June 25, 1999 - THE WASHINGTON BLADE - 49

The Point

Eroticism and humor
Exhibit proves it's all in how you look at it
by Greg Varner

It's all a matter of perspective, as any artist will tell you. Two local artists, Tony Lagarto. and Zade Ramsey, bring their unusual perspective to a show now installed at the Dupont Italian Kitchen bar, Windows.

Lagarto, a member of Triangle Artists Group, has paid attention to the local statuary, and he has noticed that some of the sculptures are erotically suggestive. Others seem to comment playfully on . their surroundings. .

Illustration captions:
• The perfect dessert: Tony Lagarto suggests serving Betty Ford's
   Rum Cake, from "Betty Crocked."
• Zade Ramsey's painting, Consent, is like "a frozen photograph
   you can see in your mind."
• Tony Lagarto's Military Instruction is a photograph modified on
   the computer. "I think he's showing how to hold his sword,"
   Lagarto says. The statue is in Lafayette Square.
A photographer and computer graphic artist, Lagarto photographs the statues, and then manipulates them using computer software.

A statue in the northwest comer of Lafayette Square, for instance, purports to represent "Military Instruction." It depicts one nude figure apparently showing another how best to hold his sword. In Lagarto's version, the figures take on a decidedly lavender hue.

"I thought it was pretty suggestive, so I made it Tinky Winky purple," Lagarto says.

Most of his statue images are from the metropolitan Washington area, though a statue in Venice caught Lagarto's eye from the rear with a fetchingly undraped derriere.

Lagarto has called his series of photographs Pygmalion '99, in honor of the legendary Greek sculptor who fell in love with a statue. Ten images from this series are on view at Windows, along with three playful images of American first ladies applied to imaginary product packages.

There's Jackie O's, the breakfast cereal "with pink marshmallow pillbox hats," but the funniest of these is a package for Betty Ford's Rum Cake Mix from the "Betty Crocked" company.

He had to convince himself, Lagarto says, that his computer-generated work is really art. He compares this work to photographs, which encountered some initial resistance in artistic circles, where paintings were sacrosanct.

"The computer is like the camera—it's another tool," Lagarto says. "Some day it will lose the stigma that's attached to it."

One of Lagarto's future projects, he says, may be a "Men of D.C." calendar with a twist - his version will show close-ups of body parts from statues.

Like Lagarto, Ramsey is a member of TAG, but it's probably a contrasting blend of eroticism and humor in his work that made Lagarto, who curated the show at Windows, invite Ramsey to join him.

Eight paintings by Ramsey are on display in the show, seven of them from a series of erotic portraits that Ramsey has dubbed his "Blue Series."

These paintings are located in a dream space, where the sacred takes on a sinister cast, and where memory intersects with the realm of fantasy.

"You're out at a club and you see the perfect, ideal man," Ramsey says. "You remember him later, but the light is different, and you lose some details. In a way, thev're like frozen photographs in your mind. We can shut our eyes and see them."

You can open your eyes and see them in Ramsey's paintings. Only one of these paintings at Windows, Consent, shows a pair of men—the others show a single figure—and it is perhaps the most beautiful. The sacred, dreamlike, ritualistic aspects are accentuated.

He works from his own photographs of his models, Ramsey says.

"I have to photograph them in high contrast light to make it come out correctly," he says. "It's actually hard to do it right."

The impulse behind these paintings is unmistakably erotic. Ramsey says he tends to paint the men to whom he is attracted.

"It helps if I find that person attractive," he says. "It drives me. I think that's always true. Picasso seemed to have a romantic relationship with many of his models."

The other painting in the show, Here's Lucy, is a portrait of Lucille Ball and of a pet bird, also named Lucy, that had belonged to Ramsey. It was executed in a much more "pop" style than the erotic portraits.

"I've got two styles," Ramsey says. "My cartoony style is satiric; the other style is more erotic, more private."

Art work by Zade Ramsey and Tony Lagarto will be on view at Windows, the bar above Dupont Italian Kitchen, 1637 17th St. NW, through July 15.





Shame on the Washington Blade for printing the "Betty Crocked" picture and the comments on this work now on display in a local art exhibit (June 25). Double shame on the Blade's comment that "the funniest of [the works on exhibit] is a package for Betty Ford's Rum Cake Mix." Triple shame is not enough for artist Tony Lagarto for his unfair depiction of Betty Ford! This is beneath contempt!

I was completely appalled and had to do a double-take before the sordid truth sank in. I have no problem poking fun at celebrities, politicians, etc. But I firmly believe the line must be drawn when someone finds it amusing and entertaining to poke fun at someone's weakness or addiction. The Blade would certainly refuse to publish a cartoon that pokes fun at a person with AIDS, why on earth would the Blade provide the artist exposure in the manner portrayed in that article?

Betty Ford is an alcoholic in recovery. She faced her addiction and conquered it, and then turned to the immense task of helping other addicts. She deserves praise, not ridicule. The Blade owes her, her family, and its readers a full apology.

Paul Prentice
Adamstown, Md.





In a letter in the July 2 issue of the Blade, Mr. Paul Prentice took me to task for a piece of art I created which was featured in the June 25 issue of the Blade. Mr. Prentice took one look at the piece, titled "Betty Crocked," and chose to be offended when no offense was intended or warranted.

The message that I've tried to convey with this piece is that in our society we tend to package and label our public figures. This particular public figure is associated with her alcoholism, to the point of becoming a punch line. Who hasn't heard jokes or one-liners about someone going "off to Betty Ford"?  The purpose of my Packaged Personalities Series is to compare this objectification of idols to the familiarity we have with common day-to-day household goods. It just so happens that in Betty Ford's case she is known for her disease as well as for her position as the wife of a U.S. president. It's part of her "package." It's the packaging of people that I've targeted with my parody, as well as our fascination with labels and brand names.

By passing a sentence of shame on my work Mr. Prentice has shown that he's chosen to be offended (yes, people choose whether they are offended or not) without giving any thought to the actual target of the piece, which is the cult of personality. The work in question is part of a trilogy. When viewed together it's clear that the focus of ridicule here is the concept of "people as consumables." My sights are aimed at commercialism, not alcoholism.

We should feel a little uncomfortable when a casual observer appoints himself the arbiter of what should or should not be shown in a public forum, whether it's an exhibit in a local bar or on the pages of the Blade. Mr. Prentice treads the dangerous waters of censorship by presuming to tell artists and the free press what they should not depict. Especially when he has misconstrued the actual source of inspiration. In this case the eye of the beholder is not seeing the whole picture. Would Mr. Prentice agree that the "family values" set should be allowed to censor an image of two men kissing tenderly from the Blade because it offends their moral sensibility? I hope not. I don't need the art police to tell me when to feel shame, thank you very much.

Mr. Prentice has misinterpreted a social commentary as a personal attack. Before giving in to his "offense mechanism," Mr. Prentice should really take a look at the subtext. Within the infinite universe of artistic expression there will always be those who won't peel back the layers of meaning because they get too caught up in the drama of being shocked and offended. This is the only thing I feel sorry about.

Tony Lagarto
Washington, DC