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Gay Art a Mother Can Enjoy

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When I made the connection between the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Toronto -- where my upcoming textile art exhibition, "words, wit, wisdom and wool," opens on December 7th -- and The Body Politic, Canada's 17th most influential magazine in history according to the magazine Masthead, I went to my studio to pull out a few of the old and tattered copies of The Bod Pol that I had carefully saved through countless moves.

Knowing that members of the original collective involved in the creation of The Body Politic were instrumental in founding the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives created an exciting if somewhat nostalgic impulse for me to delve into my own past.

Take, for example, the issue from May of 1980 with me on the cover, looking fierce as I took on all assailants in an issue about gay self-defense. Then there was the profile of me as a young artist in January 1984, followed, in 1987, by my "big wish" for gay people that was a part of the magazine's 15th anniversary.

I wrote the following from my family's farm in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, where I was living at the time: "As I sit here trying to wrack my brains for something really big to wish for, my mother is sitting on my bed (the only warm place in the barn where we live) reading her mail, filling out junk mail prize forms actually. My BIG WISH is that all gay people had a mother like mine who is loving, accepting and as excited about my new boyfriend as I am (well almost). My tiny wish is that my big one would come true."

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In 1976, a year after I arrived in Toronto, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the wild and wildly dedicated rabble-rousers, known to me as Piggy, Wieny and Bunny, who were at the core of The Body Politic, through my long-time friend, Billy Sutherland, who happened to be living in the collective -- a house in East Toronto where P, W and B all lived.

My politics and my take on life as a young gay man were heavily influenced by both the lively conversations I was lucky enough to participate in and the wonderfully subversive, proud, sexy -- remember the classifieds at the back? "spank me till I cry," "good mouth wanted" -- magazine that led the way.

My work as an artist has always had what you might call a gay component, in that it featured lots and lots of penises. My mother once asked me if it was possible for me to create anything that didn't have "one of those" in it. But what my work at the time didn't reflect was a core, a central, politicized core, that was created, shaped and honed during those wildly turbulent, highly volatile years -- think the infamous bath-house raids in Toronto on February 5, 1981, and the aftermath. Though very active politically, I wasn't expressing it in my work.

Fast forward to today and my current practice as a fibre artist -- a practice I started over 15 years ago -- and I realize, with some surprise, that I seem to have put the "text" back into textiles.

The pieces in this show are reflections on the words, wit and wisdom created by, for, about and against the gay male experience by people like short story author Thomas Glaves and poets Walt Whitman and Mark Doty. I even got my then 89-year-old mother to write a bit. There is a portrait of her -- look ma, no penises! -- entitled "My Lady of Mayerthorpe."

This body of work was originally created as a joint project between the Alberta Craft Council and Exposure, Edmonton's Queer Arts and Culture Festival, and was first shown in 2010, but it seems wonderfully right that these pieces, created for exhibition in my place of physical birth, should be shown in Toronto, the place of my political/spiritual birth, which brings me back to the young man I once was, the one with the high kick and full head of hair that stares out at me from the pages of a long-lost magazine.

Join Matt at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (34 Isabella Street, Toronto) on December 7, 2012 at 7:30pm for the opening of his exhibition, "Words, Wit, Wisdom and Wool". Exhibit runs until January 21, 2013.