Gay-Zar, Lord of the American Savageland: Mike Kuchar
Tor, Conan, Ka-Zar, Jesus Christ: Loin-clothed men fighting, conquering or simply riding dinosaurs have captivated young minds ever since the two were first anachronistically depicted in scenes together. The quintessentially perfect visual pairing of cavemen and dinosaurs, not unlike peanut butter and chocolate or Texas and capital punishment, ranges from pulp comics of the 1930’s to pro-creationist Christian propaganda of today.
Somewhere between pulp and propaganda exists the lavishly-fantasized prehistoric queer erotica of Mike Kuchar.
Anyone interested in superbly rendered fantasy illustration (a la Heavy Metal Magazine) will feel a sudden rush of blood to the groin at the sight of seven felt-pen and ink drawings from well-known filmmaker Kuchar’s personal collection, now on display at The Apartment through August 2012. Kuchar is an internationally renowned queer filmmaker, half of the Kuchar Brothers (with his late twin George) who inspired notables such as Andy Warhol and John Waters. After viewing these drawings, it’s fair to say that Kuchar has as much creative talent coming out of his fingertips as he does the camera lens.
Although there are only seven works in this show, running concurrently with two other shows in the adjoining project space The Commons (a collection of abstract painters and an installation by Rebecca Belmore), there is a lot going on here. These works are highly accessible on various levels. The illustrations themselves are lovingly, painstakingly rendered. Gorgeous gesticulation and sketch strokes full of aplomb abound, from perfectly crosshatched shading to eye-popping two-tone felt marker backgrounds of Paleozoic flora; as much Joe Kubert in their dramatic comic book anatomy as Robert Crumb in the audacity department. Come to think of it, the exaggeratedly thick and erect nipples on all the male figures are completely Crumb.
Consider the posing of these prehistoric characters; cavemen in positions of tenderness and vulnerability; call it Lowbrow-Sentimental. In A “Lost Love” Found, two cromags kiss dearly while one pops an erection beneath a scanty loin cloth and his bearded lover drops his leather-bound mallet in surprise. In Man and Monster, a Simon Bisley-esque take on anatomy, our primeval friend has a giant uncircumcised dong hanging well below his knees, this sexual organ more menacing than the roaring tyrannosaurus he hunts with a stone-tipped spear. But mostly, these are tender depictions of primal males loving one another like they probably did long before words like ‘sexuality’ and ‘gender’ were invented. All of this man-love is counterbalanced by various dinosaur species rendered in badass detail (i.e. Man and Monster’s tyrannosaur stomping on bones).
Bearing particular mention is Kuchar’s Teddy Boy, the single anomaly of the collection; the only illustration that is not of prehistoric times, but rather of a lad holding a teddy bear in one hand and clutching a rocket ship under his other arm. He gazes up into the darkness as a foreboding tree seemingly threatens to come alive and ensnare him in its branches. It is a scene of innocence lost. This singular ink drawing stands apart in its Norman Rockwell-like nostalgia, truly the wide-eyed soul of Kuchar’s small-but-mighty show.
Finally, there is a glaring topmost layer of meaning that coalesces around these drawings, like a rank, clam dip long overdue, reeking from behind the stereo after the party’s been over for a while: the pre-information age of ‘80s and early‘90s America; the era to which Kuchar’s paeans to hairy, full-contact man-love belong. They stand tall as a personal and direct reaction to the Culture War raging throughout these decades.
Clearly drawn for no reason other than personal gratification, these are exquisite, solitary, masterworks by a mature artist. They are meandering love letters from a man with time to roam the ages inside his own mind. After all, if Jesus can ride a brontosaurus in the personal belief system of millions, why also can’t the alarmed lover-man of a hirsute hunter-gatherer who is about to be attacked by swooping pterodactyl?