A homoerotic painting by Bruce Sargeant

… appearing on Pinterest yesterday. This led me to a most remarkable story about the painter. Who, as it turns out, is a fictitious artistic personality (complete with a complex life history and a substantial body of works) created by the prodigiously creative American artist Mark Beard.

Now, two things. First, about the actual person Mark Beard, and that’s a whale of a story in itself. Then the complete record of a 2010 exhibition by Bruce Sargeant, on the artland site: “Bruce Sargeant (1898-1938): Private Paintings (14 Jul – 14 Aug 2020)”, with extraordinary and detailed notes on this exhibition.

Mark Beard. From Wikipedia:

Mark Beard (born 1956 in Salt Lake City) is an American artist. In addition to being a noted stage set designer., Beard works in prints, paint, and as a sculptor. His portraits, nudes, bronzes, and handicrafted books have been exhibited all over the world.

Beard resides in a studio in Hell’s Kitchen that he bought with his partner, James Manfredi.

… Beard is noted for his objection to the fact that while artists may pass through different stages or periods, success comes from branding the artist with one particular style. Beard therefore has developed a number of distinct artistic personalities, each with a detailed biography and portrait photograph, to enable himself to work in a variety of styles and mediums.

His different artistic personalities include:

— Bruce Sargeant (1898–1938), (a spoof on John Singer Sargent) who died in a tragic wrestling accident;

— Hippolyte-Alexandre Michallon (1849–1930), French beaux-art painter who was the teacher of Bruce Sargeant;

— Edith Thayer Cromwell (1893–1962), an English friend and colleague of Michallon;

— Brechtholdt Streeruwitz (1890–1973), a rival of Cromwell from Vienna; and

— Peter Coulter (b. 1948), a New York-based African-American artist who was influenced by Cromwell and Streeruwitz’s work.

Each of these artists works in a different style. For example, Streeruwitz is expressionist and more somber, while Coulter’s style is postmodern art.

Featured works by Beard acting as Bruce Sargeant (such as large paintings, friezes and a bronze sculpture) have been installed since 2005 in Abercrombie & Fitch’s flagship stores [around the world]

The Artland exhibition.

In 1928, the life of painter Bruce Sargeant was poised for a newfound period of prosperity and success. Sargeant’s father sadly passed away two years prior, but his death set in motion the sale of the family business, which allowed the young man a fixed allowance and the freedom to pursue his art unencumbered. He began exhibiting his canvases more regularly, both in fashionable London and locally in South Yorkshire. By 1929, Sargeant set out for the artistic epicenter of Paris in pursuit of advancing his career and finding love. While in The City of Light, the painter attended life drawing sessions at the Académie Julian and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, while navigating a stormy affair with a French avocat. Eventually forced to terminate the relationship with the volatile and jealous Frenchman, Sargeant sailed for New York City in 1930, where he pursued contact with the Ashcan School of painters, notably John Sloan and George Luks (as the group’s leader, Robert Henri, died the previous year). Sargeant soon rented a small cottage in the Berkshires north of the city, but the American stock market crash of 1929 quickly began to take its toll on his inheritance. It was during this period of relative isolation and in the face of a frighteningly uncertain future that Sargeant’s work became more imaginary and illicit.

In canvases such as “Locker Room Scene — Charlie in Three States of Undress,” the artist experiments with the concept of narrative time. Not unlike Marcel Duchamp’s then already infamous painting “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” of 1912, Sargeant simultaneously portrays the same figure multiple times in different positions surrounded by a group of other athletes from the gymnasium. The effect is one of a description of movement or the passage of moments.

In other works completed during Sargeant’s lockdown in the remote cabin, his artistic mind started to explore the fantastical world of the circus as seen in the monumental canvas “Ringleader and Dutiful Pupil Under the Big Top.” While the artist never abandoned his adherence to live models, through the use of costumes and props his paintings began to enter the realm of fantasy and role play (see “Nude Fencer in Powdered Peruke with Épée” also included in the show).

And it was from this point that the artist’s works began to explore deeper, more explicit levels of sexuality. Whereas Sargeant’s earlier works idealized the young male form in coy tableaux of innocent homosociality, the new double-sided paintings of the early 1930s are explicitly homosexual for the first time.

Mark Beard, a contemporary artist residing in New York City, has long known of the existence of these blatantly risqué works by his great uncle, but has waited until now to share with the general public this previously unseen side of the painter’s oeuvre. Having devoted more than two decades of his life to researching and collecting the work of Bruce Sargeant, Mark Beard was cautious about revealing the more libidinous and shocking compositions, which bring Sargeant’s artistic output closer to controversial figures such as the Frenchmen Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet, as well as his fellow countryman Duncan Grant (whom he may well have known during his years experimenting as a writer in Bloomsbury in the early 1920s).

Wow. A remarkable tour de force (‘an impressive performance or achievement that has been accomplished or managed with great skill’ (NOAD))


One Response to “A homoerotic painting by Bruce Sargeant”

  1. Gary Says:

    Thanks for introducing me to this painter and his personas. Bruce Sargeant is fun.

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