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From the 1930s on, Cadmus steadfastly has painted the male nude within a milieu in which, as he says, "heterosexuality has always ruled." Given his clear-cut understanding of this identity-based power dynamic, perhaps the queerest thing about Cadmus and his work is his (and its) reluctance to fully acknowledge the queer content that appears so overt to contemporary viewers who know all the insider signs. While Cadmus always has been "out,' his reluctance to speak at length regarding the recognizably gay aspects of his oeuvre stems, I think, both from his reluctance to be pigeonholed and from the fact that he came of age among a generation of gay men who typically didn't have "we're here, we're queer, get used to it" tattooed on their foreheads.
As much as some younger artists would like to see Cadmus adopt the persona of nonagenarian poster boy for Gay Y2K, he's generally content to let his images speak for themselves. That's his choice to make; more perplexing, frankly, is the majority of critical writing on Cadmus that blatantly ignores his gay perspective and homoerotic imagery. Lincoln Kirstein, founding director of the New York City Ballet and the artist's self-defined bisexual brother-in-law (married to Cadmus's sister, Fidelma), wrote the "definitive" Cadmus monograph with nary a mention of the artist's crucial homoeroticism, preferring to tiptoe around the truth with statements like, "As for sexual factors, he has without ostentation or polemic long celebrated somatic health in boys and young men for its symbolic range of human possibility. His addiction to aspects of physical splendor has never been provocative, sly, nor ambitious to proselytize."

I wish Kirstein had taken a more careful look at the slender lad sporting a box kite and a noticeable bulge in "Aviator," or the mine's-bigger-than-yours posturing and relentless cruising on display in "Y.M.C.A. Locker Room" (not pictured). Even more telling is "Manikins," in which two small artist's models lovingly do the nasty atop a copy of Corydon, André Gide's plea for queer rights. Never before or since has the body politic been represented so charmingly.

Despite what Kirstein and others have--or haven't--said, Cadmus's work clearly has been heavily informed by his sexuality; his male nudes and satiric swipes exude a coolly palpable sensuality. Cadmus isn't homogenic, however. In "Sunday Sun," a hetero couple seek out precious rays of light amid the Dickensian grime of their oppressive urban sprawl.

In "Subway Symphony," Cadmus trains his compassionate yet keenly wicked eye on a sideshow of grotesques, from ridiculous hippies to religious zealots, all of whom are having a bad hair day. While some viewers object to Cadmus's cruel reduction of the masses to broad stereotypes, the artist insists on his secular humanitarianism: "Will it be said that I am anti-Semitic, anti-black, anti-white, anti-hard hat, anti-ALL, anti-people? I am NOT. I am anti a society that makes people this way, that makes humanoids of humans, an environment that causes this…I am FOR human beings as individuals."

One human being in particular who Cadmus has been for as an individual is Jon Andersson, a cabaret singer with whom the artist has been linked for more than thirty years. In "The Haircut," Andersson snips his older partner's distinguished white locks. In an ongoing series of chalk and crayon drawings, Cadmus depicts Andersson as muse, thinker, sleeper, lover and Beauty incarnate.

Recalling portraits by Michelangelo, Ingres and Degas, Cadmus's images of Andersson illustrate his comment on the drawing process: "I specialize in male nudes. I've done many more males than females. I like to do females too, but they're sort of harder to come by in a way. And they don't generally pose as well as men. They have a tendency to faint. I think--and I don't know whether this is just my own idea--that men are vainer than women in that they work harder at their posing. Maybe women think that they're so lovely that they don't have to pose well, I'm not sure." In any event, the subtle highlighting of genitals, hands and feet in Cadmus's portraits of Andersson suggest that male beauty is a mystery that the artist never truly desires to solve.

Paul Cadmus has plumbed the depths of this mystery throughout his long and illustrious career, producing canvases slowly but steadily at a rate of two or three per year. Now in his nineties, Cadmus shows little sign of disrupting his annual routine or of ceasing to debate the thrills and hazards of the body politic. In other words, the fleet is still in.

Steven Jenkins

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Male Nude NM126, 1965-66
crayons on paper
23 x 17 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NYC
Male Nude NM2, 1965
crayons on hand-toned paper
10 3/4 x 16 1/2 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NYC

The Venetian Chair NM170, 1983
crayons on toned Strathmore paper
21 x 16 3/4 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NYC

Subway Symphony, 1975-76
Acrylic on canvas
46 x 92 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NYC

The Haircut, 1986
Egg tempera on gesso panel
20 1/2 x 17 7/8 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NYC

Egg tempera on gesso panel
24 x 11 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NYC

Jon Reading NM248, 1992
crayons on hand-toned paper
16 1/4 x 11 1/2 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NYC
Seated Nude NM268, 1994
Crayons on toned paper
23 3/4 x 17 inches
Courtesy: DC Moore Gallery, New York

Male Nude Z26, 1998
crayons on gray Strathmore paper,
toned with india ink & rust brown acrylic
14 1/2 x 20 5/8 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NYC

Me: 1940-1990, 1990
crayons on grey paper
9 3/4 x 9 5/8 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NYC

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