DRUMMER FEATURE ARTICLE
©Jack Fritscher. See Permissions, Reprints, Quotations, Footnotes
An Erotic Portfolio:
Author’s Historical Context Introduction written July 10, 2001
I prefer life enhanced by erotica, because erotica is the best anti-depressant.
My goal in Son of Drummer was to introduce new gay artists and photographers by writing intellectually defensible profiles wrapped around hot graphic layouts. The difference between monthly Drummer and Drummer special annual issues was that annuals could be more outrageous and daring.
This was the second coverage in Drummer of Rex who was in the company of Robert Mapplethorpe whom I was premiering. Our previous special issue, The Best and Worst of Drummer, 1977, had showcased the artist Chuck Arnett in Robert Opel’s article, “Arnett: Lautrec in Leather.” This was also the title of a collection of Arnett’s drawing sold mail order by Drummer.
Twelve years later, at the request of publisher Anthony DeBlase, I picked up and advanced Arnett in Drummer 134, October 1989. Appreciating the value and endurance of some of the primal contents of Drummer, Mark Thompson reprinted my feature in Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice, 1991.
Rex is far more intense than the wild Arnett. Leatherfolk in 1991 did not include Rex who has been drawing since the late 60s. In 2001, the always-reclusive Rex is still a dangerous, dark, and scary artist of the gay Id. If Thompson’s critically acclaimed Leatherfolk ever evolves into a Leatherfolk 2, I’d like to write a comprehensive essay of the complicated Rex I have known and worked with for twenty-five years. My analysis would be not of him personally but of his work. I would identify his forbidding and verboten themes, his exquisite technique, and his content which appeals as much as his form. There are literally a million reproductions of hundreds of his drawings. Rex is a Rorschach. In his drawings, trap doors open and we viewers recognize the vertigo of our own falling, fallen, complicated nature. Rex expresses the psyche of leather culture far deeper than Arnett, the Hun, Domino, Etienne, Martin of Holland, and Tom of Finland. Those artists are each singular and great and safely gay. But Rex is distinguished, because he goes beyond gay and dares draw images of marginal and perverse sexual urges we may not ever want to admit to, but that we often cum to.
And in what we cum to, we know, in our heart of hearts, is the truth of our personal sexuality. Oftentimes, underneath what we jolly well think makes us cum is the not-so-jolly something deeper that really is the source of orgasm, something we remember and recognize only in the strobe flash of rictus, something so raw and primal that we quickly slam the door on it, denying it, because we cannot be polite and civilized if our orgasmic insight be true. We see this in censors all the time: they try to stamp out in others the very thing they try not to cum to in themselves. It’s a truism that anti-gay crusaders are publically fighting their own personal gay inclinations. Repressed stuff is always viewed as a monster under the bed, which is a very good place to keep Rex’s drawings handy.
Rex, like A. Jay, the Hun, and Domino, makes his work available by mail order. Drummer loved these enterprising artists packaging themselves. The drumbeat behind Drummer has always been mail-order. John Embry, the first publisher of Drummer, was first of all a mail-order tycoon. He saw Drummer as a sales catalog, a marketing device to interest mail-order customers. Each issue featured, with a purpose and a pitch, just enough photos, drawings, or writing, to motivate readers to buy the artist’s or photographer’s or author’s book. Distracted by a noble masthead quote about “marching to a different drummer” from Thoreau, no one has ever caught the pun in the name of Drummer magazine
A “drummer” is by definition someone who sells something, usually door to door, like Harold Hill in The Music Man. Actually, when Drummer moved to San Francisco, the magazine shifted on its axis. Drummer began to be published as an end in itself. Its function as a glorified Los Angeles mail-order catalog diminished as Drummer emerged with its own identity as a San Francisco magazine with a voice that sounded like a men’s chorus. Drummer cost only $2.95; the real money was in the cock and ball harness sold mail order at $19.95.
Profit was a legitimate fact and goal in the rise of gay small business that established the reality of gay power in the 70s. We were all sexual immigrants migrating out of the closet into the new world of gay culture. Like all immigrants, we worked hard so we could buy the corner convenience store. Industrious gay men, shop by shop and house by house, turned neighborhoods like the Castro gay.
