Acrylic on canvas
In February of the past year (1892), a quiet, cultured and gentlemanly appearing young man committed suicide by shooting himself at his room in a hotel in St. Louis. A combination of causes probably led to the despondency which ended in the rash act. Pecuniary embarrassment may have been one of them, but the chief cause, as elicited at the Coroner’s inquest, as testified by the male friend of whom he was enamored, was that he had a morbid attachment for that friend. He wrote long letters to him teeming with endearing words. They had roomed together, but at the time of the tragedy they were rooming apart. This was his second attempt at suicide. At the time of his death he carried a locket about his neck containing the picture of the man be loved. He was an educated professional man, kindhearted and of good address.
The following letters, written in a neat hand shortly prior to, and about the time of, his death, serve to show the erotopathic condition of this young man’s mind. They reveal the ardent feeling of the anxious, disappointed lover, much the same feeling as one madly in love might normally have for his heart’s idol of the other sex, but never but unnaturally and abnormally for one’s own sex, with homicidal and suicidal impulses of maddened desperation added.
“My Dear Friend: — Are you ill, angry or merely careless? I looked for my usual Thursday’s letter Saturday morning. It came not. I then felt sure you would write me on Sunday. I watched for the postman. No letter. He has been here this A. M. and still no letter. It makes me not only unhappy, but very anxious — unhappy since I am deprived of all that is left me to care for or look forward to; unhappy in the thought that I have displeased you; in suspense and anxiety lest some bodily ailment has seized that goodly frame and rendered you unable to communicate with me. If I do not hear from you in a day or so I shall be frantic and unfit for anything. I sent the stud on Thursday, which must have reached you Saturday, and not later than Monday, in which case I should have heard from you by this time.”
“My Dear Friend: — I have just returned from the Cathedral, where Bishop Tuttle preached. My mind is not in a very receptive frame, so I can hardly tell anything he said. The pass was all a myth. The only pass I have is one into eternity. I even sold my dress suit and my old clothes to raise the funds to get here on. I came, intending to first kill you, then myself. I shall only make an end of my own miserable existence.
My Love for you has been my ruin. I can no more live a life apart from you than I can fly. The past month has been the test and I cannot do it. There is but one thing which could save me, and that is to pass the remainder of my life in your presence. I shall do that anyhow, for to die in your arms relieves death of half its terrors. I wish it would come to me naturally and you would have nothing to dishonor or grieve you.
It is cruel in me to do this act, for it will blight your life. I should be more cruel to myself to try and live without you. You have done all but the one right and effective thing to save and make me, but it has all failed. I would gladly beg, steal, do anything — forego riches, forget friends, home, kindred, but for a life of blissful association with you. My office and outfit are all intact and you can realize something on those things. Mr. C—- H—-, XI6 M—- Avenue, will see to the things. I appreciate all you did, and the effort and sacrifice you made for me. It was not in the right direction.
This letter to you is all I leave behind. I cannot write anything to my parents. The blow will probably kill my mother. I shudder to think of it. We might have been happy together had it not been for W—-. The W—-, your brother’s family, your other rich friends, your high social and business standing, your high ideas of morality, which you never filled — but ’tis too late, the end must come. I don’t see why God did not let me die that Saturday night. I suppose there was some purpose waiting till you had made the outlay and sacrificed so much. You see, the end is all the same.
Much more than a sentiment of warm friendship for one’s benefactor is breathed in these epistles of passion, desperation and love, with its sequel of chagrin and suicide, without remorse for, or full appreciation of, the unnatural character of his perverted love. Though his Christian training had taught him to regard his unnatural passion as a sin.Good-by, dear I—-, I won’t wish you happiness; you will never have that again and you will follow in my footsteps sometime. Men of our natures and sins must have their punishment, and ours comes in a terrible shape. You are mine in the light of heaven and no family ties can claim you from me in death. I pity you, but oh, to be free from all this agony of separation, suspense, doubt, is so welcome. May God deal with me according to my weakness. Keep my stud as long as you live. send my watch and ring to my mother. Let my last rites be attended by as little expense as possible. A pauper cannot expect to repose in a metallic casket. I am going to bed, to sleep and gain nerve to face my fate. I have felt it must be, and since I have known you, I knew you were to be the last straw. I have Loved you better than you have ever loved or will ever be loved again. Think kindly of that love sometimes. I am unworthy, but my love for you is worth a thought. Pray for my soul. Amen.”
I remember feeling a strange sense of elation upon having survived childhood, a rural environment, education, and the knowledge that my sexual orientation (which never felt a mystery or problem to me, personally) would forever cause some people who had never met me and would never know me to hate me and others like me.
Life goes on.
Within months of feeling this newfound sense of peace, a dinner conversation introduced me to a new word that would forever change my life and the lives of so many others:
Life would never be the same again.
And… the importance of life to me (my own and others’) would be changed forever. I felt surrounded by a plague that stigmatized gay people to a degree far exceeding that which we had already suffered. An overwhelming and paralyzing sense of fear, anger, sadness, and loss enveloped my life and the lives of so many others.
Being an actor suddenly meant very little to me. I felt powerless. I could not stop the dying or find a cure for the insidious disease. Maybe — just maybe, though — I could help find a cure for the hatred, fear, and ignorance that surrounded so many young men around the world as they lay in hospital beds and drew the last breaths of unfinished lives. I started to paint.
Slowly, sporadically, and privately, I taught myself to paint and began creating paintings about the experiences and emotions that all human beings share. Themes of love, attraction, hope, despair, loneliness, the beauty of sky, the perfection of a horizon, the power of a person touching another were given life on pieces of canvas. I created images that came from a place of truth. I tried to make sense of and give order to a world that seemed to know neither.
It simply never occurred to me to paint about themes in any other context than that of my own life as a person who happens to be gay. I had never had a problem relating to work created by heterosexuals in a heterosexual context. Why should I create paintings whose context was anything other than the truth of my life as a gay man?
I started showing my early paintings in bars and restaurants in the gay neighborhood of Toronto. From there things moved very quickly. Within a short time, I exhibited and sold my work in high-end, mainstream galleries throughout North America, and reproductions of my work throughout the world.
I see my work as a documentation, an interpretation, a crystallization of singular moments rendered in line, color, light, shadow, using a hundred brushes, a thousand colors, and a million brushstrokes. I strive to make people stop — if only for a moment — to think and actually feel something human… and humane. My paintings contain as many questions as answers.
I hope that in its silence the body of my work has given a voice to my life, the lives of others, and in doing so, the dignity of all people.