At age 81, Jonathan Ned Katz is an emerging visual artist, a gay painter of nude men. Having received accolades for his child art, praise for his teen-age art, it was not until his old age, in 2013, that Katz had his first one-man show, at New York City’s Leslie-Lohman Museum. Now, as he approaches his 82nd year in February 2020, Katz’s work continues to break new ground in its frank, vital, homoerotic celebration of naked male bodies. The talent of women artists and African American artists are now more frequently recognized. The achievement of homosexual artists has yet to receive the same recognition. Katz’s art is leading the way.
CHILD ART, TEEN ART, YOUNG ADULT ART
From about the age of eight, in 1946, at home in Greenwich Village, and at The Little Red School House, Jonathan Ned Katz was encouraged to paint and draw, and won attention and accolades for his bold, untutored, primitive art works. About 1949, Katz attended an art workshop at the Museum of Modern Art headed by Victor D’Amico, a prominent arts educator. A portfolio of Katz’s child art resulted in his being chosen to major in art at the High School of Music and Art (1952-1956), where his paintings again won him attention and praise. For twelve years (from 1960 to 1972) Katz made a living as a professional textile designer.
An unusually complete collection of Katz’s child, teen, and young adult art works includes about 130 drawings and paintings. This collection is psychologically, sociologically, and historically revealing as the artistic production of a middle-class, white male, born in 1938 into a left-liberal family living in the Village, who grew up to study and write scholarly books about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history, “the invention of heterosexuality,” and, more generally, the history of gender and sexuality. Katz’s child and teen art provides evidence of a young boy’s early struggles with issues of gender and sexuality. A small sampling of Katz’s child, teen, and young adult art appears here.
Having almost completely abandoned art work for history after becoming active in the gay movement, in the winter of 1971, Katz has since about 2004 been attending drawing sessions in variety of gay contexts, including, first, an art workshop held under the auspices of SAGE, then male figure drawing sessions at New York’s gay community center, at the gay men’s erotic drawing workshop produced by the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation, in his own home, and at the Fashion Institute of Technology.(1)
Katz’s recent drawing-paintings continue the exploration of sexuality and sensuality that he undertook for more than thirty years as a historian. “For thirty years I studied sensuality in history,” says Katz, “now I’m painting sensuality.” He adds: “I’m trying to comment on and expand our ideas of what’s sexy, and to express the diverse kinds of eros I see in different kinds of naked male bodies.”
Much of Katz’s recent work mobilizes an accessible, appealing, vital primitivism – a spontaneous-looking, child-like mode of visual address that, at its best, rejects any too easy attempt to charm and please. It emphatically celebrates this male artist’s appreciative view of naked male bodies, presented as innocent, vulnerable, and awkward as they are sensual, and sexual. Influenced by outsider art, children’s art, and untutored art, Katz’s work has most recently evolved to constitute a unique style that he calls “homoerotic primitivism.” Employing a spontaneous, lively, naive-seeming technique, he presents a sometimes bemused look at his male subjects’ interest in looking sexy.
As a publicly emerging artist at age 74 (in February 2012), Katz’s art career is oddly comparable to that of Grandma Moses, the primitive painter who blossomed into public view at age 79 (in 1939).
About his own late emergence as an artist Katz comments: “I’ve come out publicly four times in my life. As gay, as a writer-historian, as old, and now as an artist. Each one of those debuts expressed a major, serious commitment to exploring an aspect of my and our lives in society and history.”
Katz’s life-long love of untutored art is clear in some of his recent work. As a child, the French primitive painter Henri Rousseau was a favorite, viewed by Katz on many trips with his father to the Museum of Modern Art. A book in the Katz family collection about American folk art also influenced the young artist. The social-realist artist, Ben Shahn, was another influence. Echos of 1930s images of muscular, heroic workers also appear in Katz’s recent images of hunky models. Katz’s recent work also displays a variety of other influences — naturalism, romanticism, irony/satire, pattern and design, illustration, child art, outsider art, pornography, and the halos and gold paint of Christian iconography. Viewing the art of his Music and Art classmate Phyllis Platner also inspired Katz.
KATZ’S ART IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF QUEER ART HISTORY
Katz’s recent art eschews the avant-garde forms that have constituted one, influential, modernist line of queer art making in the last 40 years. But neither does Katz’s figurative art fit easily within another, anti-modernist, traditionalist genre of queer art represented, for example, by the work of Paul Cadmus.
Katz’s open appreciation in his art of the sight of naked male bodies is hard won, the result of a long historical struggle for freedom of homoerotic expression. In 1855, for example, to create a poem expressing his own response to nude male bodies, Walt Whitman had to stand metaphorically behind a lustful woman as she secretly viewed twenty-eight naked male bathers and ran her hand, in fantasy, over their wet flesh. In twenty-first century New York, the existence of a gay liberation movement allows Katz to reject secrecy and Whitman’s woman-beard, to gaze, directly and appreciatively at naked male flesh, and to create art that directly expresses his celebration of male bodies.