In Drummer’s case, it was the publisher’s capital intent that the magazine sell other merchandisebooks, leather gear, poppers, dildoes. John Embry first, last, and always has been about mail order, and I benefitted and learned from his passion. To Embry, my writing and photography had mail-order potential which he began to advertise in Son of Drummer. He asked me to excerpt my novel, I Am Curious (Leather), which he advertised for sale as “the forthcoming Drummer novel.” Written in 1969, and first published in 1972, the novel, renamed Leather Blues, was published in 1984 by Winston Leyland of Gay Sunshine Press. The cover drawing was by Rex.
After I exited Drummer, I began to distribute my art through my own mail-order business with Man2Man magazine and Palm Drive Video. Besides bars, the only kind of recession-proof gay business is mail-order. In the Stonewall summer of 1969, the United States Post Office changed its laws against mailing frontal nudity. This gave birth to rip-roaring gay mail order as well as the possibility of front-loaded gay magazines. Etienne always had the mail order network of Kris Studio in Chicago. In the 60s, A. Jay ran his own mail order business out of Queens Quarterly in New York, and then out of Drummer in San Francisco. Rex was one of the earliest artists to sell by mail order; the Hun has created his own mail order empire, Hunhaus. If Tom of Finland had been able early in his career to start his own mail order company in those impossible decades in Europe, he would not have had his work stolen; actually, Tom of Finland was rescued in the 70s when Durk Dehner began to protect Tom’s intellectual property by selling it via mail. In 2003, the Tom of Finland Foundation widened its mail order to include a Tom of Finland action figure, Tom of Finland jeans, as well as Tom of Finland greeting cards, bed linens, towels, napkins, underwear, sportswear, and belt buckles. The income funds the maintenance of Tom’s art work and the work of other Foundation artists, and protects the copyrights.
Rex, entering Drummer, already enjoyed a thriving mail-order base of fans which pleased John Embry. Mapplethorpe at the time had nothing that John Embry could sell, because when I met Robert Mapplethorpe he was still aching to do his first book. In fact, quite separate from Drummer, Robert Mapplethorpe gave me a stack of his photographic images and asked me to write the text in order to make his book happen. Here’s a perfect piece of gay trivia: our working leather title was Rimshots: Inside the Fetish Factor. Without anything that could be sold mail-order, and refusing to sign any rights over to Drummer, Mapplethorpe was dismissed by John Embry, who thought that Robert treated him with disdain. (Robert treated many people with disdain, but never me.)
John Embry repeatedly told me, and once yelled at me, as if he could rub my personal sexual relationship with Robert in my face, that the Mapplethorpe cover of Drummer 24 was the worst-selling issue ever. Who knows the truth of Embry’s bookkeeping? It may or may not have been the worst-selling issue, but I’d blame the schedules made tardy by the tight budgets, the unpaid help, and the skittish distributors long before I’d blame Robert Mapplethorpe who was generous to a fault to Drummer.
Embry could not control Mapplethorpe just as eventually Embry could not control me. So eventually he cut us both dead, and added us to his list of people he was feuding with whether or not they feuded back. And, of course....Drummer suffered.
This “RexWerk” feature essay was again published by Bob Johnson in Skin, Volume 1, Number 6. 1981, pages 8-15, with eight pointilist-dot drawings by Rex gloriously printed full size on glossy paper funded by a budget John Embry denied Drummer. In that same issue of Skin, I continued my “virtual Drummer” essays on gay pop culture personalities, Peter Berlin, “Peter Berlin Today! A Legend in His Own Time,” and A. Jay, “A. Jay’s Comic Stripping: Harry Chess’ Creator Tells All!” Six years later, after John Embry sold Drummer to Anthony DeBlase, this A. Jay interview finally came home, where it was intended, to Drummer 107, August 1987.
Two years after this “RexWerk” essay was first published, in 1983, when the reclusive Rex finally got it that he could trust me, we sat together in a Tenderloin coffee shop and discussed two other concepts for Bob Johnson. We agreed that ideally gay magazines should have some actual organic relation between fiction and drawings illustrating each other. We then went our separate ways: one to write the stories, the other to draw the illustrations. The result was “Telefuck” published in Just Men, Volume 2, Number 2, January 1984, and “Officer Mike: San Francisco’s Finest,” Just Men, Volume 1, Number 4, May-June 1984.
Rex’s drawing of a the “Telefuck Hardon-Blond with Telephone” was a success both erotically and commercially. Because of all his genuine fine art, Rex was one of the most popular commercial artists of the 70s, drawing radical images for baths, bars, and other businesses and products including a wonderful ad for poppers. His bar ads form a collectible legendary series from the Mine Shaft to the Black and Blue at 8th and Howard, San Francisco, to the Lure in New York in 2003. Rex’s “Telefuck” drawing was hired frequently to advertise several telephone sex services, prefixed with “900” that were wildly popular in the 80s before the internet hit in the late 90s.
