The Queens Court
Executed while the artist was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago under Ray Yoshida, the drawings are at once fantastical and brutally real, sophisticated and youthfully playful. In the period of their making Wright came of age: embracing his queerness, frequenting the underground gay bars of Chicago alongside having to identify in the morgue the corpse of his best friend, murdered in a homophobic attack, and being rejected from the Vietnam War draft, the word HOMOSEXUAL stamped in red on his papers. All of the drawings from this period have a burned edge, as they are all that remains of his work of the period after a nearly totalizing 1971 studio fire. As such they appear as dispatches from a lost age, reflecting both the youthful innocence and the searing violence of the late 1960’s in America.
The subject matter of the drawings reflects the fertile and wide-reaching imagination of youth. The exhibition’s eponymous work is a study of 17th Century Spanish court dwarves painted by Velasquez fused with the freaks of the traveling circuses Wright attended as a child in 1950’s Kentucky. Wright’s storyboard-style drawings evoke the harsh realities of rural isolation filtered through the filmic language of Antonioni. The 169, a luridly colored depiction of an underground queer dance club in Chicago, the first in which Wright experienced open queer affection and racial integration, is part Weimar Berlin louche and part Motown glamour. This drawing serves as a precursor to the artist’s widely celebrated 1970’s drawings of New York underground life, both in subject matter and style.
A series of remarkable ink drawings of female nudes comes from Wright’s experience in life drawing class, an academic exercise that jarred with his Yoshida-influenced belief in the transformation from form to feeling. Wright quickly abandoned technical verisimilitude in pencil in favor of the indelible lightness of ink to create a grouping of caricatures of feminine identity, in essence queering life drawing, evincing narrative out of formal rigor. On the occasion of this exhibition, FIERMAN, in conjunction with Heinzfeller Nileisist, is releasing a publication of all Wright’s extant figure drawings alongside new writing in response to the material by Candystore.