Scattered among Katz’s recent artworks are a few that portray sexual arousal and sexually explicit acts. If that bothers you, don’t look at them.
Katz’s recent “paintings on paper”, as he calls them, are all initiated in posing sessions with models, and are worked on afterward in ways that attempt to capture and stress the artist’s original, spontaneous response. His paintings on canvas allow him to make bigger and bolder works.
Katz uses, variously, black and colored pencils, pastels, chalk, ink, tempera paint, acrylic paint, collage, colored artists’ tape, and children’s multicolor pencils and glitter glue. “I love using kids’ art supplies to paint homoerotic pictures,” says Katz. His recent works include a collection of several hundred drawings and drawing-paintings.
Jonathan Ned Katz’ public emergence as a visual artist will be recognized when the Leslie/Lohman Gallery, in Soho, New York City, opens a show of his art work on February 15, 2013, two weeks after his 75th birthday. This show was initiated and will be curated by the noted art historian Jonathan David Katz, mentioned below. (The two are not related.)
Though the expressive focus of Katz’s art on sensuality certainly distinguishes it radically from that of traditional “primative” painters, a naive tendency, also evident in Katz’s recent art, communicates his feeling about the innocence of eros. “Sex is innocent,” he declares, “It’s love that makes us criminal. It’s our desire for love that makes us want to steal the other guy’s boyfriend.”
Most of Katz’s recent art works contain nudity and a few portray sexually explicit, often solitary, acts. But these works are not “pornography” as that term is usually defined, meaning works intended primarily to arouse sexual desire and activity. Katz’s primary intention is to explore and express the sensuality and sexuality communicated to him in viewing naked male bodies. He certainly hopes that his art will provide pleasure and encourage viewers to resist negative, puritanical judgments about the human body, its organs, and consensual acts. The freedom to display art showing nude bodies and sexual acts is, says Katz, an important issue of free, humane, and educational speech. He points out that viewers can also see lots of artful, public images of nude bodies (mostly female) in provocative, sexy poses at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Since Katz’s recent works focus mainly on male figures, a few of his recent drawing-paintings of women models are displayed together on this site.
ART & THE LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER, AND QUEER REVOLUTION
In 2008 Katz began to predict that in the next few years art inspired by gender-queer and sexual-nonconforming lives, along with art made possible by the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender revolution that followed the Stonewall rebellion of 1969, will finally be recognized in the mainstream art world, just as the influence on art of the modern feminist movement and the Black civil rights movement has recently been recognized, after a long a long, long silence.
In 2007, for example, the Sackler Center for Feminist Art opened at the Brooklyn Museum, “an exhibition and education facility dedicated to feminist art, its past, present, and future. Among the most ambitious, influential, and enduring artistic movements to emerge in the late twentieth century, feminist art has played a leading role in the art world over the last forty years. . . . The Center’s mission is to raise awareness of feminism’s cultural contributions; to educate new generations about the meaning of feminist art; to maintain a dynamic and welcoming learning facility; and to present feminism in an approachable and relevant way.”
Similarly, in 2008, the show “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” at the MOMA/P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens (affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art), also gave mainstream legitimacy to art influenced by the modern feminist movement.
Between October 30, 2010 and February 28, 2011, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference and ambiguity in the making of modern American portraiture opened at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C. (part of the Smithsonian Institution), curated by Jonathan David Katz (no relation of Jonathan Ned Katz) and David C. Ward. As the first exhibit on a sexual theme in a U.S. government-supported institution, this show received positive reviews and international attention after one work was censored and pulled from the show.
J.D. Katz is also curating a show of AIDS art at the Corcoran Gallery, and is an internationally recognized expert in queer postwar American art. He is an Associate Professor of Visual Studies in the Center for the Arts, University of Buffalo, NY.
“Hide/Seek” considered such themes as: the heretofore unacknowledged role of gay and lesbian artists in portraying modern America; the way in which artists explored how sexuality and gender were fluid and shifting concepts; the way in which modern art—especially abstraction—was impacted by people who were marginalized and excluded from the society which they portrayed; and how artistic production reflected society’s evolving and changing views of gay and lesbian Americans.
The exhibition began with late-19th century works by Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent and charts 20th century portrayal with major works by such American masters as Marsden Hartley, Romaine Brooks, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Agnes Martin.
The exhibition continued through the post-war period with major pieces by David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol and show the impact of the Stonewall Riot of 1969, indicating how portrayal changed as the culture and society changed. “Hide/Seek” continued through the end of the 20th century with works by Keith Haring, A.A. Bronson and Felix Gonzales-Torres about life, love and death during the AIDS crisis.