The time line of the “erotic media flow” in gay culture post Stonewall was:
I track this evolution of technical history;s influence on gay culture because once in 1984 a young woman demanded I show her my video of the Stonewall Riot! As far as I know the first gay artist who had a video camera was Andy Warhol in 1966, and that was experimental and on loan to him, and used only in his Factory. In 1972, the newspapers proclaimed that video cameras were on their way, but they did not arrive into consummer hands until 1981 when the 70s could no longer be easily recorded.
In 1989, Rex and I collaborated on an art video showcasing his drawings. Rex picked the drawings; I composed and photographed the video which was edited by Mark Hemry. The Rex Video Gallery: Corrupt Beyond Innocence was a success. Even Rex, who was born edgy, liked it, so much he was actually effusive in his comments in his letter to me dated DATE. His only direct requestand his only hands-on inputwere that he wanted the video to end by closing in tighter and tighter on one of his drawings so that the drawing disintegrated cosmically into a million shape-shifting dots and then a thousand dots and then a hundred and then twenty and then one, as if the whole universe of his drawings was in every space-dust dot of his Rapidograph pen. To achieve this, Rex actually enlarged one of his drawings in photocopy after enlarged photocopy, again and again, until the drawing deconstructed into one huge Dot which I then filmed as the final frames in the video. His genius suggestion was like moving away from Earth at the speed of light until Earth is but a dot in space.
My artists “video gallery” seriesincluding A. Jay, the Hun, Skipper, and Dominoruns on a basic merit: the series gathers together a good cross-section of each artist’s work, and keeps it together as the originals themselves disappear into private collections, or are otherwise lost to public view. (Etienne sent me a letter dated ___________saying he was interested in my creating the Etienne Video Gallery. In 19______, the artist Robert Kirk, who was also one of my Palm Drive models, said he was up for the Kirby Video Gallery.) Permanence has always been a problem with one-of-a-kind art originals, and one time Rex was hit with some very bad luck.
“RexWerk,” which was the name of Rex’s San Francisco studio and gallery on Hallam Mews burned to the ground during the fire that destroyed the legendary Barracks Baths on Folsom Street, on July 10, 1981. The fire was reported at 2:15 AM and in fifteen minutes was at five alarms. It burned out of control until 6:35 AM. Rex’s studio was lost as was the apartment of photographer Mark I. Chester.
I fictionalized a version of the Barracks fire, and the horrific burning of Rex’s studio with whose interior and one-of-a-kind originals I was intimately familiar, in my novel of San Francisco in the 70s, Some Dance to Remember. The Folsom Street Fire of 1981 was a disheartening blow to the emerging art community South of Market. In Some Dance, always intended as an homage to Gone With The Wind, the burning of the Barracks was as much a turning point in gay male culture as the burning of Atlanta was shocking to Confederate culture.
Close shot: Rex’s drawings on fire, flames licking torsos, drawings of “men in sleazy baths” burning up as an actual sleazy gay bath house burns them to ash.
Now that’s postmodern!
With the Folsom Street fire, the Titanic 70s finally ended on July 10, 1981.
From Some Dance to Remember, Reel Four, Chapter Three:
It was a fire out of control. [Video pornographer] Solly Blue heard the first explosion and looked up from the small light tray where his color transparencies of his latest boys were spread out for review. The front curtains glowed orange. He was not at home. He was spending the evening at [Rex’s] a photographer’s apartment studio on Hallam Street, a tiny mews of ancient wooden apartments off Folsom that catered to the leather crowd. He pulled back the curtains and saw the ball of flame rise up the back corner of the four-story Barracks Baths. It had closed years before and was under remodel. He opened the door and ran down to the grille of the wrought-iron safety gate. Another explosion knocked him back on the terrazzo steps. He ran back into the apartment and called the fire department.
“It’s bad,” he reported.
He hadn’t realized how bad. Hallam Street, with its ancient warren of old wooden buildings, had only one entrance/exit. It was just his luck. He rarely went out. This night was an exception, and to make matters worse, he was alone. The clock read 10:37. His friend, the art photographer known only as Dane, who had invited him to his studio, was off on a quick errand to the Boot Camp bar to deliver proofs he was completing for an ad campaign. [Rex actually was not home when the fire broke out because he had taken original art work to the Boot Camp to be printed as an ad.]
Solly looked around the unfamiliar apartment. He had nothing of his won with him but two trays of slides to show Dane. On the walls surrounding him hung the work of a lifetime. After Robert Mapplethorpe, Dane was the most famous, and undoubtedly the most talented, of all gay erotic photographers. He had immigrated from New York, taken the Hallam Street studio, and remodeled it into a living space behind a two-room gallery. [Actually, Rex took an apartment and turned the two front rooms into gallery space with black paint, gray carpet, and tracklights.] He was one of the first artists to stake out the light industrial area of South of Market, dubbing it SOMA, the way South of Houston in Manhattan had become the avant SOHO. What original work was not on loan or in the hands of private collectors hung on the gray-felt walls or lay stored flat in huge drawers.
Solly started to take the framed black-and-white photographs down from the walls. They grew too heavy too fast in his arms. He could save more by grabbing as many negatives as he could from as many drawers as he could open. Another explosion rocked the apartment.
Solly watched the wooden casements around the front windows break into flames. The heat cracked the glass and sucked the curtains out into the fire. Smoke billowed into the apartment. Solly was not one to panic, but a wave of fear crashed across his face; there was no way out but the back door which led to a small fenced yard dead-ended against a three-story brick wall.
There was no back alley.
He carried a rolled manila envelope, stuffed with negs, under his arm and ran out the back door. People escaping the other apartments clambered over the fences, from backyard to backyard, running and climbing in frenzied slow-motion through the red glow of the fire and the rain of falling ash. He hated Ryan’s movie game. He hardly had time to make up his mind. This was The Last Days of Pompeii, Sodom, Gomorrah, Oz, and Atlanta. All rolled into one.
“I’m going to die.”
Solly stood a moment on the landing. He sized up the situation and climbed up to the second-floor porch. It was a chancy leap from there to the porch next door, but it would get him over the fences and then to the roof of a one-story brick garage that he guessed by the number of people running towards it was the only way out. He tucked the envelope of negatives into the back of his jeans. He couldn’t help if his belt crushed them slightly. Bent was better than burnt. Something was better than nothing. He stood on the rail of the porch, wished he’d been more athletic in high school, and jumped the five feet to the next porch. He collided with a man in full leather leading out a naked man wearing handcuffs. The three of them fell in a tangle on the hot boards.
“Sorry,” Solly said.
“What?” The leatherman shouted over the firestorm. “What?”
Solly shook his head.
The leatherman lifted the wrists of the man in handcuffs and said, “We can’t find the key”
Solly pointed toward the roof of the brick garage already crowed with men shouting to be saved. “We’ve got to jump for it. You go first.”
The man in the handcuffs hesitated. “I can’t. I won’t.”
“We don’t have time to convince you,” Solly shouted. “You jump or you die.”
Straight below was a thirty-foot drop. It was six feet out and eight feet down to the garage roof. Two men stood on the edge facing Solly. Firelight played on their faces. They were shouting. The whole block of wooden apartment was in flames. The men on the roof, their voices lost in the roar of the fire, made motions to jump.
“They’re ready to catch us,” Solly said. “If we make it.”
Behind and above them searing heat and flames roared through the tar paper rooftops and blew out the back windows. Glass rained down into the back yards. Outside the mews of their entrapment they could hear fire sirens. The clock in the burning kitchen behind the handcuffed man read 10:43.
“I don’t want to die in the nude!” The handcuffed man began to cry.
“I don’t want to die period!” Solly said. He motioned to the leatherman. “We’ll stand him up on the railing and push him.”
“No!” the naked man screamed.
They picked him up bodily and stood him on the railing. For a moment Solly had a boomshot flash of the absurdity of hanging onto a naked man’s thighs and arms knowing he had every intention of pushing the man wavering on the railing off into the darkness below. This is why I never leave home! “On three,” he said, “when we push you, you jump.”
“O God!” the man cried. “Tell my mother I love her.”
“I don’t even know your mother,” Solly said. He nodded to the leatherman. “Okay,” he shouted, “it’s getting too hot. We’re going to burn out here. I’m gonna count to three and you jump, asshole. Jump for your mother!”
“You can! You’re a fairy! Fairies can do anything! Fairies can fly!” Solly made the count to three mercifully short. They pushed the man who, in the final moment, jumped from the railing with all the grace he could remember from one dream-week watching the high divers fly off the cliffs at Acapulco. He landed in the arms of the two men on the garage roof. One of his legs splayed out broken as other dark figures pulled him through the shadows to the other edge of the roof. Solly could see them looking down over the far edge, hoping for rescuers.
