XY on XY
by David Waggoner and Lester Strong
Galleries of Monroe Press
Reviewed by David Leddick
These two creative guys, A&U’s David Waggoner and Lester Strong, are on to something with their new work XY on XY. I am not going to call it a book as it is something much more than that. I guess if I were required to define it I would call it a “Sex Exploratory Project” more than anything else. It is a three-pronged work in which the two creators have used their own short stories and writing, their own art and their own interviews with each other about writing, art, sex and AIDS. But I think they are on to even more than that. I think they have put their foot through the door of this country’s own tortured relationship with sex. Heterosexual, homosexual, the works. And particularly how it relates to AIDS.
It is very difficult to tell where this twenty-first century is heading but certainly the young are going to observe the twentieth century and their own parents’ and grandparents’ lives and conclude that as far as happiness and fulfillment goes, it didn’t work. More likely they will realize that to be fulfilled one must know oneself and create a life for that person. Fulfillment cannot be the rather tight little four-square box of Mom, Dad and the Kids that was the ideal for citizens of the U.S.A. for certainly the past one hundred years. Before that it was probably more just the problem of feeding the family that occupied everyone’s time, let alone being happy.
In XY on XY the creators have most prominently written about their own early sexual explorations and how important “closeness” was. Both experienced great love for men who, more or less, felt very strongly for them but were inadequate at maintaining any kind of sexual and emotional long-term relationship. One of Lester Strong’s contributions, “Diary,” tackles the importance of body parts colliding sexually to the feeling of having really lived. This is a kind of long tone poem using words you will rarely see in a poem in a quite wonderful way. In this he attacks our culture’s strong puritanical tradition that sex is bad for you and ugly and dirty and to be controlled and avoided if one can. It is this very tradition that is going to come under much investigation in the coming century and the front edge is going to be homosexuals and women if I am not wrong.
The project also includes art by both men and they themselves discuss the fact that none of these paintings and drawings are portraits. David Waggoner’s, done when he was a student at Brown University more than twenty years ago, are fluid torsos of bulky men with no depiction of their heads. They have a feeling of power but are far from the stereotypical classic muscularity that is popular in homoerotic art.
Lester Strong’s colored drawings also are primarily torsos with penises displayed and heads merely outlined. These weredone more recently in adult art classes for gay men more as explorations of their feelings about naked men than true study classes. In the way this project is organized, Mr. Waggoner interviews Mr. Strong about what he has created and vice-versa. Regarding their art they discuss the fact that their art is faceless and is more about their sensual feelings than about romance or intimate emotions with a specific person. They explore the difficulty men have with examining and discussing their intimate feelings and touch upon the subject that AIDS may be a way for men to avoid having to discuss intimate feelings. Earlier on in this work they discuss the feeling that there is an immense barrier between men who are seropositive and those who are negative. David Waggoner feels that men with AIDS live in a world where death is constantly looming. And their world cannot help but be very different from men who do not live under this threat. Lester Strong finds this subject one difficult to agree or disagree about. A strong point.
What this book helps all readers focus upon is the major health crisis in the last century that swept so many gay men away. AIDS. An overwhelming spectre for all gay men today, despite the advances medicine has made. To live with this threat to their lives omnipresent, this is the greatest problem gay men have yet faced. And this book regards it for both men who are seronegative and those living with its threat never absent from their daily lives.
Often when we are in a museum or art gallery we stand before an art work and ask ourselves, “What is the artist trying to convey?” In this new work, XY on XY the creative team has taken us behind the scenes. With their writing and art they have built up a world of sexual experience, incompleteness, the grim awfulness of living with AIDS. They then include you in their interviews so you get to know the men who have been the source of this experience and information. This is something completely new in the function of art in our lives and I found it fascinating. I had my own very definite reactions to how sex and intimacy and fulfillment functioned in the lives of the creators and was able to compare it to how these things function in my own. Very interesting.
Certainly one sees many disappointed faces in the streets of America. And having lived a lot of my life in other countries where sex and emotions are not so puritanically disciplined, I have my own strong feelings that without sexual fulfillment you cannot feel that you have truly lived. You will also have a great reluctance to leave this world where somehow you missed the boat.
On perhaps even a greater scale than they have realized, this is the theme of Lester Strong and David Waggoner’s work, XY on XY. It has been published in a limited edition in a particularly elegant packaging by Galleries of Monroe Press. You should experience it if you are planning to fulfill yourself in this new century.
XY on XY is available from Galleries of Monroe Press, 25 Monroe St., Suite 205, Albany, NY 12210; e-mail: mailbox [at] aumag [dot] org. Also available from Leslie/Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, 25 Wooster St., New York, NY 10013-2227; phone: (212) 431-2609; Web site: www.leslielohman.org. Price: $45.
Author and playwright David Leddick has published twenty books, among them six novels, several books on male nude photography, and a triple biography on George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, and Lincoln Kirstein. He divides his time between South Beach, Florida, Paris, France, and Montevideo, Uruguay.