Eric Rhein and the Shadow of HIV/AIDS

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I want to discuss something largely forgotten by the LGBTQ+ generation of today- the AIDS crisis.

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Ken and Me – Noon – June 5th, Eric Rhein. Eric had recently made an incredible recovery, whereas his then boyfriend, Ken, was not doing so well.

 

Eric Rhein was a young artist living in the East Village of Manhattan in the 1980s, where he witnessed many  friends and lovers go through the struggle of living with HIV and AIDS. And then, in 1987, he found out he was HIV positive. Out of fear for his career, he kept the information secret for years until he found a few people he felt he could trust, and they helped him become comfortable enough to be open about his fight. Unfortunately, shortly after his courageous step he took a turn for the worse and ended up hospitalized for a stretch of time.

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Uncle Lige’s Sword, Eric Rhein. Rhein’s uncle Lige was a gay rights activist.

Referring to the time he spent at St. Vincent’s Hospital as his “Artist Residency”, the whole experience was brimming with creativity and inspiration. He felt the presence of everyone he lost to the disease around him, particularly in the leaves he found on the ground outside during his walks. Thus, his internationally collected and ongoing Leaves project began, in which he dedicates a wire silhouette of a leaf he traced to a friend with AIDS who passed away.

In his own words, “One by one, I picked up leaves until a host of kinsmen was gathered in my arms. In death, they continue to be the teachers that they were in life, generously sharing with me the gifts of their individual attributes.”

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A small selection from Leaves.

Currently, there are over 250 portraits.

We lost almost an entire generation to the AIDS crisis, and since there are so few left to tell their stories, it feels like few talk about it. Please, take some time to remember the history as you celebrate today.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the AIDS crisis in the LGBT community, I highly recommend the documentary We Were Here, available to stream on both YouTube and Netflix.) 

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Who is That Gay Art Chick?

Spoiler alert- some gay art chick.

Surprise, it’s me, the person writing this! If you were wondering what I look like before I give you a brief history of me, I can be seen below in my natural habitat rubbing art supplies on my face (or above reciting at a poetry slam a few years ago).

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This is from a few years ago, but it’s still a good description of myself.

My love for art has taken me places I never thought possible, coast to coast, city to city. Incredible opportunities started cropping up before I even gradutated high school, where I was chosen to be head student curator for a Larry Fink show, my work was shown in a professional gallery, etc. Following graduation, I packed my life into two suitcases, threw my kitten over my shoulder and moved to Portland, Oregon from my small Pennsylvania town dreaming of a career in tattooing, only to realize the Portland art scene and that profession was nowhere near what I was looking for (an epiphany I had while sipping sangria and popping Good and Plenty’s at a gallery opening dedicated to the Velvet Underground). Just over a month following that realization, my bags were packed and now my cat and I are settled into another new home in the Big Apple, where I take breaks from making drinks for people to hang around galleries and ramble about them.

At this point, I would be surprised if you weren’t questioning why you should listen to what I have to say about art, and I’m not here to argue with you. I’ve had three years of art history, four years of classical art training, and I’m still very much learning. Granted, I’ll never stop learning, but I’m inviting you to join me on my quest.