By Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
1. Photos by Molly O'Brien
(Photos by Molly O’Brien)
Throughout art history, any mark, sign, or object resembling the penis, has symbolized power, virility and been used as invocation of an idea, sexuality, and masculinity. Penis art became well known in the ’60s and ’70s through artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Tracey Emin and Louise Bourgeois, all who are a part of a larger group that contributed to its rise. Through an emerging, provoking series of paintings, local artist Drew Blair is encouraging discussion about sex in today’s world in his own way, launching a series to promote open and safe communication about sex education with high school students — something he feels is lacking in today’s society and believes needs a progressive thrust forward.
His muse? A penis-shaped dildo.
On May 2, Drew Blair partnered with Alexander Salazar Fine Art for a San Diego debut of Blair’s latest project “Equal Sex Ed: Art sExibition,” with all sales net proceeds going to AIDS Life/Cycle. Well attended, this event promoted arriving as your authentic self, and along with some vibrant socializing, patrons chose from a myriad of sex toys and accessories for a special photo shoot in which Blair used a “Brady Bunch” square panel exhibit suitable for students. His message is clear: There is no shame in sexuality and how a person chooses to live it and play with it as long as they are educated on the diverse sexuality that all humans possess.
Drew Blair attended college at Kentucky’s Morehead State University in the same county of Kim Davis — the clerk who notoriously (and illegally) denied marriage licenses, some of them being for his college classmates. His senior art exhibition was denied because it was too “homoerotic,” even though Blair was the 2010 class valedictorian.
“I decided that I had to create art that was me,” Blair said. “Still gay, still proud, still playful, but approachable and not offensive. So I’ve created a candy-coated version of an object that is typically phallic and comfortable for people to approach and you cannot say it is not approachable now.”
Blair explained that the whole point of his new series is to make people comfortable with sex because he wants it talked about in school on levels that have never happened.
“I don’t want just health,” Blair said. “I want equality in sex education. I want same-sex partnerships [to be taught], and discussions about toy play — talk about everything. We need to show it. They are on PornHub looking at it as kids anyway, so we need to educate them so that they don’t hurt themselves experimenting. We need sex-education classes on a high school level and I’m here to promote that.”
Alexander Salazar said when Blair approached him about this exhibit, his first thought turned to AIDS Life/Cycle. He said during the ’90s, there was a sexual revolution going on when AIDS happened, and he believes that this is a discussion that is not happening now as it should be.
“I wanted to bring it up again,” Salazar said. “Not just for the sake of conversation, but for the sake of raising money for organizations that have lost tremendous funding by the government.”
Salazar is participating for the second year in AIDS Life/Cycle as a rider and last year was able to raise $18,000.
“I’m doing it again this year and hoping to double that amount by committing my time, myself, my business and with the support of people like Drew, I can do that,” Salazar said. “This exhibit is not just a launch, but it is also to support a new artist. I believe in helping artists and other gay and lesbian artists because I believe we are overlooked because our topics can sometimes be driven by our subculture.
“I believe we have an amazing subculture and we should not be ashamed of it,” Salazar continued. “The launch is just for two days, but the gallery will continue working with Drew with the plans to take the exhibit internationally and spread the message. It is not just an art show. Drew has a lot of energy, he’s very excited and it is very contagious.”
Blair’s exhibit has some very personal elements in it from his love of art, its history and what he hopes for the future.
“You’ll see that the colors selected are from a 1980s favorite sculpture of mine from the Parisian School of Design by Ettore Sottsass,” Blair said. “I could not afford the shelving unit, it is $40,000, but I could take the colors in that shelving unit and put it in my art. So my work is inspired by Ettore, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and they are the reason that tonight is about giving to AIDS Life/Cycle because they died and were not able to finish their missions.”
Blair said the colors are so relatable that it makes a space playful and happy. He believes that all adults, just like children should have a playroom.
“I feel if Andy Warhol were here today, he would be proud of me painting a dildo in lieu of a banana because the banana was his first suggestion in this direction,” Blair said. “And today, we are ready for a movement in this direction and I couldn’t have done it in a more candy-coated playful way.”
Blair said he really respected the graphic training that he received, but he is very self-educated.
“When I got out of college, it was two years after the recession,” Blair said. “I was competing for employment with people that had 40 years of graphic design experience. They were amazing and I was new to the industry, so I couldn’t get a job. For the last nine years, I’ve been doing cultural studies to find out what I’m about so I could produce a series strong enough to get into the graphic design industry full swing.
“I’m showing a whole graphic design portfolio, hand-painted from original concept to completion,” Blair continued. “Every minute inch in this gallery is measured out visually without a tape measure. I have Asperger’s [syndrome], so I use that through my art. This is my own therapy actually happening. I’ve followed Alex for several years. I like his curation. I like the artists he has backed, but I’m still independent. I love AIDS Life/Cycle as an organization, and I want to give all of the net proceeds to that.”
Drew Blair will be launching some gear (he was sporting a four-color harness) that supports the eight main colors of this series. For more about Drew Blair, his art and his Equal Sex Ed campaign, visit equalsexed.com.
For more information about current and upcoming exhibits at Alexander Salazar Fine Art in Downtown San Diego, visit alexandersalazarfineart.com.
— Albert Fulcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.