On Thursday, June 9, 2022, in conjunction with Pride month, The John Burton Harter Foundation will present a panel discussion at the Arthur Roger Gallery (432 Julia Street, New Orleans) to celebrate the release of A Tale of Two Cities: Patrick Angus in New York and J. B. Harter in New Orleans, an illustrated catalog showcasing the works of these two gay artists. The event is free and open to the public. It will begin at 6 p.m. and all are invited.
As one of New Orleans’ most prolific gay artists, Burt (as he was known to friends) Harter left behind a vast body of work. From the 1960s until his passing in 2002, Harter produced over 3,000 drawings and paintings, largely in isolation, rarely exhibiting or sharing the work publicly due to its explicitly homosexual subject matter.
Full of fantasy and romance, Harter painted the idealized bodies of young, beautiful men with broad shoulders and bright smiles. They luxuriate in leisure and assume classic poses found not only in the art of ancient Greece but in the beefcake pinups of Bob Mizer. Harter had a long career as a curator at the Louisiana State Museum, where his fastidious attention to detail made him the perfect custodian of that institution’s collections.
In New York City, Patrick Angus also created works in near isolation. Working in the 1980s, at a time when queer art had virtually no institutional support and art schools were deeply entrenched in conceptual post-minimalism, Angus painted the hustlers, go-go dancers, and patrons of New York’s strip clubs, peep shows, and bathhouses. Playwright Robert Patrick (Kennedy’s Children) called him “the Toulouse-Lautrec of Times Square.”
Although Angus’ bare, lonely, lust-filled works were greatly admired by such notables as Quentin Crisp and David Hockney, as well as Harter himself, his meager sales found him living in low-rent apartments most of his career. Like Harter, his work wasn’t widely exhibited or studied in his own lifetime. He passed away in 1992 from AIDS-related complications.
Despite the fact that it took time for audiences to catch up to the prescient beauty contained in the oeuvres of Harter and Angus, their work has never been more relevant as today’s curators dismantle the exclusionary canon of the past to include previously overlooked stories, styles, and sensibilities.
“Placing these two artists side-by-side helps show that even in the throes of the AIDS epidemic, the gay community remained a vibrant place where people lived and loved,” stated Jack Sullivan, an Advisor to the John Burton Harter Foundation.
The evening’s panel will consist of Rick Herron, Edward Joseph, and Greg Nacozy; Brian Sands will be the moderator.
Rick Herron is an independent curator based in Los Angeles. In February 2022, he curated the two-person presentation The Messenger: John Burton Harter & R. E. Roberts at Los Angeles’ SPRING/BREAK Art Show, which featured drawings and paintings by Harter from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s, many of which were exhibited for the very first time. Herron has collaborated with Queer/Art/Mentorship, The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, New Museum, Visual AIDS, The Kitchen, Rhizome, and many others.
Los Angeles-based Edward Joseph is an artist, curator, and historian. His practice aims to foster intergenerational healing through exhibitions, events, and artworks. Joseph is the founder of Invincible Summer, a gallery with the goal of creating a space and funding projects that help contextualize and heal the traumas experienced by queer people.
Greg Nacozy is a New Orleans-based performer and sign language interpreter, and former Gaiety Theater performer, the setting of many of Angus’ paintings. He graciously agreed to fill in for previously announced panelist Visual AIDS Director Esther McGowan whose schedule unexpectedly changed, preventing her from traveling to New Orleans.
Brian Sands serves as an Advisor at the John Burton Harter Foundation. In 1998, Sands met the artist when he was Gallery Director of the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans and presented one of Harter’s first solo exhibits New Works: Paintings and Drawings there; they remained friends until Harter’s untimely death. Sands is also a playwright and the longtime Theater/Performing Arts Critic for Ambush Magazine.
The catalog, published by the John Burton Harter Foundation, with an essay by curator and art historian David S. Rubin, will be available for the first time to attendees of the panel discussion, which will be accompanied by wine, soft drinks, and light hors d’oeuvres.