Don Herron (USA) passed away in 2012: May he rest in peace!
Don and I were lovers, partners and friends back in the NYC artist heydays of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Don was an accomplished visual artist (silk screen prints, painting and photography) and later worked as a writer/journalist as well. During our years together he created the now infamous “Tub shots” series, featuring many personalities of the day from San Francisco and New York City, including: Robert Mapplethorpe (See Don’s iconic portrait of Mapplethorpe HERE), Jackie Curtis HERE, Belle de Jour, Bob Opal, John Kelly, Holly Woodlawn HERE, Charles Busch HERE, Ellen Stewart HERE, Peter Hujar, Cassandra, Paula Sequeira, Keith Haring HERE and HERE and many more.
I remember quite well meeting Robert Mapplethorpe the day Don delivered his photo print to him. We were received at the door by one of several gorgeous (mostly naked) young men in s/m gear. Mapplethorpe himself was a god. Funny … I first seduced Don while wearing cowboy gear on Christopher Street. I had been conducting my own “art-social experiment”, visiting the same gay bars in the West Village every night for one week but dressed as a different gay fantasy each night … in order to test out whether (or not) attractions were based upon drag/fantasy or other things. I met my Texan on “Cowboy Night”. Many of my gay experiences during that period are documented in my book “Entre Nous et Eux” (2017). Back then being “gay” and being a “performance artist” were often two sides of the same coin.
Here is the story: I have been so fortunate as to have met many inspiring persons in my many decades on this planet — some quite famous, and others not so well-known to the masses. A handful of these personalities have left lasting impressions on me; some even after just a brief meeting. One such person was Robert Mapplethorpe. In February of 1978 my partner (Don Herron) and I visited Robert Mapplethorpe at his loft in NYC, to deliver this iconic bathtub portrait that Don had taken of Robert – as part of Don’s famous Tubshots series. Robert had a powerful magnetism that shone through easily. He looked like the very definition of health and virility.
We were first greeted by a young man in s&m attire, who opened the door to reveal several other (semi-)nude young sex gods busy at work (doing whatever they did). Eventually the most gorgeous sex god of them all — Mapplethorpe, himself — received Don and I. I had — of course seen the photo that Don had taken, which was quite amazing — but Mapplethorpe himself was absolutely enthralling: beautiful to look at, hot and sexy, and at once kind and down-to-earth. This meeting was many years before I, myself, had become infected with the AIDS virus; although Mapplethorpe and I frequented many of the same sex clubs and other venues. Eleven years later Robert was dead, of AIDS. And four years after that I began my own fight for my life, after an AIDS diagnosis. Robert was just one of many who died back then … and since — all too many. I was an international and national AIDS-activist for over two decades, and now I am simply known as a «survivor». Sometimes when I think about the many beautiful and talented men I have known who succumbed to the disease and its stigma, I still feel a bit of «survivor guilt». Watching the documentary about Robert Mapplethorpe, and seeing his artwork on my walls makes me feel that guilt. But it also drives me to use every bit of talent that I can muster to create art and literature, and help to encourage others to live creatively. Had it not been for the AIDS diagnosis and my long struggle to survive then my personal courage and conviction would not have been what it is today, and certainly not my art and literature either.
We are all searching for ways to leave our mark on history — both as a confirmation that we did something for humanity, and to justify our minutes/hours/years of consumption and wear-and-tear on the planet. Those who have creative disciplines work to leave behind their ideas and visions in various artworks. And then when we suddenly get a message or diagnosis telling us that we are living on limited time/borrowed time then the urge to produce art and literature becomes manic. That is how I have managed to publish so many books and to have numerous art exhibitions etc. That is also part of Mapplethorpe’s drive in his last years. I call AIDS “the great Teacher”.
Here I wish to present some links to some of Mapplethorpe’s art, his history and a wonderful tribute to him at the queerhistory.blogspot.
Don’s portrait of me is HERE:
And here is his iconic portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe:
2018 UPDATES TO THIS BLOG POST:
Read about the 2018 retrospective of Tubshots HERE!
Adam Donaldson Powell: A Personal comment on Herron, the East Village Artist movement in the 1970s-1980s etc.
This period of art, AIDS and gay cultural development in NYC and SF is difficult to sum up — as is evident from the many who now comment that they can hardly remember things that transpired back then. This is not just because we are now “old”, but because it was a chaotic time where everything flowed together: personality itself as artistic expression, renaissance of multidisciplinary ideas and art, underground celebrities who often met only once or a few times (and either on the streets, at parties or sex clubs), oftentimes diffuse art forms whereby individual stunts and niches sometimes suddenly and magically finally took hold, weekly/nightly disco nights with Warhol and other celebrities at places like Studio 54, Area, The Tunnel, drugs, drag queens and leather queens, outrageous sex clubs, punk rock, witchcraft as a lifestyle, etc. In short, it was (and is) difficult to separate the everyday occurrences from “the dream-state”. Many gays at that time were — like me — transformed “super hippies” who basked in the vast environment of sex clubs, artistic stunts, new minimalistic theatre, dance and music forms, poetry at art galleries, building occupations, cross-dressing as an art form etc. Someone should really try to get deeper into the phenomenon of that period of time in NYC, SF, Paris, Berlin etc. and how it has influenced art, literature, music, our outrageous street fashion that was quickly mimicked by trendy boutiques in the West Village and later by international fashion designers, and gay identity/activism today.
It is all too easy for those of us who were a part of the “scenes” back then to glorify things. There were, in fact, lots of “downers” — especially with the AIDS crisis, drug overdoses etc. And only a few of us became very important in art history. But none of this could have happened without each and every one of us participating, interacting, encouraging, challenging, feeding on and feeding one another, in our artistic niches and outrageousness. We were unafraid — and at times a bit naïve. We were, basically, determined to live — for the moment; a glorious moment without recognisable start or ending. But we were also vulnerable human beings, full of emotional ups and downs, lives and wardrobes full of rags and glitter, forgotten sexual memoirs with now-famous persons who turned us on just because they were full of determination to express themselves in every way possible.
Don Herron was human, emotionally vulnerable, intelligent, very artistically gifted, unconventional, a cat-lover, one who met people in all social environments rather easily, he was very funny (referred to himself as a “Fred MacMurray-type” and loved “I Love Lucy”, tea and pies), and he had a very large cock and was fond of both sex and lots of cuddling. He was also at times more than a bit neurotic and could be intense — but no more than any of the rest of us. “Tubshots” was just one of his art expressions and ideas. His walls were adorned with murals of Roman lasciviousness, angels and cartoonish figures. His silk-screening, painting and other artworks were advanced for the time. Don Herron is just one of many from that time before modern internet who deserves a good-sized footnote through contemporary technology and art and gay history.
— Adam Donaldson Powell, September 2018, Oslo, Norway.
Adam on the Christopher Street Pier during the Tubshots years: