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Homo Riot Creates in Moments of Intense Emotion

What happens when you combine street art with gay thematics? You land somewhere around Homo Riot, the one man street art project, whose goal is to challenge institutional homophobia, while also inspiring a sense of gay pride. The artist has displayed his work on the streets of every city from New York to Hong Kong, as well as on the walls of major international galleries. In anticipation of the release of Homo Riot apparel on the Tom of Finland Store, we caught up with the man behind the moniker to learn more about the origins of Homo Riot, and how the project has changed post marriage equality.

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Can you tell me about Homo Riot and how this project came about?

I started putting up Homo Riot on the streets of LA in 2008 after the passage of Prop 8, a California proposition stating that marriage can only be between a man and a woman and making same sex marriage illegal. I was very active in the movement to defeat the proposition and was stunned that it passed in the most liberal and progressive state in the US. It felt like all of the progress made toward equality and visibility had been stripped away by puritans and homophobes and that made me furious. Homo Riot was born from that rage. What I wanted to see and be a part of was a "Homo Riot", hence the name.

What led you to choose street art as your creative medium?

I've been making art on the streets since the late 90's. I didn't do traditional graffiti because I understood that the public stereotypes that art as vandalism and I wanted to communicate with the public. So I made work that could be confused with advertising or public service announcements. That medium works great for the kind of message and intent I had for Homo Riot.

I understand Homo Riot was driven by anger and anarchy. Can you explain how these emotions serve your creative process?

I think the best art is created in moments of intense emotion. The anger and agitation I felt is part of the fire that continues to shapes the work. Also, I create compulsively, so having that emotion keeps the work cohesive and focused. 

Can you tell me about the Homo Riot items available through the Tom of Finland Store?

A couple of years ago I was asked by the Foundation to create a piece of work that would live along side the house. Working on site for several days and spending time with the men who live and work at the Foundation house, I developed a love and respect for them and the work they do.  I decided to mark the anniversary of the piece being completed by photographing the men who I associate with the house. I was so pleased with the images that I put them together in a book that is available through the Tom of Finland Store.

What relationship do you have to Tom of Finland's life and work?

Like so many other contemporary gay artists, my first exposure to homoerotic art was through Tom's work. Seeing Tom's work for the first time was revelatory for me. All of my adolescent dreams came to life in his illustrations. As a mature artist who's now studied his work and has had the chance to speak to others who knew him intimately, I have a deep appreciation for his audacity and courage, as well as his talent. He has played a vital part in propelling gay, queer and sex positive art and we all owe a lot to that contribution.

Now that gay marriage is legal nationally, has the Homo Riot project changed? How?

Yes, but truthfully the intent changed almost as soon as I realized what impact my work was having on other homos. I now see the work as a point of pride for my tribe and less as a "fuck you" to the straight world. That said, every inch of progress we've made could be wiped out with the stroke of a pen or an unfavorable election result. Homo Riot will stay vigilant.

 

Have you received any backlash for these public portrayals of homo pride?

I am happy to report that I have not received any backlash. Right from the beginning, I was embraced by my fellow street artists. The only thing that happens occasionally and could be construed as homophobia is when the work is very intentionally defaced on the street. Sometimes, the work has the kissing lips scratched off. It's very targeted at the "offensive" kiss. 

What artists inspire your work and the Homo Riot project?

Punk music and the artistic aesthetic associated with it have definitely had a major influence on me and my art. The art of Jamie Reid and Raymond Pettibon inform my style but I'm also influenced and inspired by Mapplethorpe for his queerness and mastery of black and white composition, Cocteau for his simplicity David Hockney for his use of color and or course by Keith Haring for being the godfather of out queer street art.

What projects do you have on the horizon?

I have a solo show in Phoenix opening this weekend (April 6) to coincide with Phoenix Pride.  It's all new work and deals with my ideas of Gay Magic and Queer and Leather Witches. In addition to my work, I've invited a coven of Queer witches to perform blessings and rituals throughout the opening as well as a Shibari artist creating beautiful rope art on attendees. After that, I'll be working on a mural in DC at the end of May and then I have a guerrilla art install at the Queer Biennial in LA in June that should be rad.

 

Check out more from Homo Riot here.

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