter, J. B. (2003). The Drawings of J.B. Harter by J.B. Harter. (C. Leslie, Ed.). Oddi Printing: The John Burton Harter Foundation and Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
  • Caplan, H. H. (2002). In B. Creps et. al (Ed.). Biographical Encyclopedia of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers of the U.S., Colonial to 2002 (Vol. 1). Land O’ Lakes, FL: Dealers Choice Books.
  • Leddick, D. (2001). Male Nude Now: New Visions of the 21st Century. New York, NY: Universe Publishing.
  • Harter, J. B. (1997). Encounters with the Nude Male: Paintings and Drawings by J. B. Harter. Swaffham, United Kingdom: Éditions Aubrey Walter, GMP Publishers Ltd. & A. H. Merjian (2005). Classicism Subverted: Gay Art in the XXI Century. Paris, France: Studios Plat du Jour.
  • Harter, J. B. (2003). The Drawings of J.B. Harter by J.B. Harter. (C. Leslie, Ed.). Oddi Printing: The John Burton Harter Foundation and Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
  • Caplan, H. H. (2002). In B. Creps et. al (Ed.). Biographical Encyclopedia of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers of the U.S., Colonial to 2002 (Vol. 1). Land O’ Lakes, FL: Dealers Choice Books.
  • Leddick, D. (2001). Male Nude Now: New Visions of the 21st Century. New York, NY: Universe Publishing.
  • Harter, J. B. (1997). Encounters with the Nude Male: Paintings and Drawings by J. B. Harter. Swaffham, United Kingdom: Éditions Aubrey Walter, GMP Publishers Ltd.