Asthma, Andy Warhol and constipation.
Welcome to Awesome People, the one and only Steve Gin.
This post is packed full of everything Steve. I asked him to send me some pictures of things that he liked and was inspired by, and then I asked him to write a few words that could go with his pictures. His openness, his thoughts, and his words have been a total gem to read and ponder. Thank you, Steve.
To top all of this off there is still Steve’s interview, which you can access at the end of the blog. We touch on many things, but my favourite is the song he sings for me.
Barbie the vinyl goddess
"My older sisters owned some of the first Barbie dolls made, complete with many of the haute couture fashions made for them. We had a grandmother who lived in California, and mailed them to my sisters as soon as they hit the American store shelves.
As a little gay boy, I was mesmerized by these strange vinyl goddesses: their unworldly proportions, their shifty sideways I-could-hardly-give-a-f*ck gaze, the pale skin tone I’d been denied by genetics, and their sharp stiletto heels, which I imagined to be a superhero’s weapon against bullying. Of course, I wanted my own Barbies too. When I was four years old, my parents relented and bought me Barbies for Christmas over the next three years. Rightly or wrongly, I always saw this as their quiet acknowledgement of my queer identity, as there was never an attempt to shame me for this obsession.
Mind you, they did supply me with a very butch looking little suitcase in which to carry my Barbies across the street to my best friend Deanna’s house. I never interpreted that to be shaming. Rather, I took it to be their way of shielding their strange little boy from all the other ugly, bullying forces in our town who might shame him for who he was.
Barbie gave way to Hot Wheels by the time I was seven, but I rediscovered Barbie around the mid-1990’s when Mattel was celebrating the doll’s 35th birthday. My partner bought me a reproduction of an original Barbie, as mine had all since disappeared or been mangled by the family Chihuahua rat-dog. In fact, my partner first came out to a store clerk who asked him if the doll was for his daughter, to which he stammered in reply “Ummmm, no. It’s for … ummm, ah … it’s for ... for … my boyfriend!”
I ended up amassing a pretty significant collection of Barbies (including Cock Ring Ken –Google “Magic Earring Ken & gay” for the full story) before applying the brakes. I’m thinning the collection down now, to focus on a few vintage Barbies that have particular meaning. In some ways there’s a real darkness to what they represent, but I also look at them as a reminder of my escape from the bigoted small-town life I grew up in, and of my parents’ tacit acceptance of their queer little boy." - Steve Gin, March 21, 2016
Living on the land
My relationship with landscape has been complicated. As a child, I was hugely asthmatic, so exposure to dust, animals, rain, and practically anything, could land me in the hospital, gasping for breath. So, growing up, the outside world was something I feared.
I didn’t outgrow my asthma until I was in my teens, and didn’t outgrow my fear of the outdoors until university. It remains something a bit romantic and mysterious, which might explain why I don’t care for realistic landscape painting. But I love the obliqueness of abstracted landscapes. I own three that I particularly cherish, by Katie Ohe, Billie Rae Busby and Ira Hoffecker.
Landscape has been a part of two of my favourite plays: one that I appeared in, and one that I wrote for the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Harry Rintoul’s Brave Hearts was an early AIDS-themed play I acted in with my friend, Barry Thorson, set in the back yard of a Saskatoon party. Harry’s dialogue reflected the rhythm, stillness and sudden storms on the prairie. Each night a train faithfully blew its horn during the performance, filling the theatre with its long, lonely echo.
I set my play As Far as the Eye Can See in Depression-era Saskatchewan. When I saw the shadows falling across the gallery where it would be performed, I knew exactly what it would be about: the long shadows of racism, anti-union rhetoric and poverty that fell across the prairies in this dark period of Canadian history.
My best experiences with landscape have been hiking, photographing and exploring it with the guys in this photo. Some are straight friends, some are past lovers and some have inhabited that complicated territory in-between. But I’ve truly loved them all for their friendship and generosity, and for all the memorable times we’ve shared. One of these guys even loved me back enough to marry me – can you guess which one?
The influence of Andy Warhol
"My earliest memory of Pop artist Andy Warhol comes from grainy, black and white photos of the Silver Factory in a 1960’s LIFE magazine. The Factory was crammed with celebrities, artists, rough trade, glamorous women, and what I noticed above all else, a shirtless Gerard Malanga wearing leather pants and brandishing a whip. Even to a five year old’s eyes, there was something exciting, dangerous, sensual and audacious about this storied art studio at 231 – East 47th Street in New York City.
In 2002, I was working at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, where the museum frequently hired actors to impersonate historical characters associated with their exhibitions. I wasn’t happy with how most actors approached the work; to me it seemed forced and – well – cheesy (“Hello. My name is Edvard Munch, and I’d like to show you through our exhibition today”). I knew I could do better. A Pop exhibition was on its way from the NY MoMA, and I hit on the idea of introducing Warhol through a play where I would portray various people who knew him throughout his life. In the very last scene I would transform into Warhol, and lead the audience through a series of gallery interventions and improvised performances. The audience would be in on the joke, and buy into it more. As it turned out, some walked away waving “Seeya later Andy,” catching themselves later and saying “Oh yeah. Right.”
I haven’t been able to shake Andy since then. Two years later, The Vancouver Art Gallery commissioned me to stage an extended version of my play in their rotunda, and to use Warhol as the subject for a series of performance-based art education workshops for local teachers. In 2008, I was part of a group of performers, installation artists and musicians that staged The Factory Project in Montreal, a two week long re-envisioning of Warhol’s Silver Factory told through an unapologetically queer lens.