It concluded with an assessment of the works of contemporary American portraitists that hold out the hope that the personal and societal unity that Walt Whitman envisaged in the 19th century might be obtainable in the 21st century. “Hide/Seek” will also demonstrate how the expansion of individual rights impacted the creation of modern America art. The positive respond received by “Hide/Seek” resulted in its opening at the Brooklyn Museum in November 2011.
Jonathan Ned Katz predicts that this historic show will have the effect of bringing new and serious attention to art inspired by sexual and gender non-conformist lives, and art influenced by the LGBT movement, ensuring that such art is finally valued as a distinct, influential, and varied body of creative work, just as art influenced by the modern feminist movement and the Black civil rights movement has now been recognized as a distinct body of work.
To be clear, after a long silence and fierce struggle to be seen and heard, the queerly inflected work of individual LGBTQ artists is now quite often cited as such in exhibits and mainstream reviews of their work. In 2009 and 2010, what has not yet been recognized in the mainstream art world is the existence of a vital, vibrant, influential body of work that owes its existence to lives lived against the grain of sexual and gender norms — a body of art work the existence of which is finally coming into focus as a result of the contemporary LGBTQ movement for rights and liberation.
ZAP! ART AND THE QUEER REVOLUTION: 1969-present
To further the recognition of art influenced by lives lived queerly, and art influenced by the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender movements, and the political and social changes since the Stonewall rebellion, Katz began “ZAP! Art and the Queer Revolution: 1969-present,” an entry on OutHistory.org. It is visible at:
KATZ AS SCHOLAR
Katz’s book Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (1976) was displayed in 2000 in the Whitney Museum show “The American Century: Art and Culture – Part 2, 1950-2000,” among other literary works constituting cultural touchstones of the last half of the twentieth century. Katz’s papers are collected by The Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library.
In addition to Gay American History, as an independent scholar, Katz is the author of three other books on the history of sexuality and intimacy: Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality (2001); The Invention of Heterosexuality (1995); and Gay/Lesbian Almanac (1983). He has also authored other books, articles, and reviews.
In 2002, at Princeton University, Katz led a faculty seminar on sexuality in history. In 2003, at Yale University, he taught a class on lesbian and gay history, and in 2004, at Yale’s Sterling Library, he curated “The Pink and the Blue,” a major exhibit on the lesbian and gay history of Yale and Connecticut.
Most recently, Katz is the initiator and director of OutHistory.org, a website on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual history produced by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in New York City, under grants from the Arcus Foundation and donations from individuals. See: http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Main_Page
A complete resume of Katz’s works is available on OutHistory.org at:
Jonathan Ned Katz: 1938-present
All the art works displayed here are copyright (c) by Jonathan Ned Katz 2009. All rights reserved. To reproduce any of these works, contact Jonathan Ned Katz at: firstname.lastname@example.org. These works are now for sale.
KATZ’ ART CHRONOLOGY
*Forthcoming: On Thursday, February 14, 2013, an exhibit of Jonathan Ned Katz’s art will open at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, in Soho, in New York City, initiated and curated by the noted art historian Jonathan David Katz (the two are not related). The show will close Sunday, March 17, 2013.
In May 2012, a painting by Katz, Man Sitting (on Blue), was sold to collector Andree Abecassis.
*Katz showed his work at the at the annual art show at the Fire Island Pines, Community Center, on August 6, 2011. Two works sold to a collector.
*The following notice about Katz’s art appeared in The Newsletter of the Queer Caucus for Art, College Art Association, Vol. 23, No. 2 October 2011:
Jonathan Ned Katz, now best known for his pioneering histories of LGBT life, had an earlier career as a visual artist. As a youth he won competitive entrance as an art major to New York City’s prestigious public High School of Music and Art, and later worked for 12 years as a professional textile designer. For the first time, Katz exhibited recent works in the Biennial Art Show in the Fire Island Pines on Saturday, August 6. After a 30-year hiatus, around 2004, Jonathan Ned Katz returned to visual art-making and has since then regularly attended male figure drawing sessions at the Leslie/Lohman Gay Men’s Erotic Drawing Workshop, at New York’s Gay Center, and in other gay venues around the city, producing a series of always sensuous, sometimes sexual, paintings on paper. Employing a variety of media (tempera paint, pastels, colored pencils, glitter glue, and occasionally collage), Katz has developed a style influenced by folk art, child art, and so-called “primitive art.” Among visual artists now exploring new approaches to gay male life and the erotic, Katz’s style is distinctly his own. Katz is now preparing for his first solo art show. On January 29, 2013, an exhibition of Katz’s art will open at the Leslie-Lohman Gallery, in Soho, in New York City, initiated and curated by the noted art historian Jonathan David Katz (the two are not related). Jonathan Ned Katz is predicting that, in the next few years, art focusing on LGBT themes, by homosexual and heterosexual artists, will at last be recognized in the mainstream art world as a distinct, influential genre of visual art, just as feminist art and art by women, African Americans, and Latino creators, among others, has finally been recognized, after a long struggle. A large retrospective of Katz’s art is viewable at JonathanNedKatzArt.com. Purchasers of Katz’s art receive a free bonus, a signed poster Katz created for a possible queer art show. If you would like to see a copy email Katz at email@example.com
*Katz is one of the artists featured in the documentary video “Dirty Drawings, Happy Endings” shown at the Boston LGBT film festival in 2011. For a preview, see: http://www.dirtydrawings.net/Dirty_Drawings/trailer.html
*In a month-long group show, Seductions, opening on April 28, 2011, and curated by Harvey Redding at the PJS Exhibitions Gallery on 14th Street in New York City, Katz’s tempera painting “Man” appeared and was sold to a collector, setting a record price for this artist’s work.
