As with any city worth living in, Austin poses its residents with challenges and opportunities, whether you are a local native of some years or a budding import of some fewer. As a resident lying somewhere in between, I am faced with the task of upholding to the city’s adoptive mantra of “Keeping it Weird” — which is fine, I take more or less any opportunity presented to unfurl the old Freak Flag and let it pridefully fly. It can, however, become rather difficult to at once proclaim and preserve one’s nonconformity when the undeviating expectation of you is to conform to the recurrent act of doing so.
That said, I’ve borne witness to some categorically weird stuff in my time here. I have seen naked cowboys sauntering bareback on muscular brown stallions down South Congress Avenue. I have seen an angry Latino dwarf punch two full-sized Black women in the crotch(es) amidst the chaos and confusion of a brawl on Sixth Street, where I have also seen a sorority girl hold back another’s hair who was vomiting into a substantial pile of manure, then stumble into said pile with both six-inch heels. I have seen more samurai-knots or man-buns or whatever they’re called than could possibly have existed in all of Medieval Japan. I have also seen Eeyore’s Birthday, which is exactly as weird as it sounds, so you’ll just have to look that up on your own time, because I’ve got none to get into it here.
And needless to say, I have seen a great deal more. But on the Saturday of April 11th, I was exposed to a whole new glorious level of oddity during my participation in/attendance of Austin’s very own and inimitable ArtErotica, a charity auction for queer artwork hosted by The Octopus Club where proceeds are donated to AIDS Services of Austin, and the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund. I offered my services in a volunteer capacity as model — along with three other brave souls — charged with posing on stage for several hours in makeup and outfits which were to be designated prior to the event.
Having been prefaced to the gig’s nature and eccentricity by my trusted photographer, Orlando Sanchez, I felt pretty good about going into this thing with an open mind to match its open bar — which, if you’re wondering, is a pretty surefire way to get me to sign up for anything. I figured we’d roll in there, take our shirts off, grab some free drinks and stand around looking pretty, all of which would be likely to occur on your ordinary night at a gay club, anyway. I had never done still posing before (way harder than it sounds), nor any form of live modeling, for that matter; but I’ve also never been one for saying no to a new adventure. Live fast. Die young. Good looking corpse. Open bar.
We begin at an empty warehouse formerly of retail home improvement conventionality (literally, the place is a disused Home Depot), spacious and grey in its abandonment, but about to become very full of life, love and color. All of the art is hung up on wire fencing or fixed to the floor, which is made of cement, and thoroughly cold.
Exhibits up for auction include craft arts such as the Penis Project or the Bra Project, a range of nude photographs (some more tastefully done than others), sculptures (primarily of penises), ink imprints of a female bottom and vagina (the source of which I ended up knowing), drawings — endless drawings — depicting pre/mid/post-coital fantasies appealing to what must be every documented variety of sexual orientation. And penises. Did I mention the abundance of penises?
Then there was us, the models, each of whom — two females and one other male — were set to be live drawn in charcoal by the artists who were kind enough to accompany us to the event (Emily Berry, Lamar Mathurin, Eric Lothspeich and, of course, Mr. Sanchez himself). This year’s chosen theme was an intentionally creepy sort of vaudevillian take on puppetry, with the aesthetic addition of a certain sexual inclination.
Body paint and makeup were worn in very large quantity and clothing in very little, if at all. A black-and-white color scheme was applied uniformly and to dramatic effect. We were instructed to act as human marionettes, hanging from ropes and pulleys with deliberate lifelessness and inanimate eroticism (the only legal fetishization of rigor mortis that I’ve ever heard or been a part of).
So we did, and it was a blast, albeit totally exhausting. The crowds drew in impressive numbers to our weird little snapshot of semi-pornographic retro theatre. Evidently, there had been many requests for performance of a more hard core persuasion, and even mild complaints that ours was “too G-rated”. In spite of this, patrons seemed overwhelmingly to enjoy the exhibition, cheering avidly all the while and complimenting us personally when it was finished.
On the half hour we were allowed ten minute breaks from holding to pose, all of which were used by yours truly to rest his skinny ass legs and pound double vodka-sodas two at a time, courtesy of a scantily clad and delightfully flattering cocktail waiter named Christian. I relied on Christian for libations throughout the evening, as the bartender — who, to his credit, did pour them up very stiff — was very forward in his outspoken expression of desire for carnal pleasures, reacting to seeing me for the first time by saying “be still, my throbbing cock”.
During my time offstage, I made the notable acquaintance of an older gentleman of flamboyant dress and disposition, who enthusiastically introduced himself as Jim. The man was kind enough to offer me a penis cookie from a tray he was bearing at waist level. When I politely declined his offer, telling him that I wasn’t hungry, he lifted the tray and revealed his literal penis cookie (to which gravity and the years have not been kind). This was just another step into unexplored territory for me, but a distinctly jarring one, if I’m honest.
Nonetheless, those in attendance were colorful, charming, and exclusively entertaining to speak with on every occasion. Though I did not have much time for exploration and interview while tending to my stage duties, the men and women I did come across provided much in the way of journalistic material. Too, Orlando got some excellent photos of the evening’s magic, and all of the artists produced singularly and undeniably impressive work using an efficient combination of charcoal and raw talent (such as this one by Eric Lothspeich of a rather dashing and intoxicated young man):
The 25th annual ArtErotica was nothing short of a damn good time; and indeed the only thing it was more so was refreshingly, decidedly, and incomparably weird. Undoubtedly the most inspiring aspect of this event, though, was the total absence of propriety and inhibition that was created and flourished in that spacious, poorly-lit Home Depot. To those about to rock out with their cocks out, I salute you.