|Lindsey M Whittle|
We're opening two shows this month at Thunder-Sky, Inc.: "Radically Visible," featuring costumes, photos, collages, drawings, and other art by Antonio Adams, Sky Cubacub, Craig Matis, and Lindsey M Whittle, as well as a group show curated by Emily Brandehoff, "Bowie in the Basement," featuring about 40 or so works from a variety of artists, celebrating Bowie's life and art. When I was pulling together news release info, I came across the above three photos, and they've stuck in my head, so that means of course a blogpost about Raymond, Bowie, and radical visibility, but also beyond that I wanted to reconstitute a little of Raymond's myth and menace and glory, conjure up his presence from back in the day, when people did not know what the hell to do with him. And despite a lot of bull-shit he persevered, finding a way to be what he wanted to be, who he wanted to be.
Raymond had no choice really in that department. For him, costume, performance, art, life, and being Raymond all intermingled into one sensibility that seemed forever eschewing conformity but also never flaunting the eschewment self-consciously. I am what I am so just get fucking used to it -- that's all over his face in pictures, especially in the one up top. He toured Cincinnati like that, all clowned- and construction-workered-up, silently going about his obsessive business of drawing from real life the destruction and construction people did to their surroundings, haters be damned. And there were haters, people who treated him like a freak without kindness or even just plain everyday manners. I'm not going to go into those stories because they don't matter here. He survived, created his own universe, found a way to make meaning out of what he wanted the world to be.
He left behind those costumes too, which we've archived at his joint: hard-hats, clown-suits, boots, overalls, clown-collars, hats. Shininess juxtaposed with burlap ruggedness, a show-off propensity pushed up against the need to be part of a team. At the end of the day he merged show-business and working-class desires, furtively and yet also somehow loudly proclaiming his right to be a great big beautiful freak, while also trying to invent a job for himself. (His construction-worker drag came from the fact that he truly wanted to be a construction-worker. He actually started putting on the work-clothes and showing up at sites with his drawing materials because he couldn't get hired on as an actual construction-worker [he didn't have a driver's license so they couldn't]. He willed himself into that status through a sort of flaky and beautiful camouflage.)
The freakishness and the self-created celebration of the freakishness go hand in hand with Raymond. He was his own one-man band in many, hermetically sealed ways, but also willfully open-ended, walking and walking and walking in that get-up all over the city, riding buses, being a part of the world bubbled-off but completely in the maelstrom, a sort of Native-American-Shriner's-Clown-Working-Class Dandy.
Nineteenth Century poet and philosopher Charles Baudelaire was always riffing on and refining his metaphysical takes on the "dandy." He defined dandyism as an elevation of aesthetics to living religion, that a dandy in his finest fineries simply walking about the wretched city, shining like some self-created aristocrat, pisses off the responsible citizenry existentially because the dandy has paid so much close attention to his own existence and identity outside of the realm of their control, and their taste, their lives.
Casting Raymond as a "dandy" kind of helps situate and contextualize what the artists in "Radically Visible" will be up to, as well as gives some backroom logic to "Bowie in the Basement." In their work, Sky Cubacub is on a quest to reestablish the meaning of fashion and clothes as both demarcation and demonstration of the way someone should be able to live and love. Antonio Adams, one of Raymond's best friends, carries on Raymond's legacy through his own sense of kingly garments and a continuous reinvention through art of his own mythologized self. Lindsey M Whittle takes silliness and freakishness in as forms of alchemical oxygen, breathing out little kingdoms of goof and color, and Craig Matis' collages use the circus, itself a version of over-the-top captivity and release, as metaphor for reconfiguring the struggle to be exactly who you need to be, no matter what constraints and condemnations.
Then there's David Bowie, king of the dandies, shape-shifting his way from space-cadet to thin white duke to harlequin and beyond. Bowie has left behind a legacy of I-am-what-I-am-so-fucking-get-used-to-it; he managed to change the world by appearing not to be in it. Somehow he was able to crack the code of all clowns and freaks: be exactly who you are until the day you die.