*On February 2, 2011 Katz presented “Coming Out As Old,” and talked about aging and his homoerotic visual art, and showed examples of his recent work. Edward Field read his poetry about being old and sex. The event was a public entertainment on the 73rd birthday of Jonathan Ned Katz. It took place at the LGBT Community Center and was presented by The Center, CLAGS (The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies), The Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, and SAGE (Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgender Elders)/
*Katz had one painting, “J. as Walt Whitman”, in “WALT WHITMAN’S CALAMUS AT 150,” a group show celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Calamus edition of ”Leaves of Grass,” at The Hudson Guild Gallery, New York, NY, March 12, 2010–June 1, 2010.
*Jonathan Ned Katz: Eros Art. On February 5, 2010, Katz spoke about his and others’ “Eros Art” at New York City’s gay community center, and moderated a lively discussion among about 50 persons. Katz talked about expanding from the study of sexual history to the creating of sexual art, reinventing himself, and coming out as a late-emerging artist at age 72. He exhibited and discussed examples of his sensual paintings of male nudes. The event was sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, the LGBT Center, and SAGE.
*Katz came out as a late-blooming visual artist in an illustrated interview by Lester Strong titled “Artist’s Profile — Jonathan Ned Katz: Turning from History to Art,” in the Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, January/February 2010, pp. 34-35, reproduced here as “Katz Interview.”
*A Katz art work was featured in “Men Loving Men: Images of Love, Lust, and Longing,” a fundraiser for the LGBT Community Center’s HIV/AIDS Youth Prevention Program and Commemorating World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2009
*A drawing by Katz was included in Dirty Little Drawings, edited by Harvey Redding, Robert W. Richards, and Rob Hugh Rosen, and published by Bruno Gmudner Verlag in 2007.
*Ten Katz art works were featured in group show at the Molloy/Wright Exhibition Space, Liberty, NY, August 19-20, 2006, along with works by photographers Catherine Opie and Marget Long, and other artists.
*In 2004, Katz began to attend the Wednesday morning art workshop at SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders), then the Saturday morning figure drawing session at the LGBT Center, then the gay men’s erotic drawing workshop produced by Harvey Redding and Rob Rosen under the auspices of the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation. He later began to hire models and to hold drawing sessions for gay men in his home, as well as Artists Draw Artists sessions in which he and others posed for each other.
*In the early or mid-1970s, dissatisfied with what Katz judged to be the corny quality of the art in many gay liberation posters, he produced two bold, bright, collage works (one of men holding hands, one of women holding hands) and hung these posters on the wall of the Gay Activist Alliance Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street in Soho. He was suddenly reminded of these works many years ago when viewing some footage of the Firehouse that included a pan of his posters.
*On August 12, 1972, Katz published a letter in the New York Times that spoke of his hope for a new gay art: “There exists at this particular time in our history what seems to me a marvelously inspiring and challenging role for the homosexual artist: to create a new, liberated gay culture which is both of high artistic quality and reflective of the new consciousness being created by gay liberationists. While there is certainly room and necessity for many kinds of gay art, I hope that more gay culture will come to embody the new gay awareness, including a sense of the social situation of homosexuals, anger at our oppression, and joyous self-affirmation.”
*1965, February 12. First performance of Bertolt Brecht’s “Lesson in Understanding,” for which Katz created the scenery, at the Judson Poets’ Theater, NYC. Jerry Talmer, theater critic of The New York Post praised Katz’s set design.
*1964, July 10. First performance of “Leonce and Lena” produced by Judson Poets’ Theater at the Pocket Theater, NYC, directed by Lawrence Kornfeld. Katz created the scenery.
*1960-1972. Katz worked as a professional textile designer, first as a freelancer at Jack Prince’s Prince Studio, then on salary for the Henry Glass company.