• In Plain Sight: Queer Symbolism Encoded in the Works of Marsden Hartley, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns

      Pauwels, Erin Kristl; Silk, Gerald; Silk, Gerald (Temple University. Libraries, 2019)
      Homoerotic images date back as early as 800 BCE in Persian art. Examples of homoeroticism in the arts continue in the works of the Greeks and Romans. A sharp decline in the subject coincided with the rise of Christianity and the demonization of homosexuality in Europe between 300-1000 CE. This notion of homosexuality as depraved and sinful behavior became embedded in European culture for over a millennium, and some parts of the world still believe this to be true. Criminalization of homosexuality forced most homosexual artists to hide any references to their own sexuality in their works, a practice known as “encoding,” which allowed for symbols to be hidden “in plain sight” and without context. Among the most prominent mainstream artists to utilize homosexual coding in his work was the modern American artist Marsden Hartley. Through the hidden symbols in the 1914-1915 “War Images” of his “Amerika” series, Hartley expressed his grief for his likely lover Karl van Freyberg, who had passed away following the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Following in the footsteps of Hartley queer artists working in later generations utilized similar methods of encoding to express their sexuality in a guarded fashion. Operating in the 1950s and 60s, the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns used varying methods of encoding to disguise references to their sexuality in their work. Such encoding would become a major theme of the “queer aesthetic,” where queer artists encoded symbols through semiotic methods such as floating or dual signifiers to convey their homosexuality in a covert way. In pioneering the concept of encoding, Marsden Hartley gave several generations of artists a means of expressing their sexuality in their works without being fully “out of the closet,” or revealing their sexual identity.