Untitled (John Sex)
39 5/8 x 42 inches (100.6 x 106.7 cm)
40 3/4 x 43 inches (103.5 x 109.2 cm) framed
Image courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery, New York
Larry Johnson (b. 1959, Long Beach, California) lives and works in Los Angeles.
The neon-type lettering above the house in “John Sex” reads: Larry you’re a real hot dude John Sex.” Part of a series of works in which Johnson would reproduce, in stylized form and pastel colors, a building or house in which he had a sexual encounter, this work functions as a self-portrait (Larry Johnson = Larry John Sex) as well as a portrait of homosexual activity. John Sex was a famous gay stripper in New York in the 70s and 80s who produced word-based art, but also the phrase suggests that two men, Larry and John, are having a sexual relationship. Johnson’s alteration of traditional architecture (in this case, the addition of a large neon billboard atop a middle class LA residential home) echoes the “altered” sexual behavior that took place within.
This interest in portraying the transformation of architectures through homosexual activity recalls Tom Burr’s Diana Ross Playground and Alvin Baltrop’s piers photographs. The codedness or encryption of the practice links to Ray Johnson’s networked collages and David Robilliard’s playful engagement with language. Johnson’s work, in the words of Wayne Kostenbaum, “holds a gay intertext, in which we can break the code but the information might still not be there.” Wayne Kostenbaum quoted by Lauren Mackler, “Hammer Art History Lecture: Larry Johnson,” July 28, 2021
Johnson’s work bears the marks of a generation of artists sampling readymade images and texts to create seductively laconic pictures. Yet the colourful sheen of Johnson’s photo-based works is also a foil for sexual, political and semantic tensions. The artist’s pictures are encryptions of a Hollywood demi-monde, referring to the cultures from which his work emerges – queer, political, filmic and theoretical.