The young American artist Patrick Angus was called The Toulouse-Lautrec of Times Square by dramatist Robert Patrick. What Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was at the end of the 19th century with his direct and unvarnished depictions of the Parisian nightlife around the Montmartre, is Angus with his depictions of the gay underground scene for the New York of the 1980s. At a time when especially in the USA abstract and particularly minimalistic art was predominate Patrick Angus, born in 1953 in North-Hollywood, turned to figurative painting. His paintings and drawings range from portraits, city- and landscapes to depictions of the gay underground milieu with its stripshows, bars and bathhouses that he shows with a high sensibility. The unadorned scenes of figures and situations of this milieu unifies his work thematically with the work of the French painter with his depictions of his demimonde one century earlier.
At the age of 20 Angus got a book of drawings by David Hockney from his art teacher and was instantly fascinated by his depictions of the „good and beautiful“ gay life in Los Angeles. Attracted by this gleaming world, he travelled to Los Angeles in 1975, looking for the world presented in Hockney’s paintings. But resignedly he had to realise that this life doesn‘t exist for people of his income bracket, unless of course they are beautiful and rich. After his emigration to the east cost, this insight, further refusals and the resultantly emerging low self-confidence let him become a passive observer and at the same time active visitor of habitués of gay venues like stripshows and bathhouses. Such places satisfied his desire, but at the same time increased his low self-confidence. With a high pictorial quality, Angus shows the tragedy of lonely hearts, of men who are trying to help each other to get over the fact that they can‘t find what they are looking for - love. With his compositions and his use of light and expressive colour he catches the atmosphere of underground art scenes and goes further than just showing sexual abandon. The search for love and appreciation, a social topic that has bothered many writers and artists throughout time, is often Patrick Angus‘ subject. He mediates this longing with the viewer, independent from his/her sexual orientation or the subject of the painting, by making this longing visible in his figures. This ancient longing is timeless, especially today, in times of Internet.
Dandy Quentin Crisp described Angus’ paintings as deliberately shameless. This common misreading of them is probably one of the reasons why his works were refused by gallery owners. Fear of rejection led to an abandonment of all his hopes of recognition as a serious artist, as opposed to pornographer, but he continued painting furiously while living in direst poverty. Patrick Angus showed the gay world he lived in. He said: Twenty three years after Stonewall, gay people still have few honest images of themselves, and most of those occur in our literature. Gay men long to see themselves - in films, plays, television, paintings. They seldom do. Obviously, we must picture ourselves. These are my pictures.
Despite the carnality of the dark scenes, Angus‘ paintings radiate sympathy and compassion for his subjects, through their sober miens contrasted with vibrant colours. Some paintings have titles from famous disco music, chosen by the dancers for their strip tease to naked dances. Some ironically express poignancy, as with “I’m only human”, “boys do fall in love”, “remember the promise you made”, etc., sung by super stars such as Diana Ross, Queen, Bobby Brown, Grace Jones.
With their composition, colour and masterful depictions of gesture and body language, these paintings are the work of a master of great skill and high aesthetic sensibilities. Inspired by a big Picasso retrospective in 1980 at the MoMA, he made it his duty to search inspiration for his paintings not in other art but in life. Observations and experiences he made in the gay underground scene in New York during the 1980s became the subject and content of his paintings. Also his portraits of friends and his cityscapes and landscapes reveal his virtuosity and mastery of the principles of the great traditions of painting. With his distinctive observation skills Angus manages not only to show the objective visibility of the subjects but to creates a private, intimate atmosphere through the details of living spaces like bedrooms and living rooms. We see real people, vulnerable among their possessions. These paintings are in the great tradition of American social-realism, akin to the work of James Whistler, Thomas Eakins, Edward Hopper. Angus’ deserted landscapes compare with Hopper’s bleak scenes of urban life. With Hopper, Angus shares deep compassion for the loneliness of modern man. This loneliness and the efforts to compensate for it, play a very important role in Angus‘ oeuvre.
Since he was diagnosed with the AIDS virus more than death Patrick Angus feared his work would disappear with him. But in the months before his death in 1992 his work gained some recognition after all: a book of his paintings was published and several solo-exhibitions were devoted to him. His name has begun to take its place in art history. His works are now shown in museums and he is represented in Phaidon’s new art reference book „Art and Queer Culture“. To a wider public he became known through the movie „An Englishman in New York“ from 2009. The film dramatizes how Quentin Crisp befriended and encouraged the young artist, with many of his paintings shown on the big screen. Although the relevance of his work is recognized by now, the full potential of his oeuvre is far from being exhausted.
(Text by Tobias Bednarz)