April 4 - May 1, 2014

Amsterdam, Netherlands


REX Uncensored
"Surviving Is The Best Revenge"


The artist known only as REX has proved to be one of America’s most controversial and enduring artists. Over the past four decades his meticulously detailed pen-and-ink drawings have delighted and outraged a worldwide audience with their homoerotic subject matter, sometimes sweet and sometimes raw.

He began homoerotica in the sixties at a time when such subject matter was illegal under American laws against both erotica, and homosexuality. Because signing your name to such work risked imprisonment, he became known simply as REX. For producing his work he became “persona non grata” in the American art establishment which till this day still considers his work “too hot to handle” due to some of its subject matter.

Since the sixties he has lead a reclusive life as a cult figure and underground artist with an international reputation enabled thru pirated reproductions of his work first in print, and today on the internet. Forbidden to exhibit his work uncensored in the US, he is currently having the first public exhibition of his uncensored work in over 15 years at Amsterdam’s CNCPT13 gallery.

An Interview with REX

QUESTION: “Your work has been enjoyed by millions around the globe for decades now, and endlessly pirated in reproductions and internet blogs across the globe. Last year a best-selling hardcover portfolio of your work appeared under the title REX VERBOTEN compiled by Bo Tobin Anacabe and published by Bruno Gmunder in Germany. And yet officially you remain off the radar in the academic art world both in the US and here in Europe. How do you explain the decades long descrepency between your widespread fame as a cult artist on the one hand, and being consistently ignored by the art establishment?”

REX: Underground cult artists have always been at odds with the establishment over censorship. This is true whether the offending work centers on religious, political or sexual issues. Because my work centers on the once taboo subject of homosexuality, the status quo found it particularly threatening and unacceptable to be shown in public and for many years or discussed in print. Even today the mere mention of the word homosexuality makes Americans squirm in their seats. The polorizing effect that homosexuality still elicits in America makes it difficult for them to categorize my work as either art, or pornography. It’s always been much easier for the establishment to just ignore me.

I would not deny it is pornographic, but I also contend that pornography is at the same time a legitimate genre of art just as is landscape painting or portraiture. But up to now it has been a genre that dare not speak its name in the American art establishment. The legal definition of pornography is the depiction of sexual penetration or portraying taboo sexual activity or fetishes. This is not to be confused with soft-core pornography all over commercial television and the media–which does not show sexual penetration or genitalia, but rather suggests such activity. It may seem a minor point to the uninitiated, but there is quite a difference between the two in the eyes of the law. The criminal justice system is rife with arcane laws on the books that dictate what parts of the male body can be shown in what positions and in proximity to other body parts, sexual positions or the presumed age of the participants shown. Keeping track of this web of often contradictory laws that define pornography in a legal sense is made doubly confusing by the vague and ambiguous way these laws are written, leaving them open to whatever wide interpretations a judge wish to interpret them according to what mood he’s in at the moment.

Oddly enough, many sexual activities which can be shown on film or in literature, are “still” illegal to portray in art. So there is a psychotic relationship between what we can see in the real world, and what laws say we aren’t allowed to see in the creative world.

QUESTION: “Because of the legal controversy surrounding your subject matter, it seems however that your inimitable ink technique is never a factor in considering you as one of the more interesting American artists of the past half century. I mean, you are right up there with your contemporaries Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol in the eyes of many fans because of your influence upon other artists and the public at large.

You lived and worked in Manhattan when you started, knew both these men personally, and moved in the same intellectual and social circles and yet oddly enough–unlike Mapplethorpe and Warhol–you seem to have studiously been ignored by the art establishment, as they were not. Instead you have garnered a reputation as the Loose Canon of the American Art World: How do explain this dichotomy between their acceptance in the art world and your rejection?”

REX: It’s because I wouldn’t play the game of the New York art establishment: Mapplethorpe and Warhol pulled their punches visually to a level acceptable to that establishment. Their medium was primarily photographic and there is this odd double-standard between photographic erotica being somehow more acceptable than showing the same sex act in two-dimensional fictional art. Both Mapplethorpe and Warhol were essentially domesticated by the art establishment in order to market them to the public as a brand name commodity. While their work was once considered revolutionary and shocking, in hindsight for all its sexual ineuendo it reads now as merely “risque” images burnished to a glamorous sheen. Their work is titillating, but hardly takes on any trenchant new perceptions about male sexuality that make one sit up and take notice.

