Richard Hawkins and Xavier Dolan On Sex, Violence, and Celebrity Worship

Richard Hawkins

Richard Hawkins moved out of Texas for art school in Los Angeles in 1986. Then, after a few years of writing experimental fiction (among other illicit experimentations), he began a career in art that would contain all of American culture in its erotic death grip. Hawkins’s work runs through all manner of mediums—painting, collage, ceramics, sculpture, table installations, scrapbooks, binders, and zines—and yet his obsession seems almost pure: beauty, lust, wanting, and hunger in all of its classical and rabidly contemporary molds. The 59-year-old provocateur might be the most devious fanboy in the art world. Collages and paintings are chock-full of shirtless teenage idol pinups, from vintage ’70s Matt Dillon to Photoshopped nudes of a leather-harnessed Justin Bieber. (Other recurring stars/victims include Nick Jonas, Leif Garrett, Adam Driver, and Tom Cruise, cut from magazines such as Teen Beat, Blueboy, and Interview, like one long angst-ridden pop-culture wet dream.) Mixed into the visual fray are images of young porn stars and hustlers, horror movie monsters, Greek statues, newspaper clippings of serial killers, decapitated heads, and red paint and ink splattered like blood. Hawkins’s art draws us into a haunting vortex where wholesome idealism, potent sexual subversion, and violent putrefaction meet. It’s as if his real artistry is scattering our brain’s ability to achieve simple, thoughtless wish-fulfillment. Some of Hawkins’s works could be written off as grisly nightmares, except there is so much fantasy seduction, happiness, and delight going on inside their frames. Sometimes I wonder what straight people make of them. They seem to me like perfect gay psychograms. It’s no surprise that Hawkins thinks of his work as semi auto-biographical; a tour through his scrappy, lo-fi, media-obsessed, celebrity-icon–ridden works from the early 1990s makes it clear that he has been a key inspiration to generations of young artists who have taken his punk aesthetic to heart.

As a painter, Hawkins often swims in a different direction—mining art history and the style and palette of painters such as Picasso, Van Gogh, and Otto Dix to create, as he has over the past two decades, surrealist, tragicomic scenes of gay cruising zones and exotic hustler bars. He also mines literature for inspiration, character cameos, and excerpts of text inserted directly into his can-vases. Hawkins has been working in his Melrose Hill studio in East Hollywood on a series of acrylic-on-panel paintings to be shown this summer at Galerie Buchholz in Cologne. These brightly colored stews contain a constellation of nubile celebrity hunks, Death in Venice’s Gustav von Aschenbach as played by Dirk Bogarde, and snippets of poetry from the decadent Victorian writer (and purported algolagniac) Algernon Charles Swinburne. Last February, he got on the phone with the filmmaker Xavier Dolan to discuss art, devouring boys, and desire. — CHRISTOPHER BOLLEN