Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A friend and an artist

John Lesnick was a close friend of mine.  We met felicitously in front of the loft building in Chelsea where I was visiting an ex-boyfriend at the time and where John lived.  I remember that he had just bought groceries and we greeted each other with the brown paper bag he was clutching acting as an annoying barrier between us.  We were immediately attracted to one another and had a brief affair which turned into a  lasting and deep friendship.  I was privileged to know him for the remainder of his life, through all of its ups and downs. He is in the collection at the Museum of Modern ArtVisual AIDS, and most of his art is now housed by the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation.

I bought this piece of art from him not too long after it was produced:


It is part of a series of full-figure male portraits that he did in a large format print.  This particular print (not titled) is number 7 of 10, is signed by John, and dated 1984.  These prints were produced at the Lower East Side Print Shop.  This organization became John's second home during the early '80s.  He was very productive at the time, but unfortunately not successful commercially as an artist.  

John discovered that he was HIV+ during this time, but he continued to work and travel and enjoy life as fully as possible.  He became an AIDS activist and was a case study in the advances in AIDS-related medicine during the '90s. I purchased one or two more pieces, and he gave me a couple of other pieces of his work as gifts.  When he passed away, I was able to complete this work:


As you can see it is quite large and fills one wall of the foyer to my apartment. (Apologies for the poor photography and the glare in both these photos.)  Each framed quarter measures 35.25"h x 43.5"w, so the full work is 70.5"w x 87" high.  It is number 7 of 12, signed and dated 1984.

Why I like this piece:

This piece puts me into a sort of meditative trance.  The pose of the swimmer's right hand appears to me as if it were a gesture of benevolence, but I can't quite figure out why that is.  I bought the original upper right quadrant because it stands as a piece on its own.  The reason it does that is because it encompasses that enigmatic gesture.

As a whole, the work partakes of photography and, to my mind, theater.  It is a set piece for some unwritten play, and it represents an aspect of one of the characters, perhaps the villain, that is decidedly unexpected.  I can imagine this portrait coming to the fore of the stage in the last act to symbolize the villain's attempt at redemption.  ("Angels in America" anyone?)

What this piece reminds me of:

This piece reminds me of loss and of peace with that loss.  John led a very full life, had many friends, and not too many enemies.  He was respected and loved.  John was the closest experience I could imagine of knowing Lazarus.  He very nearly died prior to the advent of protease inhibitors for the treatment of HIV.  When he came back to life, he lived as fully and as creatively without (too much) complaint that he had nearly been robbed of this second chance.  

The longer I live with this work, the more I appreciate it.  It is a comfort.  There is much more of John's work to show, and each will remind me of some other aspect of life during those times.  

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