Earlier in June, the Utah Pride Foundation celebrated Pride Month with a story garden in Salt Lake City featuring the work of many LGBTQ artists. UPR’s Darcy Ritchie spoke with two of the featured artists about the power of art and their experiences as members of the LGBTQ community in Utah.
The sound of passing cars and nearby construction is the soundtrack to Megan Wilson’s art studio on the third floor balcony of her apartment complex.
Wilson is studying art at Utah State University with an emphasis in printmaking.
“It's a really unique thing, because it's such a historically heavy kind of art form, which I suppose they all are," Wilson said. "But in my realm of interest, which is like social systems, it particularly plays a big part. It's basically like making newspapers but with art.”
Wilson works in the archives at Utah State and has been collecting scans of the campus newspaper for nearly two years. She’s started printing on those.
“The other day I was working in there, and I saw from 1941 one of the student newspapers, there's the editors on the cover and these two guys, and they're holding hands," Wilson said. "Yeah, just like real sneaky in the corner. And it was like, pre-World War II draft. And they were the editors. It wasn't an accident, you know. So I've been doing a lot of research into them, and I want to do my next art piece on that.”
She said that her queer identity is an integral part of how she sees the world, and that shows through her art.
“A lot of times, it's one of those things that people would prefer you just tucked away and be a little easier to swallow," Wilson said. "But I think it inclines me to approach the subjects that I paint or draw or whatever, from a different angle, because I've always lived in a different angle. And I don't know what it's like to live in a normal angle.”
One of Wilson’s prints was displayed at the Utah Pride Foundation’s Pride Story Garden at the beginning of June.
“I think it's really cool to see myself in those, like, history books in a way, where I have been, like, nitpicking for any kind of crumb, like someone holding a hand in 1941, just to see that there was evidence of people like me," Wilson said. "And so seeing this whole block full of people like me, and their stories, and the art that they make was really, really special. I definitely cried.”
Also displayed at the Pride Story Garden was a photograph of a nude man standing outdoors by artist Billy Clouse.
“It's not depicting anything in terms of genitals, but there was a cover over the area where that would be," Clouse said. "It was interesting because you know what's underneath the cover, so you don't need to look, but you still want to. There's that curiosity there, and it's kind of playing off of that. And when you flip it up, it's pixelated and said something along the lines of like, made you look or something like that. So then there's this tension building, and then it's a joke.”
Clouse said that the artwork calls out censorship. The display was adapted from a previous work that was censored by Southern Utah University, where they studied graphic design.
One of Clouse’s favorite works he has done is a series of photographs of nude men recreating famous landmarks in Utah.
“Doing it with nude men especially is very uncommon," Clouse said. "There's a lot of nudity in art, that's almost entirely females because it tends to be the straight men making the art. So as a gay man making the art, I’m like, make it gay.”
Not only did Clouse have his art on display at the garden, but they were the team lead for the exhibition production team, working with a team to put together the content for the exhibit. He also designed most of the original pieces that were in the garden.
“I think queer art is so important in Utah, because we have a lot of queer people," Clouse said. "And I think from a storytelling standpoint, there are things you can say and communicate through art that you can't necessarily through words, and people are more likely to engage with it.”
Clouse said that its important to give a voice to queer artists, especially since there isn’t always a place for queer art. He’s had his own experiences with anger and censorship when trying to exhibit his art.
“I grew up, like most people, feeling ashamed for who I was, and hiding it," Clouse said. "I spent six years in denial, finally admitted myself and then hid it for another two years. And now that I'm out, like, I want to tell those stories, I want other people to see themselves. And, you know, to, especially now that I'm in Utah, showing off that, you know, it's okay to be queer and have this be part of your identity, and sometimes it's in the background and sometimes it's at the forefront.”