Jared French's Magic Realism

Is all male nudity in art and photography necessarily homoerotic? Continuing to explore artists who eroticized the male figure before Tom of Finland's career began, we look at bisexual artist Jared French.

BY Christopher Harrity

November 19 2011 3:00 AM ET

Jared French's most often used technique, the painstaking process of egg tempera, reflected the depth of thought and detail that went into his work. Paul Cadmus, French, and George Tooker all used the technique and shared a downtown studio.

After leaving Amherst College in 1925, French met artist Paul Cadmus in New York. Both fair and beautiful, they became lovers for a short time and lifelong friends. Cadmus was a commercial artist at the time, and French convinced him to give it up to pursue his career in fine art.

French married mutual friend and artist Margaret Hoening, and in a remarkably modern move the three formed an artistic collective called PAJAMA (Paul, Jared, Margaret) and focused on photography, mostly of their early days on Fire Island.

Their pictures of Fire Island and the art community gathering there helped popularize Fire Island as a gay resort area and influenced French's paintings.

The magic realists were swimming upstream in the popular art world at a time when abstract expressionism and nonfigurative painting were dominating the scene. The swaggering abstract rxpressionists were openly homophobic, and even the regionalist figurative painters like Thomas Hart Benton were obsessed with being perceived as masculine and manly, constantly baiting European artists as being fey and feminine.

Nevertheless French and Cadmus enjoyed popularity. Though it was a more urbane audience that would connect with French's Jungian-inspired figures in semi-dreamscapes, picking up on the subtle clues he painted into his work.

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