“There’s an alley there,” the leatherman said. “But I don’t see a ladder coming up.”
Down on the roof, every face, red like flat burning pies, gaped up at them with the flames licking at their butts.
“Jump!” Solly said. “I don’t have much more time to be heroic.”
The leatherman, squealing an unearthly soprano “Aye-YEEEE,” jumped down like a falling Wallenda into the arms of the waiting men. Solly saw the cheering mouths open in the middle of the red pie faces, but he could not hear their cries over the roar of the flames. The heat was getting to him. He suddenly began to beat the envelope of negatives tucked into his bacik. The tip of the envelope had caught fire. He could not swat it out. He felt the porch begin to buckle under his feet. ‘Fuck it.’ he said, and he climbed up on the railing, and leapt out into the glowing red darkness with the negatives flaming out of his jeans. He rocketed up and out, soaring like a roman candle, for a moment weightless, without gravity, feeling a joy in life that surprised him, until gravity’s real revenge, what is, is, pulled him down, faster and faster down, into the smoke-filled darkness.
* * * *
“Needless to say, I missed the roof.” Solly sat up in his bed at San Francisco General. “Under this turban, I have a concussion. But can you tell? All I remember is I jumped and then I started flying, and then the next thing I knew I was in the arms of a handsome young fireman with a black moustache and coal-dark eyes. [Who could one of the many firemen drawn by Rex] I’ll never forget the feel of his mouth on mine. Now I know why they call it the ‘kiss of life.’ Call him up. Dial 911. I may have a relapse. I may be in-love. Actually, I’ll be out of here in a few days and I’m very philosophical. Somewhat in the manner of the immortal words of one of my favorite philosophers, Miss Peggy Lee. ‘Is that all there is to a fire?’”
....On the second day after the fire, Ryan walked through the front door of San Francisco General. The Chronicle kept the story on page one. The Barracks had burned to a shell. The fire had leveled all the wooden flats around it, leaving a hundred people homeless. Rumors of charred bodies left bound in chains charged through the City. ‘What gays are to straights, S&M guys are to vanilla gays,’ Solly had mused. ‘Outcasts.’ Some Dance to Remember © 1982, 1989, 2003 Jack Fritscher
On October 30, 1986, Rex’s large-format, hard-cover book of 50 drawings (1975-1985), with a blood- red cover backing a stark black-and-white drawing, was exquisitely printed in France: RexWerk, Les Presses de L’Imprimerie Autographe (Paris), Pirates Associes Editeur, with an Introduction titled “One in a Century,”written in French and English by Ralf Marsault-R, ISBN 2-906463-00-0.
The ever-mysterious Rex dedicated RexWerk: “For Jim who is so much a part of these drawings...”
Rex gave me a copy of his limited edition RexWerk hand-stamped number “0572.”
About the pointilist art of Rex and his Rapidograph ink pen, Ralf Marsault-R wrote in RexWerk: “Enter into this arena of exclusively male violence. But in order to face the Ringmaster of this superbly insolent danger, we will have to grovel. For to be like Rex is to renounce our ideas, abdicate our origins and to accept in silence, kneeling in communion before The Dot....Rex is unique in this century....” Jack Fritscher, July 10, 2001, the 20th Anniversary of the Folsom Fire at the Barracks Baths.
An Erotic Portfolio:
RexWerk! The name smacks of Germanic discipline, of heroized masculinity, and of the art that imitates lifeif a man goes to the right places when he cruises out to be with other men. RexWerk, the smartest new international gallery in San Francisco, is located off Folsom, on Hallam Mews, South of Market, the district of the darker side of manhood. RexWerk features the visions of the elusively mysterious, but very personal and personable artist, the reclusive Rex.
No male erotic artist today surpasses Rex’s stylized characterizations of men. Tom of Finland, a master artist himself, sees his men as sanitized blond Aryans: always young, always hung, usually in uniform. Etienne [Dom Orejudos, Kris Studios, Chicago], a formidable name for years, draws hot story board scenarios, fantasy but not reality. A. Jay (also this issue) is a magnificent cartoonist/artist of male erotica through his continuing spoof of “Harry Chess.” Each of them is a J/O turnon in his own way. Each has his following. Each has his audience.
But no artist scares guys the way Rex’s work scares guys. It’s the basic difference between simple erotic entertainment and art. With entertainment, you get exactly what you bargained for. With art, something you might not have bargained for happens; the artist confronts you; you look; you see; your way of seeing begins to change; your Super-Ego values slip another notch toward your sex-crazed Id.