These once so-called shocking images today seem little more than the investment instruments they were intended to be by their promotors. And I would be the first to say they have proved to be very good investments. In addition their work possesses a technical finesse and originality that can not be denied or easily dismissed. Their influence on the art world was profound. But the question still remains, is this stuff really as good as we are told it is by the critics? Or do they simply have a vested financial interest in having the public believe so? I on the other hand aimed my art exclusively for an audience interested in the blunt unvarnished world of homosexual sex. The art establishment and investors weren’t interested in handling art that honest, The truth is a hard sell.

QUESTION: Tom of Finland is perhaps your most famous contemporary working in the same field of pornographic art, and the artist you are most often compared with. Didn’t he also explore the unvarnished truth about male sexuality?

REX: Yes he did, but in a romanticized and idealized way. On that level it is much more profound and engaging on a more sensual level than my work. His intellectual approach to male sexuality is never mean or crass but positive and uplifting. Those are extremely difficult emotions to convey when springing from a purely sexual context. Tom studiously avoided portraying any degradation or demeaning situations in his work. In his era it was important to portray homosexuals as masculine Gods to lend self-esteem to homosexuals that they were being denied from the wider society. His drawings are suggestive of the Greco-Roman view of Men as Gods. I’m am only interested in portraying mortals being pereceived as Gods in those moments of suspensed disbelief that can happen when we are in the throes of sex.

Tom’s work has a more universal appeal with a generic quality which translates across all cultures where homosexuality exists. His work is timeless. Tom’s prototype is blond; mine is brunette. His men are absolutely clean and flawless, mine are imperfect and soiled. And finally, his medium was lead pencil which is soft and pliable, which lends his work a smooth satin finish. My medium is pen and ink which is hard and unyielding, incapable of half tones which give my Men a hard sharp edge. However, in psychological terms I would never attempt to cover the same mental territory he did. I work the other side of the street.

QUESTION: Was your work inspired by any other artists?.

REX: Actually, in visual terms I was more influenced by authors like William S Burroughs, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac or Charles Bukowski. I felt more kinship to their iconoclastic writing tht was also once considered taboo and dismissed as trash when it first appeared, by the ancestors of the same clique of gate keepers who keep my work from being seen. And to be truthful, my blunt portrayals offend even many homosexuals because my work does not validate themselves as they wish to be perceived–as respectable happily married suburbanites emulating the worst aspects of the straight bourgeoisie. These homosexuals flinch at seeing the unpleasant truths of their secret desires on display in my work.

Yes, it’s disturbing work for many homosexuals, but life itself unfortunately is disturbing at times and I see no reason to pretend otherwise. Let’s not kid ourselves. Like those writers I named, I portray the outcasts of society in my drawings; desperate ignored men at the bottom of the feeding chain in life. A class of men that the art world–and governments especially–like to pretend don’t exist. I relate to these men because they represent the majority of men on earth. Social and sexual etiquette has little place in their lives. As outcasts, they are beyond the rules of polite society. It’s my interest in these lower class men that partly makes my work so repugnent to the art establishment, and at the same time makes it so popular with the unwashed masses who absolutely identify with my drawings as a reflection of their own experiences in the world. The poor are seldom presented in any medium as anything other then objects of ridicule or pity. I show them purely as the Sex Symbols many of them are.

QUESTION: You don’t cater to upper or middle-class homosexuals in your work. You seem to ignore their lifestyles in your art. Your men seldom are shown in comfortable or beautiful surroundings, clean beds or objects of material success. Rather, your men all have holes in their socks, if they even have socks. Your backgrounds are painfully utilitarien and pointedly unattractive , and yet these grim settings are rendered with such great care as you show viewers the real hidden beauty in the shape of something like garbage can they never saw before. The men in your drawings seem disheveled, to put it politely. But nowhere is there any indication of a seemingly upper or upper-middle-class man to be seen.
Why is this?

REX: Some of my best friends are upper or middle-class men. But as subject matter I find their lifestyles don’t lend themselves to good pornography. And note I did not say they were not good sex. I also think most artists like Mapplethorpe or Warhol direct their work to upper and middle-class audiences who vicariously like to go slumming culturally when viewing their “risque” work. And mainly because those are the classes that can afford to buy art.

