Sunday 22 December 2013

The 12 Gay Birthdays of Christmas : Part 3

Frank Israel (1945-1996)
(born on 22nd December, which this year is the last Sunday in Advent)
If movie architecture can be described as a specific art form then Frank Israel has been it’s most important exponent. Whether movie set design, film production offices or actor’s homes Frank established his own style influenced by post-modernism across Hollywood and South California. He received a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University and spent some time in Rome as a resident Fellow at the American Academy in the city. In 1979 Frank moved to Los Angeles to begin a teaching job at the University of California’s School of Architecture. Being so close to Hollywood proved irresistible  and Frank worked as a set designer on several films, including “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. Unfortunately his name doesn’t appear in the end credits and I’ve been unable to discover which sets he worked on. The film industry utilised his professional skills by commissioning him to design the headquarters for Propaganda Films,  Limelight Productions and Virgin Records. Hollywood actors also asked for his distinctive design for their new homes, including “Cabaret” star Joel Grey and director Robert Altman. Many other buildings were designed by Frank across southern California, and a special retrospective exhibition of his work was produced by the Museum of Art 6 months before his death from complications caused by AIDS.

John Minton (1917-1957)
(born on 25th December, Christmas Day)
John Minton was an artist whose work ranged from large-scale paintings, film posters, textiles, and stage costume and scenery design, but his best work was as a book illustrator. If you’re a collector of old books, or have a passion for cookery and travel writing, you may even have one of the books he illustrated on your bookshelves. He designed the covers and illustrations for Elizabeth David’s first two food books, for instance. John had one of those artistic styles which went in and out of fashion as new trends emerged. In 1942 co-designed the sets and costumes for John Gielgud’s production of “Macbeth”. Minton was called up for service in World War II before the production was mounted, though he was invalided out shortly afterwards. Following this Minton worked for a few years as a lecturer in illustration at the Camberwell College of Art. He was a prolific artist, producing enough work to have 7 solo exhibitions of his paintings between 1945 and 1956. In later years, when his work was unfashionable, he suffered from depression and mental health problems. This didn’t help him produce quality work, as can be seen in his less-than-typical painting “Death of James Dean”. Minton also drank a lot, and in a final bout of depression he took an overdose of sleeping pills and died at the young age of 39.

Joanna Werners (b.1953)
(born on 25th December, Christmas Day)
My second reference this month to the South American country of Surinam (after describing it’s AIDS memorial 2 weeks ago) comes in the form of lesbian writer Joanna Werners. She was born in the national capital Paramaribo during the last decades of Dutch colonial rule. The Netherlands is renowned for its tolerance of sexual freedom, yet this was rarely extended to its colonies. The Netherlands produced a lot of gay and lesbian literature throughout the 20th century. In Surinam there was no lesbian literary work until 1983. Joanna was one of the pioneers of Surinam-Dutch lesbian novels with her semi-autobiographical debut novel “Dream Skin”, published in 1987. Not only did it describe lesbian relationships but also inter-racial love as seen from a black woman’s perspective. In 1971 Joanna moved to the Netherlands to study physical education and law, and became a school teacher in the former. Her later novels included elements comparing the cultures of Surinam and the Netherlands and have covered such topics as unwanted pregnancy, old age, and discrimination against black women. In her novels Joanna has incorporated poetry, and some of her poems were collected together in “Dormant Shadows” in 2007.

I’m taking a couple of days off for Christmas. I’ll be back on the 27th December. Happy Christmas to everyone.

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