While working at The Art Gallery of Calgary, I created Warhol-based educational programs for students from Grades 2 to 12, and produced a faux documentary, Andy Warhol’s Soap Opera: The Second Rinse, where “Andy” interviewed local art collectors about their collections – in their bathrooms.
Today, I curate Factory 112, a series of queer-themed interdisciplinary events in Calgary’s East Village, where we stage exhibitions, performances and educational workshops that reflect the ideas and practices of Andy Warhol. I keep threatening to hang up my silver wig, blue contact lenses and pasty makeup, but Andy seems to have become a part of me. Being Andy has landed me (without my knowledge) on a poster for a Warhol exhibition at Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art (apparently they weren’t willing to pay to use a photo of the real Andy – still waiting for my cheque). I swear I’m twice as fearless, five times as gay and ten times as witty when I wear the wig. And I revel in the irony that while I’ve encountered no end of resistance from the theatre community for playing mainstream (translation: traditionally Caucasian) characters, no one has ever questioned my ability to play one of the whitest artists who’s walked the earth." -Steve Gin, March 23, 2016
Steve and Audra McDonald
"I’ve seen this six-time Tony award winner perform twice: once in concert, and once in the Broadway play Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. She’s not only obscenely talented; she’s a passionate advocate for equal marriage, homeless teens, accessibility to the arts and numerous African American causes.
Everything she touches is brilliant, but if I had to cite one song that knocks me flat, it’s “I’ll Be Here” from the musical Ordinary Days. It tells the story of love found, of love lost on a horrible September New York City day, and of moving on. Give it a listen. No kidding; it’s potentially life-changing. I still can’t quite believe I had the opportunity to hear her sing this live, and to tell her in person how deeply it moved me.
PS – also check out Audra’s recordings of Stars and the Moon, My Stupid Mouth, The Glamorous Life, and Over the Rainbow. I wept buckets when she closed her San Diego concert with that one." - Steve
Steve and Helen Reddy
"Friends who know me best will know about my undying love for singer Helen Reddy. I first encountered the Australian entertainer when my big sister came home with Helen’s breakout album, featuring a song I was certain was written just for me:
“You can bend but never break me …
I am strong. I am invincible. I am …”
Woman? Okay, well maybe I had an incredible sense of metaphor at eight years old. But more likely I had a huge diva streak.
Still, I pulled a strong message from Helen’s anthem of female empowerment. Somehow I identified with her. Helen stood apart as an outsider, with her androgynous shag haircut, her bell-bottoms, and her distinct Aussie accent.
I’ve seen her in concert five times. I took the bottom left photo of her at the Calgary Stampede in 1976, when I begged and pleaded my parents to let me make the seven-hour journey by bus from Saskatchewan (I suspect they knew I would have run away from home if they’d said no). Helen retired from singing in 2002, but returned briefly in 2012 with a series of intimate jazz concerts. Of course I HAD to go see her in San Francisco, where I FINALLY got my damn photo taken with her. I’m not going to pretend she’s the greatest singer who ever lived, but her music was a huge part of my formative years.
I never really cared for most of her hits, but there were loads of gorgeous ballads hidden on many of Helen’s albums. I think my favorite is her interpretation of Billy Joel’s “You’re My Home,” which Don and I played at our wedding." - Steve
"If asked to name the greatest singer-songwriter who ever lived, there’s no contest. It’s the Belgian born Jacques Brel (1929-78), famous for monumental classics like Quand On n’a Que L’Amour (If We Only Have Love) and Ne Me Quitte Pas (If You Go Away). If I could go back in time to see anyone perform, it would be Brel.
Watching Brel perform must have been like witnessing a man haunted, driven and possessed. His deep and genuine connection to his material is unquestionable. He smoked, drank, lived hard and died young, but left a musical legacy that’s timeless.
Watch him in this 1964 Olympia Theatre performance of Dans le Port D’Amsterdam. His passion and commitment is utterly mind-boggling. Actually, check out anything and everything Brel sang. There’s no such thing as getting enough Jacques Brel." - Steve.
The enthusiasm of a wonderful man.
I have enjoyed this experience with Steve immensely. His involvement right from the beginning was inspiring. Can I expect less from such a theatrical person? I think not!
Steve has also asked me to write a bit on the portrait I did for him - my process, my thoughts. He sent me a few images to paint from, and it ended up being a toss up between the clown photo and a shirtless sexy Steve photo. The main reason I chose the clown photo is that Steve said it was more him than the sexy shirtless version. I, however, was leaning towards the shirtless sexy Steve. With my background of painting nudes and more rendered paintings, I thought this would be a no-brainer, but since the clown was more of who Steve was, I felt I needed to explore this avenue. After all, I want to capture the individual!
As I delve deeper and deeper into this project of Awesome People, I want to be able to also do more than a portrait. I want to give the person a painting that reflects who they are as well as, perhaps, something that they might see in a Gallery and really be drawn to. As Steve and I continued a dialogue about his thoughts on this “painting to be” I became more and more inspired. I decided to just let loose and combine my love for line work, abstract, and the figure. I had to just go for it... letting go of the idea that this is a commission and not worry about the outcome! I just had to paint for the love of painting while still capturing the essence of my subject. And so Steve and his Clown are born...or reborn.
Thank you, Steve, for all your insights, thoughtfulness and openness. This experience has left a spot on my heart. Truly, you are Awesome!
- with love, lisa