Michael Breyette’s “Illustrated Men” (My short, “Metamorhphosis” included) – Genisis of the story…
The art of Michael Breyette is exquisite, titillating; mirroring the lives, the truths of gay men in a most honest, revealing (oh, quite revealing!) celebration of color, form, storytelling implicit in each picture. It is art that expresses, through the beauty of the male form, the full gamut of human emotion; joy, sadness, yearning, companionship, sharing.
Some time ago, Michael wondered how writers–published or not–would interpret his work if given the chance to reflect on a particular painting through their own storytelling, rather than what Michael had in mind when he created the painting. The long-awaited result of Michael’s curiosity was published last month by MLR Press, entitled “Illustrated Men.” There is an electronic version available at MLR, and a print version at Amazon. This is a beautiful book, not only because of Breyette’s wonderful paintings, or even the great storytelling from the authors who participated, but also because of the gorgeous interior layout of the book provided by MLR’s Senior Editor and Formatting Director Kris Jacen. It is also important to note that producing a book like this is no small task, at no small expense. Laura Baumbach, MLR’s Owner and Publisher (besides being a quite prolific and award-winning author) said yes to Breyette’s idea which, I’m sure, many other small or large publishing houses would not have taken on simply because of the magnitude of the effort. Thank you, Ms. Baumbach.
As to the genesis of the short, “Metamorphosis,” I wont giveaway the content of the picture, or my storytelling that accompanies it. (Maybe just a snippet.) What I will tell you is that when I first looked at Bryettet’s painting, “Metamorphosis,” I was immediately taken back to a very much simpler time and place in my life. I had just returned to Denver, my home, from two years in the Army (having earned my B.A. before I enlisted), and, having FINALLY accepted my sexuality as a gift, I happily celebrated that part of my psyche with–as I think about it now–a particular vengeance. I had a lot of catching up to do.
In those days there were 3.2 beer joints in Denver, at least two of them gay owned and operated. If you were at least eighteen, and had I.D. to prove it, you could partake of the merriment in those establishments. One of the bars, The Apartment, was a small place where I’d found my comfortable corner; a place where youngsters (Oh, how I loved the youngsters! Still do!) gathered, partied, hooked up. Every Sunday afternoon Frank, the owner of the bar, would host a drag show that saw the tiny dance floor cleared, a spotlight set up, and the performers’ songs prerecorded on cassette tapes. There was one fairly regular performer, I’ll call him Rusty, whose lip sync was, well, adequate, and whose body was absolutely luscious. He knew what his asset was. And he worked it with slow sensuous moves, to slow sensuous songs, gradually removing his clothing until he was down to his jockstrap. Yes, a striptease, that no “working girl” would be caught dead performing. The drag queens despised Rusty, but the crowd loved him. I suppose the queens believed he was in some way defiling their “art,” demeaning their calling to female impersonation. Rusty never did drag. Just lip synced and stripped.
I wrote a short about Rusty many years ago, that had him considering “upgrading” his performance; maybe taking some ballet lessons, and adding a little “class” to his act. That striving for a little “class,” and the eventual result provided the ending to that long-ago written short. And from that short, from the ending of that short came the idea for my admittedly quirky, kind of funky story accompanying Breyette’s painting, “Metamorphosis.”
So, there’s the genesis of the story. Suspect Breyette had something else altogether in mind when he created the painting. But, then, that was the point of Breyette’s curiosity, his vision for the collection anyway.
Snippet: Deaglan worked a few years in construction, bartended, watied tables. Served filet mignon and bouillabaisse, eased corks from twenty-year-old bottles. Appreciated the attention given to his looks as something he couldn’t help, nor wanted to. Seemed clothes tended to caress his body like shrink wrap a valued commodity. Gave up on underwear. Smiled at faces, men and women–forks shoveling chunks of rare meat into wide mouths–whose eyes captured, for later fanciful reference, the swing of a goodly treasure against the fine, thin linen Deaglan preferred. Pleased himself with a turn of his head, seeing in some of those same eyes a perceived desire to gnaw on the tightly muscled jut of his ass, framing a slit that surely promised deeper treasures. Dessert here, anyone?