Gil Croy is a North Carolina visual artist known for his saturated palettes that pull from the colors of the traditional Pride flag. He has done many canvases, posters and murals, and has a reputation for examining the politics of LGBTQ bodies. This manifests itself in many ways, but especially as full body painting. Croy turns bodies themselves into art. It is not only a way of acknowledging the creative potential of the human form, but also a way of simultaneously reveling in diversity while also practically obliterating ethnicity. Each body, regardless of the person beneath the paint, is equally compelling as a canvas. One of his works that will be very familiar to the Charlotte LGBTQ community is the mural he painted all over White Rabbit in Plaza Midwood on Central Ave. The mural moves around the building, like paper wrapping a present.
In response to the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, Croy has made a series of collages that were on display throughout June for Pride month. He was immediately inspired upon hearing the news of a coronavirus making its way through Wuhan. His initial canvases in this collection are replete with upsetting images evoking the virulent homophobia that served as the nation’s response to AIDS in 1984. Subsequent pieces in the series have evolved to look more like familiar domestic spaces crammed full of references to masks.
I personally felt these masks served three warnings simultaneously: Infection, anonymity and censorship. Obviously the masks are meant to protect people from each other (much like condoms), but many of the ominous figures are bedecked with symbols of white supremacy. These masks hide the identity of violent bigots, while other figures look as if they’re being silenced or gagged. With this in mind, I wanted to know more about how Croy compared and contrasted today’s pandemic from the crisis 40 years ago.
qnotes: Could you tell me more about the impetus of this series of works?
Gil Croy: During the AIDS crisis, the public response was totally different. I was outraged by what I saw in the general public now, so I decided to put on paper what I was thinking. It was terrible to see how differently people treat disease when they think it can affect them personally. And I began to wonder what the pandemic would look like from the perspective of the satirical, or the symbolic.
QN: So you are comparing and contrasting the two crises?
GC: Yes. Both pandemics are similar in a variety of ways. There was a rush to fear, but many wouldn’t try to understand the plight of others. The responses to both were disorganized. Rumors about transmission and treatment varied wildly then and now.
In the ‘80s, people wouldn’t go into examination with each other. Nurses would pass out when doctors told people they were HIV positive. It was a different type of isolation in hospitals, but both diseases have caused it. Healthcare workers were terrified, but this time they are stepping up in a big way.
Then there was a Republican president who wouldn’t admit anything was particularly wrong, now there’s a Republican president who wouldn’t admit the situation was especially serious. Then people didn’t care about gays, addicts, prostitutes or Africa. Now they don’t care about the poor or immigrants. In both it has been gays and people of color forcing the public to take notice, and both pandemics disproportionately affect LGBT and minority communities first.
QN: We definitely cannot say now that the general pubic doesn’t care about this pandemic. People in general are complying with wearing masks and social distancing.
GC: Yes, people in general actually care this time: It affects THEM potentially. Most didn’t think they’d meet or deal with AIDS — straight people didn’t think they knew anyone gay. As before, there was denial by the government at first, but people were proactive about not getting this new virus. Something that is very different this time around is the push for effective treatment. It is vastly quicker this time. Older, straight white men are affected by this disease, so the response has been much faster.
QN: It’s becoming very clear that black people in particular are being especially hurt by COVID-19. Do you think there’s a risk of losing momentum or urgency if the powers-that-be feel they are not endangered?
GC: Yes. I suspect that as people see it not affecting rich white folks the sense of alarm will abate as the marginalized continue to die disproportionately.
QN: How have you taken all this and translated it into a visual language?
GC: I wanted to place the diseases within familiar, intimate spaces. I might set a scene in the home, and try to make it look like a stage set. By way of collaged layers of mixed media, I wanted the entire story to play out in one moment. The symbolism is both overt and covert. The style isn’t as pop arty as my other work, but I am still using saturated colors. They heighten the emotional impact. But I didn’t focus so much on the LGBT Pride colors specifically.
QN: It occurs to me that the politics of health are inseparable from the politics of the body, how we define what we can’t or won’t talk about concerning the body itself. As with much Queer performance art, many of the people in your collages are nude. That isn’t gratuitous. These images are about vulnerability.
GC: Yes, and as with both pandemics, all 25 of these pieces tie back to a pandemic of bigotry. These works are about the injustices in the world.
Croy’s exhibition ran through the month of June at The ArtsCenter in Carborro, N.C. For more information, visit bit.ly/2YqIA3M. Readers can also view Croy’s work and projects on his website at gilcroydesigns.com.
This story was produced by the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of six media companies working together in an effort started by the Solutions Journalism Network and funded by The Knight Foundation.