Spring 2019, Volume 26

Photos by Katie Gilmartin

For Alternate Non-Flash Gallery

List of images:

 1 "Bridge Of No Return" ("Pulps" series)
 2 "Fog City" ("Pulps" series)
 3 "Hellcats of Alcatraz" ("Pulps" series)
 4 "Sisters" ("Queer Words" series)
 5 "Streetcar to Mayhem" ("Pulps" series)
 6 "Village People" ("Queer Words" series)
 7 "The City With No Shame" ("Pulps" series)
 8 "Friends of Dorothy" ("Queer Words" series)
 9 "The Fog" ("Pulps" series)
10 "Cruising" ("Queer Words" series)
11 "Thrill Peddlers" ("Pulps" series)
12 "Queen" ("Queer Words" series)
13 "Whisper His Sin" ("Pulps" series)
14 "Packing" ("Queer Words" series)
15 "Stonewall" ("Queer Words" series)


Artist Statement:

My prints consistently interweave the visual and the verbal.  The “Queer Words” series explores the multiple meanings of LGBTQ slang—retooled epithets, secret codes, and camp— as a record of creative resistance.  “Friends of Dorothy,” for example: a phrase that emerged during World War II as a covert way of asking about another’s sexual preferences.  It is unclear whether the expression originated as a reference to Dorothy Parker or the Wizard of Oz, but in either case,  “Are you a friend of Dorothy?” would sound perfectly innocuous to those not in the know, while providing the rest with an opportunity to recognize one other.  It is such a gentle weapon of self-defense, it seems to me, that our predecessors crafted in response to extreme and legally sanctioned homophobia.  My fondness for the phrase increased exponentially upon learning that it played a role in a Navel investigation of homosexuality in the Chicago area during the early 1980s.  When they heard that gay men frequently referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy,” intrepid Naval investigators launched a massive hunt for said Dorothy, hoping to persuade her to reveal the names of the many gay service members she apparently counted among her friends.  

My “Pulps” are faux pulp fiction covers: art for novels I’ve invented that are set in 1950s San Francisco and celebrate the city’s history.  My interest in the genre dates from my graduate school days, interviewing older lesbians about their lives in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.  More than one life story told to me was anchored by an electrifying moment in a rural podunk’s Five and Dime.  She was browsing the wire racks of trashy fiction when a racy cover caught her eye: a haughty brunette, a melting blonde, and a world of tension between them.  She furtively bought the novel and cried over its tragic ending, but within its pages found a name for her desires.

For the most part, judging vintage pulp novels by their covers would be overly charitable.  Nonetheless, the covers express eloquently the social tensions of the era.  Gender terrorizes, as men resolutely strive to prove their manhood and women exist to adorn.  Women’s sexuality terrifies, threatening to tear the known world asunder.  Race, if not white, lurks in the shadows, enticingly exotic or menacing.  Gay sexuality mesmerizes, a hovering contagion.  Desire between women existed, in the astonishing number of lesbian pulps published in this era, primarily to titillate men.  To some extent, the very fact that these books read today as overblown camp or offensive dreck is an indication of how far we’ve come.  And yet I find myself drawn to reclaiming pulp art’s busty babes; sex may have been their only source of power, but what delicious domination it was.

In writing blurbs for these fabricated novels, I engaged deeply with the aesthetics of pulp fiction and noir.  Gradually, the text outgrew the prints and became an actual novel: Blackmail, My Love, an illustrated noir mystery, winner of Lambda and IndieFab Gold Awards.  Blackmail, My Love is set in San Francisco in the Dark Ages of Queerdom: 1951.  Josie O’Conner searches for her brother, a private dick who disappeared while investigating a blackmail ring targeting lesbians and gay men.  Josie adopts Jimmy’s trousers and wingtips as well as his investigation, battling to clear his name, halt the blackmailers, and exact justice for the mounting number of Queer corpses.  Along the way she rubs shoulders with a sultry chanteuse running a dyke tavern called Pandora’s Box; gets intimate with a red-headed madame operating a brothel from the Police Personnel Department; and conspires with the star of Finocchio’s, a dive so disreputable it's off limits to servicemen – so every man in uniform pays a visit.   


About the Artist:

My checkered past includes stints as a miserable graduate student, buoyant union organizer, bona fide sex researcher, and deeply engaged college professor.  I attended Oberlin College and Yale Graduate School, then for over a decade taught cultural studies with an emphasis on the histories of gender and sexuality.  On an urgent quest to relocate pleasure, I studied printmaking at SOMArts, San Francisco’s South of Market Cultural Center, and became utterly smitten with the medium as art and as craft.  I surrendered my academic life to assume care of Chrysalis Print Studio, where I now teach outrageously fun linocut and monotype classes.  Along the way I co-founded City Art Cooperative Gallery, a thriving artspace on Valencia Street, and the Queer Ancestors Project, which is devoted to forging sturdy relationships between young LGBTQ people and their ancestors.

I am currently working on my next illustrated novel, Thrill Spot: a fictional account of a factual police raid on a lesbian bar called Tommy’s Place in San Francisco’s North Beach.  The 1954 raid is the stuff of legend: lurid headlines claiming seduction of teenage girls in a lesbian “Vice Academy,” swaggering butches, police graft, political intrigue, and angry legions marshaled by the PTA.  While it was a home-grown sex panic, the raid was also part of a nation-wide crackdown on Queer bars.  The novel will be deeply rooted in historical fact, while imagining the lives of Queer and Trans ancestors with humor, passion, and mourning. 

For more information about printmaking classes, art, writing, and more, please visit katiegilmartin.com

Contact: katie@katiegilmartin.com