ARTIST OF THE ID
Rex draws for big boys grown up enough to face their fantasies. His Rapidograph pen taps out the dots, lines, and shadings that sometimes take months for him to transform an ordinary subject into the extraordinary statement. Who hasn’t been to the baths and seen and felt, but been unable to capture in words or graphics, exactly what Rex communicates in his drawing “Bath House”?
“Bath House” was inspired by hot memories of the old St. Mark’s Baths in New York, which was a wonderland of depravity years ago before Gay Lib and wall-to-wall shag carpets took their middle-class toll of the bathhouse scene. Once upon that time, the St. Mark’s cubicles offered the dedicated voyeur more peepholes per square inch of plywood than any place since. “Bath House” is Rex’s cubicle-to-cubicle homage to its sexy, seedy glory.
Each cubicle in the drawing overflows with the touchstones of Rex’s eroticism: hairy, often clipped and shaved, muscular tattooed men, wearing the stuff of fetish trips socks, jocks, bits of uniforms, bike gear, and leather. Cocks drip through thick foreskin. Nipples stand erect on big pecs. Rex’s men live in a roustabout world of YMCA rooms, all-nite diners, truck yards, and mattresses without designer sheets.
His men are denizens of the rebellious night.
They are men who have passed their male initiation rites and rituals.
They suck, fuck, submit, and dominate in rooms of falling plaster, naked light bulbs, dripping washbasins, a shower down the hall, the floor littered with the macho refuse of their mondo sleazo blue-collar pleasures: Bud cans, crushed Camel packs, guns, used rubber scumbags. Rex’s men celebrate their physical bodies and sensual appetites without apology to Mom and Apple Pie. His men are the beguiling trash our parents always pointed out to warn us away. His men are attractive mirrors of the very Id we homosexual men grew up to harbor in our own secret heart of hearts. His seductive men, through his mirror darkly, are us!
REX: EVERYBODY’S OPINION
Some guys like a “favorite” Rex drawing while taking exception in a quieter tone to another Rex work they “can’t stand because it’s, well, too HEAVY!” Other guys say the same thing, but reverse the order. (Heavy, like beauty, is in the eye-and-stroke of the beholder.) No one is supposed to like all the work of any artist. Different drawings, especially in the commercial art world, are commissioned by different patrons wanting different erotic statements.
“Twenty-One Tongues,” for example, is a rare commission for one of Rex’s close buddies. Even the title is a personal joke between them. (There are only, by actual count, seventeen tongues.) Nevertheless, this private commission has a universal appeal as the communicants in the military-latrine setting gang around the communion rail of the urinal/trough like worshippers at a temple. The pissing is a perversatile ritual baptism wherein the High-Priest DI at the top of the trough pisses down to initiate the new recruits whose tongues lap up the piss as if they are at the Fount of Saving Grace. This is the irony of Rex that makes his hyper-masculine style so gut-wrenching: he is basically a ritual, religious artist sanctifying the profane and the depraved. Rex glories in flesh.
Love Rex, or hate Rex, no man is unmoved by Rex.
FANTASY, FETISHES, & FACES
Rex knows his territory. He says his say with his Rapidograph. He draws in seclusion, listening to tape cassettes of 1930s and 1940s European marching music. He reminds us, maybe in the middle-class glare of dawn, of the dark, “low-class” animal pleasures we sometimes like to forget, when we feel we’re too “spiritual” or too “nice” to ever have sucked a cock, a jock, or worse (somehow in descending order): a sock.
“Black Socks” strikes some as a heavy drawing: the sailor being serviced is aloof, hard-assed, tattooed, uncut, hairy, muscular, and dominant. The tattooed biker who sucks the sailor’s foot through his black sock kneels, booted, in the ritual litter of porn books, liquor bottles, and restless nights in one-night cheap hotels. A third man stands reflected in the mirror. A fourth peers through a sort-of-gloryhole in the wall. Who are these two extra men? Why do two toothbrushes stand in the glass? The drawing’s strong impersonal sexuality, and its high technical skill, mirror much of what one suspects is clue to the artist’s personal vision of life as homomasculine men live it.
Rex is not afraid to push his subject matter past taboo to the point where the viewer is so fascinated that he forgets he first was socially repulsed by the hardline lowlife scene. Life seems sometimes like a contest to find new and better ways to be disgusting. Rex turns repulsion, with the same sort of skill as a Roman Polanski, through technically seductive talent into acceptance, and finally to jerk-off judgment of a hand hitting the popper, giving greasy salute to the drawings’ values, and tripping the head off into the darksome fantasy world perfected by the artist.
