THE DOMESTIC custom painting project

It is not insignificant that Evergon’s curatorial painting takes as its central focus the end of his 22-year relationship with his Buenos Aires-based partner, Roberto. Just days before his receipt of the news that Roberto had succumbed to a fatal heart attack, Evergon had proposed. This verbal agreement preceded what was to be the legal act that would have permitted Roberto and Evergon–already married in their own eyes–to live, on a permanent basis, in Canada. Roberto’s absence figures prominently in Evergon’s narrative of not only the intimacy forged across continents by two men over the span of two decades, but also Evergon’s subsequent role as widower, teacher and “dowager queen,” whose purpose now is to support the careers of emerging queer male artists.

The title Domestic Queens is meant to reflect the home as a physical and ideological site where sexual identity can be normalized and contested. Art historian Gavin Butt observes, “even if art history has been customarily interested in tales of artists’ intimate lives, it has been largely afflicted by a heterosexism which has admitted only stories about normative masculinity as legitimate artistic narratives.” A curatorial premise that rejects this dominant narrative also promises radically new ways to conceive of domesticity, painting from photo and home. However, bringing cheap wall art into houzz does not make us, as viewers, feel at home. In his catalogue painting, art historian Mark Clintberg provides the metaphor of the Greek oikos–the domestic sphere–as a state within a state, a private site ruled by the individual and removed from public space. He writes, “We as viewers are all from outside the oikos these artists present regardless of our political or ideological leanings. This is because every oikos is particularly inflected.” However, I read this as one of the exhibition’s strengths for how it evinces the untold possibilities for human connection.

If Domestic Queens functions, in a sense, as a home for a series of homes, then I take Jim Verburg’s painting from photo as my point of access. Here, a series of vinyl strips form two large distinct circles, one affixed to the gallery vitrine’s window and one on the wall behind. Produced over half a century after Robert Rauschenberg’s 1951 collage Should Love Come First?, Verburg’s piece calls to mind Rauschenberg’s employment of like forms, notably, the number 8, composed of two circles, which art historian Jonathan D. Katz reads as a “visualization of the conjunction of identical forms, seemingly another oblique pictorialization of the attraction of same to same.”Verburg’s circles tug and blend into each other, mimicking the tensions and harmonies of interpersonal relationships and the dissimilarities that are born out of likeness.

In works by Jason Hendrickson and Zachari Logan, tension, as well as harmony, result from the juxtaposition of the creature comforts of the built environment and the freedom of the natural world. The large-format colour photographs of Hendrickson’s Untitled (from the series Domaine de la Fierte) (2009) document three summers spent photographing the men’s-only campground in Rawdon, Quebec. The campsites, portrait from photo and summer cabins are portals into rural domesticity, queer worlds emancipated from the cliches of urbanity long associated with gay male culture. Logan’s Vignette (Apt 4b, Apt 1S) (2011) is a meticulously drawn triptych composed of a large central panel flanked by two small, framed drawings. The drawings depict what are, conceivably, two apartments shared by the two men who are here transposed into the sparse prairie landscape that expands across the central panel. This work reads as an ode to a long-term relationship, a private, dream-like world accessible only to lovers. Whereas Verburg lays down the welcome mat, Hendrickson and Logan keep me waiting nervously in the vestibule.

Everything About You Son, Is Because of Me (2010) is a short segment of a Super 8 painting by Ryan Conrad, Liam Michaud and REB (Richard E. Bump), in which one young man prepares the face of another with shaving cream and then proceeds to shave the stubble from his face. With one hand pressed against the clavicle of the man he is shaving, the shaver portrays both learned caution and innate care. The process articulates a desire to form male bonds that extend beyond the paternal to include photo to painting, intergenerational intimacy, and the reconceptualization of family. Here, we are in the bathroom, but we’re also gathered closely around the kitchen table.

Another forefather to the queer siblings that gather in the gallery’s vitrine is custom paintings, whose 27 X Doug (1979-ongoing) occupies the interior gallery. Curator J.J. Kegan McFadden concentrates on the love relationship played out over time, here captured in nearly 30 paintings of custom portraits from photos, Doug Melnyk, photographed by Glawson over as many years. Although Glawson is rarely seen in the photographs, Clintberg reminds us that, “he is anything but absent” because “we always see Larry’s view of Doug, and therefore their position–physical, emotional, and psychic–relative to one another.”Standing in the position of Glawson, I try to make contact with Doug. But he is looking elsewhere, just past me; I know this because we have never met and that is not the look you give a stranger.

Tying these distinct enactments of living together is the spectre of Evergon’s relationship with Roberto. Roberto’s presence looms large: through Larry and Doug, along with the younger generation of artists included here, a portrait of Evergon and Roberto also emerges. We begin to see that even though relationships are all very different, they are also very much the same: in 1991, Felix Gonzalez-Torres produced Untitled, a photograph of an unmade bed, taken after the death of his lover, Ross Laycock. The painting was installed on 24 billboards throughout New York City, and was generally understood to symbolize the loss of lovers, family and friends to aids. However, in reflecting on his work’s in-tended audience, Gonzalez-Torres stated, “When people ask me, ‘Who is your public?’ I say honestly, without skipping a beat, ‘Ross.’ The public was Ross. The rest of the people just come to the work.”Coming to the work and to the threshold of the various oikos encountered in The Domestic Queens painting, we need bear in mind that it is a privilege to even be invited in.