This new queer painting may have left tragedy and trauma behind, but it still has room for melancholy and solitude. In Stamm’s Just Like This Please (2016), a young man bends backward against the wall on his knees. The full moon is visible over a bank of inverted trees, perfectly centered on the black lattice grid of the window, like a Japanese woodblock print. A text bubble hovers over the center of the painting, uttering its title. On the extreme left edge of the painting, you can make out a silhouette of the boy’s organ in his black underpants. Stamm’s surfaces are resolutely sexless and flat. A half-naked man (his flaccid penis visible under his black t-shirt) does “downward dog” over his cat and open Macbook laptop in Forgive me, kitty, they don’t call me a bundle of contradictions for nothing! (2016). These images, both self-effacing and exposing, illustrate a lonely life, where Stamm explores aimlessness, boredom, autoerotic tension, and self-care in the comfort of his own home.
Other artists find a way to discuss the personal through the pop-cultural. McKinniss is a painter of contemporary camp, culling from an unlimited caché of shared moments, from Sinead O’Connor ripping up Pope John Paul II’s image on live television in 1992, to Prince posed on a motorcycle in Purple Rain. In a 2016 exhibition, McKinniss samples a still from The Empire Strikes Back (1980): Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, illuminated from below by the carbonite freezing facility. McKinniss told me that the film’s set was reminiscent of a nightclub, complete with a fog machine and disco floor lighting. For the artist, it recalled his own experiences out in nightclubs; the uncertainty of death; and overwhelming feelings about his friends and lovers. “Paint enhances the drama and the emotional impact of what it’s like to look at something,” he told me. “Good art should pull at your heart strings, your brain strings, and your dick strings.”