Rex dumps more “story” into a single frame than most filmmakers can manage in a full-length feature.
ANDREW WYETH JACKS OFF: REX DOES PATRONS
“Mad Doctors” is exceptional among Rex’s drawings. Most of his work stems from real life. “Mad Doctors” is a drawing commissioned by a patron whose fantasy, somewhere this side of the Third Reich, was “Man: The Ultimate Experimental Animal.” Rex prefers not to work with a client’s detailed “script,” but more with a man’s general “concept.” Rex nevertheless is not chary of accepting the discipline of working at his usual intensity to develop the real guts of someone else’s fantasy. This is, after all, the essence of erotic art: to dare to put detailed pen to blank paper and make real what heretofore has never been concretized out of deep desires acted out in the dead of night.
At the opposite extreme from “Mad Doctors” is “Jack Off,” a picture Andrew Wyeth would appreciate. This is an early Rex. Its romantic YMCA isolation of solitary love on a bored summer afternoon has made it a classic favorite of Onanists everywhere: here the hunk is alone, independent, noble, not necessarily queer even, and totally content with his Self in his private laid-back world. Rex’s world is populated with single men, not “lovers.” In pairs, men are at their best: buddies. Alone, paired, or in groups, they’re all upfront animals.
Critics who dislike Rex’s work object not because of his peerless technique, but more out of misunderstanding of what the artist attempts. Objections run to queenly superciliousness like: “The faces aren’t pretty, the bodies are too rough and muscular. The types are too dirty. None of them smiles. No blonds.” Such objections reveal more about the limited “royalty” of the critics than about the real matter and manly style of the artist. Interestingly enough, Rex in America is somewhat controversial. Guys freak out at his raw masculinity, and then hide his stuff away under their mattresses to jerk off alone, not wanting their socialite friends to know how they feed their deeper needs. In Europe, Rex has long been considered a serious artist.
Rex’s vision of manly men, living on the cusp of unpretentious macho, is absolutely necessary in a world where media continually portray homosexuals as 28-inch wasp-waisted little clone-fags who like to drag themselves up as female sluts. To each his own; but to many, Rex is, certainly, a champion: an artist pursuing the romance of American manhood in its hard-edged urban contest against the sissy norm of middle-class gayboy values.
Those who respond negatively to his noble sleaze merely protest, like Shakespeare’s lady, a bit too much about their insecure class standing. If your mommie is still looking over your shoulder, you’ll hate Rex. He is, before all, not an artist of the “normal.” (No true artist is.) Rex is an artist of the “natural.” To be true to one’s essential male nature is always better than trying to fit into the mold of others’ norms. In a world where many gays choose to do “their mother’s act” rather than their father’s, Rex offers refreshing support to men who are tired of seeing on the streets men doing to themselves things you hoped you’d never see men do to themselves.
THE PALADIN FILE
Rex has a new series called The Paladin File, a portfolio of quality 8x10 glossy photo reproductions of his latest work. Their quality insures the fidelity and minimum loss of detail which have made Rex drawings a hallmark. Set No. 1 is called “On the Road.” Not a story, it is five different drawings never published before, set in the world of truckers and transients along the highways of America. The men are brutal, primitive, fine. Set No. 2 is titled “Leathermen.” This is the world of black leather, bikes, bondage, and submission. Each set contain five 8x10 glossies suitable as is for framing and holding in one hand. Each set: eight bucks. Two sets: fifteen. All photos: super-hot!
New sets are to come.
Rex has located RexWerk in San Francisco because in the coming 80s, he predicts, San Francisco, particularly South of Market, SOMA, will be to erotic male artists what Hollywood was for film artists in the Golden 30s. San Francisco is now the Dream Factory. For homomasculine men, South of Market is the Back Lot, and RexWerk is the major erotic studio.
RexWerk Gallery is open by appointment only on Saturdays and Sundays from 6 to 9 PM. Call for appointment: (415) 863-1897. If you can’t wait to get to the Source of It All, send a $4 check or money order made out to Drawings by Rex to Drawings by Rex, Box 347, San Francisco, CA 94101. You’ll get three glossy 8x10 prints to help you make it into the night!
