Ross Bleckner, ‘Double Portrait (Gay Flag)’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

This bold 1993 painting overlays multiple forms of “doubleness.” It simultaneously identifies the artist as homosexual and Jewish by combining a large rainbow flag—an emblem of gay pride—and an embossed representation of the Star of David. Saturated with autobiographical content, Double Portrait also nods to the history of modernist painting, which had largely eschewed personal content, as in the Color Field painting of the 1960s and the Pop renderings of American flags by Jasper Johns and Claes Oldenburg. Acknowledging his own response to a crisis of historic proportions, Bleckner reflects: “I think the awareness of AIDS . . . politicized me . . . AIDS, and fear, made me make the images a little more representational, and at the same time more personal and more political . . . So I guess it was oddly liberating. You identify yourself more as a gay man, or whoever you are, and it helps you to realize who you are as an artist.”

Signature: Jewish Museum, New York, Francis A. Jennings bequest in memory of his wife, Gertrude Feder Jennings

Image rights: © Ross Bleckner

"This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today"

About Ross Bleckner

Ross Bleckner’s immersive, large-scale paintings elicit a powerful hypnotic, dizzying effect. Whether pure abstraction of stripes or dots or more representational renderings of birds, flowers, and urns, Bleckner’s work recalls Op Art and the obsessive and mysterious luminosity of Yayoi Kusama’s Polka-dot paintings. Smoothly layered on the canvas surface against a darker gray background, his multicolored volumetric circles or “cells” look like droplets of blood or molecules viewed under a microscope. Emerging as a prominent artist in New York during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, Bleckner’s paintings, like memento mori, often suggest meditations on the body, health, disease, and especially AIDS-related death.

American, b. 1949, New York, New York, based in New York, New York