tagReviews & EssaysTransgender Art

Transgender Art

byCal Y. Pygia©

Artists whose work includes transgender, transvestite, or transsexual themes are rare. In other articles, discuss the work of Christopher Leach ("Christopher Leach") and Kimberly Wilder ("Kimberly Wilder: An Assessment"), whose respective styles, if not subject matter, are vastly different, although both are exquisite illustrators and painters. Another's whose work includes such themes is the outsider artist Henry Darger, whose watercolors include prepubescent girls who have penises and testicles rather than vaginas. I also suggest that a few of the great Rene Magritte's surrealistic paintings may have transgender themes ("Magritte: A Transgender Reading").

Other artists, fine and otherwise, whose work includes transgender, transvestite, or transsexual themes are Bill Ward, Edward Black Kim, George Grosz, Marquis de Panasewicz, Siegfried Zademack, Alford Lawrence, Harriet Zabusky-Zand, and Romaine Brooks.

Bill Ward drew comic book-style illustrations of the big-breasted, top-heavy female characters that were considered sexy in his day (the 1950s and 1960s). Especially adept at rendering leather and nylon stockings in pen and ink, he captivated fans by his illustrations of scantily dressed women with a penchant for appearing in lingerie. They were often engaged in humorous situations, for many of Ward's illustrations were used to set up punch lines which appeared as captions to his drawings. Toward the end of his career, his art began to include female dominatrixes and beautiful male transvestites. Much of his work was executed in black and white but has since been colorized.

In one of Kim's works, the belly of a male torso joins that of a female torso; the heads of each are not shown, but the hands of both clasp one another's upper arms. Another painting features a female torso, shown from the shoulders to the tops of the thighs. Her hands are down, along her sides, and a red apple appears just below the center of the figure's breasts. Despite her breasts and feminine figure, she has testicles, from which a phallic serpent winds its way up her abdomen, its tongue flicking at the apple, an obvious allusion to the Edenic serpent that tempted Eve.

German Dada and expressionistic artist George Grosz (1893-1959) is known for his caricatures of Berliners during the 1920s. A few of his paintings feature transvestite or transsexual themes. In one of these works, three erect penises jut from the lower belly and groin of a woman who stands, rather awkwardly, her left arm down, her right bent behind her head, with her dress up, over her breasts. The glans of the topmost penis is fully visible; the glans of the second, half-visible; and the glans of the third, invisible inside the foreskin. What significance the painting may have is uncertain, although it is definitely an arresting image. In a similar painting, another woman, her dress hiked up, around her hips, shows off the massive erection that juts from her pubes, just above a vagina-equipped vulva.

Las Vegas' Marquis de Panasewicz paints strong, rather virile, Amazonian women, most of whom are dominant, sexually and otherwise, both over other women and, especially, over men. He is devoted to sadomasochistic bondage and discipline fetish art. In addition to painting in oils, he also draws with pencils and develops computer-generated art. His female figures look like Frank Frazetta's warrior women might look if they were to resort to long-time steroid use and bodybuilding.

Often with cocks erect, male slaves serve their female superiors as if the males were merely beasts of burden, transporting the women in hand-drawn carts or upon their shoulders. The males are subject to castration, which is performed with detached efficiency by a warrior woman wielding a crescent-shaped, serrated blade. As punishment, the males are hung from their fettered wrists and beaten by women armed with whips.

In one of the Marquis' illustrations, a female warrior with a Mohawk hairstyle and a physique resembling that of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, stands behind a bent-over male who, half-suspended by his wrists from the ceiling, cords tying off his balls and wound tightly around his erection, which is secured to the floor by a chain attached to his glans, seems to wait, rather uncomfortably, to be sodomized by she thick, decidedly masculine penis, that the Amazon sports as if her virility has burst the boundaries of her femininity, transforming her into a buff transsexual.

In a triptych, Ol auf Leinwand, German surrealist Siegfried Zademack ((1952- ) offers viewers a hermaphroditic angel. The left panel shows the tip of the figure's right wing, the right panel the tip of the figure's left wing, and the center panel the angelic figure herself and the rest of the wings. The figure stands in a pool, among lily pads, a row of grasses beyond, the full moon making a halo around her head. The wings, one perceives, in looking closer, are metal; moreover, they are strapped to the figure's chest by a harness. As such, they are technological artifacts, which suggests that, appearances to the contrary (the moon-halo, the mechanical wings, and the triptych itself, which is typically reserved for altar paintings designed as altar pieces), the angelic-looking figure is no angel, which raises the questions, of course, as to just who she is and why she is posing, however absurdly, as a divine messenger. They have been jury rigged, as it were, in a rather clumsy manner, and cords or ropes are draped at intervals across their length.

In another painting, a sort of transgender twist on Rene Magritte's The Importance of Marvels or Megalomania, both of which telescope the sectioned segments of a female figure skyward. In the fashion of Chinese boxes, the thighs and pelvis, the top of which is open, contain the lower belly, which, also open, in turn, contains the upper abdomen and the breasts. In Megalomania, the upper abdomen and breasts ends the figure, but, in The Importance of Marvels, a small female head appears at the summit of the telescoped figure, her arms projecting through the armholes, as it were, which appear in the sides of the uppermost section--the one with the upper abdomen and breasts--of the figure.

Zademark's painting is strikingly similar, although the female figure is comprised of only an upper and a lower half, albeit with a bearded man's head replacing the female's head and his masculine arms replacing her feminine limbs. Other differences include Zademark's inclusion of a breach in the top of the figure's left breast and the appearance of his genitals and thighs between the lower half of the bisected female figure in which he stands (the covered vulva and upper thighs) and the upper half of the form (the upper abdomen, breasts, shoulders, and neck). Alford Lawrence, like Darger, is an outsider artist. He died in 2005, and little is known concerning his personal life, although, according to Red China Magazine, he worked as a gas station attendant for most of his adult life after a stint in the U. S. Army. "His drawing series are exhaustive studies of numerous sexual themes," red China Magazine says. "One focuses on transsexuals wearing supernaturally sheer slips."

Harriet Zabusky-Zand paints drag queens, to whom she refers as "flamboyant femme fatales." She says, "They personify a hyperbolic commentary on our concepts of feminine beauty and seductiveness," adding, "when we encounter them we are amused and confounded. Gender ambiguity subverts our codes and expectations of male and female roles."

Romaine Brooks painted women in male dress. According to Wikipedia, "Brooks's conservative style led many art critics to dismiss her, and by the 1960s her work was largely forgotten. The revival of figurative painting since the 1980s and new interest in the exploration of gender and sexuality through art have led to a reassessment of her work, and she is now seen as a precursor of present-day artists whose works depict cross-dressing [sic] and transgender themes."

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