©1978, 1990, 2003 Jack Fritscher
REX POSTSCRIPT #1
Eleven Years Later: the Rex Video Gallery
I wrote the following press release to announce the June,1989, release of the Rex video which I directed and photographed with the artist’s permission. Mark Hemry was the producer and editor. The special sound of the world of Rex was created by Fritscher-Hemry. For www.PalmDriveVideo.com
THE REX VIDEO GALLERY:
Exhibited as “Best in Show” at the New Langton Arts Gallery, San Francisco, this Rex Video Gallery: Corrupt Beyond Innocence is the first and only RexWerk video. Make your wide screen an erotic master’s personal gallery. World-renowned artist Rex is the perversatile kingpin of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels, of sawdust diners, and gas station toilets. Drawn from life, his art, exquisitely “corrupt beyond innocence,” is as extraordinary esthetically as it is erotically.
Rexhimselfgathered together the best of his newest and classic, seedy, sleazy, museum-quality, original drawings for this very nasty video. Whether you are a collector or a jerk-off fan, you know Rex men from Drummer, Stroke, Inches, Honcho, Mach, plus a hundred other magazines.
Rex is to drawing what Robert Mapplethorpe is to photography.
But Rex is hotter, sleazier, full of dripping raunch, hungry mouths, big dicks, greasy butts, hot tits, hairy chests, bull balls, and sex action like you can’t get anymore.
Mapplethorpe takes the Concorde. Rex takes the bus!
Rex is the artist of urban toilets, blue-collar hotels, filthy construction workers, greasy gas jockeys, muscled bikers, tattooed fighters, beautiful young bums, pissing ex-cons, armpit-asshole sweaty handsome studs needing head. Rex’s men are unshaved lone wolves in jockstraps, leather, boots, and torn tank tops, who ring their tits and pierced cockheads tied with leather thongs, who pay-per-night in sleaze-bag hot-sheet hotels where sailors, Marines, cops, and drifters lie back on cum-stained mattresses, the smoke of their cigarettes drafting out the crack of the door to their room, down to the toilet where other men stand around the cracked urinal that drips beer piss, and where the graffiti-covered stall is drilled with a gloryhole glazed with cum from big dicks.
Rex, Rapidograph pen in hand, is a pointilist artist supreme. He takes you slumming to the wrong side of the tracks. The Rex Video Gallery is shot in glorious blank-and-white from Rex’s original drawings. This is not a slide show. This is a presentation and an interpretation of Rex right down to the soundtrack especially created to capture what the world of Rex sounds like. The camera work is by the video’s creator, Jack Fritscher, and the editing is by Mark Hemry. The soundtrack is a collaboration between Fritscher and Hemry. Collector or sex-animal, you need the fresh eye of Rex, because, like Rex, you’re “corrupt beyond innocence”!
This Rex video is brought to you from the ceiling of the toilet in the Sistine Chapel. The Rex Video Gallery: Corrupt Beyond Innocence, 60 minutes. © 1989, 2003 Jack Fritscher
REX: POST SCRIPT #2
Revealing for the first time that his persona has a surname, Rex signed the following permission memorandum, “Rex West,” but I have reason to believe his initials are the same as mine: JF.
“April 19, 1989To Whom It May Concern: I the undersigned do hereby testify that I have the verbal authorization of Mr. David Hurles, operating under the name of Old Reliable Tape Co., 1626 N. Wilcox, #107, Hollywood CA 90028, to use excerpts from his audio tapes issued by him during the period 1978-1980 for inclusion by Jack Fritscher and Mark Hemry in a sound montage soundtrack which will accompany a video of my art work being produced by Palm Drive Video, and do hereby take full legal responsibility for the inclusion of such excerpts into the Palm Drive Video featuring my work. SIGNED: Rex West, Drawings by Rex, PO Box 347, San Francisco”
In the end, the soundtrack contained nothing from Old Reliable whose work is singularly wonderful. It seemed to us that Rex was a world apart from everyone. To create what we thought would be the distinctive erotic sound of Rex’s world, Mark Hemry and I engineered a slow-jacking club beat on one trackas if it were music from down the hallwhile over the muffled thumping we mixed a variety of sounds. To suggest toilets, we poured water into buckets changing the force by raising the pitcher up and down. To suggest flophouse halls, we flicked lighters, coughed, spoke ruzza-buzza whispers, crumpled paper and leather jackets, slapped our thighs, scraped our boots on floors, jangled chains, and dropped keys all the while looking at the screen showing the silent 60-minute cut of the Rex Video Gallery. Jack Fritscher, July 10, 2001
REX: POST-SCRIPT #3