Most of my fans are unemployed; jobs merely interfere with their sex lives. The upper and middle-class tend to buy art they can show off to friends and family underscoring their fine aesthetic taste. On the other hand people who buy my art are terrified to let their friends and family know they even own it, let alone show it off. The minute collectors of my art die, their familes rush in to destroy it fearing the scandal if anyone should discover their son ever owned it. I think also because so many successful artists come from upper or middle-class backgrounds they have no access to the lower depths of society in any intimate or extended sense. So they have no empathy with the class of men I draw, whom I would charitably characterize as men most likely living under freeways overpasses. They may be dangerous it’s true, but they are also usually great sex and live by their wits with great ingenuity, full of adventures the rest of us can only dream of.

The wealthy or upper classes are too civilized to explore their natural instincts outside the protection of their own class because they have too much to lose. The privileged are born into obligations and expectations they must live up to in order to maintain their material positions in society and fulfill the obligations of their class. But in the process they often are scrubbed clean of their humanity, and civilized to the point their primal urges gets bred out of them. And of course I am making a broad generalization that does not apply to all upper or middle-class men.

QUESTION: You’ve explained some of the psychological implications of your work. But what about the technical aspects, which are usually taken into consideration when judging art. Your pen-and-ink technique is an extremely difficult and obscure medium, and one seldom seen these days with the precision with which you have mastered it. The technique is suggestive of 19th Century engravings or other etching techniques. The best of your pen and ink work is rendered in a virtuoso pointillistic style seldom seen anymore in our time. One could argue it is of such a high technical caliber it’s hard to believe such quality has been ignored for decades by the serious art world who supposedly pay attention to these things.

Most who view your work in reproductions haven’t a clue as to what medium you are using, it appears so enigmatic in both shading and texture. Why hasn’t your work been championed apart from the subject matter, on the other merits of originality, design, style, composition, and technical execution?

REX: You must realize that whenever sex rears its ugly head in America, the art establishment freezes like a deer caught in the headlights. The high quality of my technique poses an ethical conundrum in terms of objectively that the art establishment would rather not deal with. By ignoring the technical aspects of my work, these critics have lost much of their credibility in the eyes of many as arbiters of what constitutes “art”. The critics would rather have technical skill on this high a level reserved for politically correct subject matter, and not upon subjects they deem unworthy of such attention.

As long as critics continue to ignore the technical performance of my work it will continue to be filtered thru the religious and psychological baggage critics bring to their appraisals of it. Indeed, some brave critics have tried to champion my work on a technical level, but they are not allowed to discuss the subject matter in print and that guts their whole defense of it. What has gotten published reads like someone sweating bullets trying to praise work whose subject matter they dare describe. If you’re unfamiliar with the work, you would be clueless as to what the art is about from reading these schizophrenic reviews.

QUESTION: But isn’t this a natural reaction, given the rules of society or the editors they must answer to. Not to mention receive a paycheck from.

REX: The problem with the art establishment is its inability to face the fact it is just a handservant to the wider society, and not the independent thinkers they fancy themselves to be. They are part of the problem; not the solution. Art critics can not get past the “sexual aspect” of my work because in order to do so they must question their own sexuality. In order to judge sexual art objectively it helps to be on familiar terms with the subject matter in order to pass judgement on it. Few art critics I’ve ever met have lived their lives as the sexual athletes I portray in my drawings. And if not, than what is their opinion worth to inform others about what they reviewing?

It’s rather like asking a toddler to review the technical performance of a Lamborghini. He could probably do it (“it’s fast!”) but what meaningful value such an appraisal would have for someone interested in purchasing a Lamborghini I do not know. My work is in a similar position; at the mercy of an art critics evidently not moving in the same sexual circles my art depicts. Therefore they are not really positioned to pass informed judgement on what they are viewing.

My public on the other hand seems to recognizes the voice of experience which is why it remains so popular–and growing moreso as the world grows more disheveled with each passing day. What was once considered fantasy is now beginning to look more and more like the real world. I think if you are open minded enough and step back a few sober paces you realize my work is not so much about men or sex, but simply tableaux of Human Nature.

