Richard Hawkins

American, b. 1961

Special Appearance, 2004
Oil on linen, 48 x 60 in.

Museum purchase, Kathryn Hurd Fund, M.2017.4

Richard Hawkins is a Los Angeles-based artist known for eccentrically beautiful, often macabre, collages, paintings, and sculptures that explore art history, pop culture, celebrity, sexuality, and difference. Hawkins’s work springs from various exposures to high and low culture: a fruitful combination of historical themes and boyish obsessions fed through a filter of his own sexuality and identity as a queer artist coming of age during the AIDS crisis.

Special Appearance depicts a scene from a Thai sex club, where youths, or “bar boys,” are on display for Western male tourists. These young men not only turn to this profession for the high wages but often also for an opportunity to express their identity which may be suppressed in smaller, surrounding villages. At the time when Hawkins was frequenting Thailand the number of gay venues in Bangkok tripled, creating increased visibility of queer culture. In Special Appearance, Hawkins first entrances us with his use of hot pink and fuchsia, making for an inviting, almost warm and friendly scene. Yet we cannot escape the fact that the human figure at the center of the composition is available for rent, as indicated by the number “23” hanging from the waistline of his white and blue shorts.

Special Appearance is from a series of paintings Hawkins began in 2004. Together, they might be seen in the lineage of Gauguin’s Orientalist works, and demonstrate the artist’s affection for investigating and recording subcultural eroticism. His colored compositions combine both alluring and grotesque imagery and expressive forms, while his figures recall works by Otto Dix and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as Reginald Marsh and Philip Evergood’s burlesque scenes.