Bobby Abate
Bobby Abate

For much of the past 20 years, whenever someone asked me what I do, there was an awkward moment where I’d struggle to find a suitable answer. Throughout this period, I wore many hats at once: artist, filmmaker, screenwriter, television editor and Tarot creator. It was a strange feeling to be in the middle of my life without a simple answer to such a simple question. Recently, I embraced a single word as a unifier, to break down the walls I built to compartmentalize the various roles I play: QUEER.

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(Above) Image still from A Party Record by Bobby Abate; (Below) Excerpt from A Party Record by Bobby Abate

I’ve always been attracted by things hidden in the shadows. In the popular imagination, the inhabitants of shadows are traditionally demons, villains, vampires, deviants, and monsters. The term QUEER can also serve to unite all these roles. Growing up as a feminine boy, I actively sought refuge in the shadows to avoid ridicule and violence even though it made me feel invisible and disconnected from the world. As an artist, I am inspired by people, places and objects that have long been forgotten or deemed obsolete. Whether an old beach town, a forgotten pulp fiction writer, or a 1970s black and white tube camera, I recognize these shadow dwellers as somehow queer in their own right. I am curious about their history, purpose, and how they came to be discarded and forgotten. My works spotlight these discoveries to be reconsidered in a modern context — and unified through a queer perspective.

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Carlson Wade, painting by Bobby Abate

The screenplay I’m currently writing was sparked to life 20 years ago when I chanced upon a sleazy 1960s paperback exposé by a writer named Carlson Wade. Titled The Lonely Sex, Carlson wrote about dozens of sex parties he proported to attend in person at the onset of the sexual revolution. The intention was to offer first-hand accounts of deeply depraved acts of homosexuality, sadomasochism and exhibitionism that threatened to destroy America.

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The Lonely Sex, painting by Bobby Abate

Through extensive research, I discovered that Carlson compartmentalized his life into firebrand conservative author by day, queer by night. The discovery of this forgotten, overlooked pulp opened an investigation into queer histories encoded in gay-themed paperbacks published before the Stonewall riots, known as the Homophile Era.

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Ink drawings by Bobby Abate

My research of queer history also inspires my 2d work in pencil, ink and paint. I am working on a collection of paintings and drawings inspired by photographs, magazines, catalogs, articles, listing services and pornography focused on the queer underground, drag culture and evolving forms of gender expression from the homophile era. QUEER OBJECTS is an ongoing series of 8×8 inch pen and ink drawings of objects collected throughout my life, most of which were mass-produced. The intent is to install these tiles in pictorial groups on the gallery wall, an autobiography recounted through modern queer hieroglyphs.

Ink drawings by Bobby Abate

One exhibition that particularly influenced my artistic practice was the Prinzhorn Collection at the Drawing Center in New York City in 2000. featuring artwork created by the mentally ill at the turn of the 19th century. This collection of deeply personal and emotionally charged pieces that were rendered with delicate lines, dense patterns, and surreal images, reminded me that the communicative power of 2d work can not be replicated in any other medium.

Other Voices Other Rooms by Bobby Abate

Other Voices, Other Rooms, currently on exhibition at Main Street Arts is a mixed-media work that melds together fantasy, horror, and humor. The piece depicts Darth Vader and Truman Capote as deities hovering above scenes of violence, mundane domestic life, Italian charms, towering pines, and chopped-down trees — all of which are enclosed by obsessive patterns in colored pencil.

Small Works 2022 includes 200 works of art by 200 artists from 32 states and runs through Friday, December 23, 2022.

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