Art is like sex–what we admit to liking in public or among friends, and what we actually “like” in private at 2:30 at night after the bars close, are two different things. No one dare say in public they dislike Rembrandt or the Mona Lisa. For to do so would border on intellectual heresy. Rather our stated views on both art and sex are not so much based on what we really believe, but always on our social conditioning and psychological fears of how our peers will judge us if we dare express unconventional views. So when people denounce my art in public, I understand it is the only acceptable answer they could give due to their conditioning. But in private they may actually be avid secret collectors of it, as so many men around the world are.

QUESTION: You talk candidly about your work in political and philosophical terms. You seem more interested in those aspects than its sexual aspects. Why is that?”

REX: Well I think politics and philosophy go to the very heart of the role art should play in the world. The philosophy behind Walt Disney’s work was to give pleasure and delight. He gave it to children; I give it to masturbators. Does it really matter as long as the targeted audience is given what they seek? In both those cases, the philosophical intent is to give pleasure and delight. And in a political and philosophical terms that poses the unspoken question, why don’t our leaders give us similar pleasure or delight? Instead they give us rubber bullets and tear gas on a daily basis.

If Walt Disney or I can figure out how to give people what they want, what’s their problem? Believe me when governments threaten to arrest you for drawing a picture, your art takes on Political ramifications very quickly. That’s what makes pornography such an exciting medium to work in because it throws down the glove to Church and State and challenges them to question their values. Ideally Art should lead, not follow thinking.

QUESTION: Are you bitter about being ignored by the art establishment?

REX: No, but I am truly amazed that after four decades of exposure with an international reputation I am still not on their radar, while so much mediocrity has come and gone in my lifetime that has been praised to the sky. Also, I had no illusions about courting the art establishment from the start because I knew my subject matter was taboo in the art establishment. My was more interested in the Walt Disney method of taking my art directly to the People, and for them to decide whether it had any value as art. Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell were much ridiculed by the art establishment when they first appeared because the great unwashed masses embraced their work, while the academia was trying to force Titian and Velazquez down their throats. There is nothing wrong with Titian, but he simply does not speak to the man in the street in their time as did Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell. And if art isn’t meant for the man in the street, then who is it meant for? Intellectual snobs?

Titian and Valazquez were no longer pertinent to their daily lives, their lifestyles or belief systems. Those great artists remain to be enjoyed forever, if that is your cup of tea–just like Opera. But just like Opera, they are no longer in the mainstream of contemporary thought as a movers-and-shakers of our times. So much of what you see enshrined in museums today are works by artists like Picasso or Monet whose work was once disparaged in their time by the art establishment.

A century after their shocking “revolutionary” art was created, it seems tepid because the world has caught up with the future they were trying to flag down in their work. Once art becomes acceptable it tends to have outlived its purpose as a guidepost to new ways of thinking. Even Mickey Mouse has gone thru many make-overs in order to remain relevant to todays audiences. Have you checked recently on what he looked like in 1928?

QUESTION: Do you think that will happen to your work, that it will lose its relevance?

REX: Probably when it no longer speaks to the times. When it no longer poses a threat to the Establishment, its will have done its job. But I will say that whatever art from the that still attracts an audience usually has a highly erotic component: Leda and the Swan or Michaelangelo’s David still speak to our erotically-fixated world today.

QUESTION: Going back to the debate about your work as Art or Porn, how do you categorize your art?

REX: I wouldn’t categorize it at all. It just is. Its purpose was to target audiences who wished to view such material. I would be the first to admit this work was not designed for the general public. But that does not mean it should be deliberately hidden from the general public either, by taking away their option to see it in certain places if they so desire. I think it defies classification because it is appearing at a time in history when civilization has not yet matured enough to come to terms with the central role sexuality plays in all our lives–for both men and women. I think of my work as neither Art nor Porn specifically, but merely lighting a kind of mental fuse that jolts viewers into new ways of thinking beyond what Church and State order us to think about human sexuality.

QUESTION: You’ve mentioned very little about your work in strictkly sexual terms. Why is that?

REX: Well I start with the premise that the purpose of art should be to challenge the political and philosophical status quo. But in order to do that you must first find a way to get peoples attention. In these times of information overload and attention span deficit, getting people’s attention is not easy: To get that attention I’ve chosen the oldest trick in the book; the male penis. I focus on male sexuality because it lies at the core of all life on earth. And at the core of male sexuality is the penis. Without that initial breeding thrust, all humanity and most species on the planet would cease.

Bluntly put, the penis is the primal impetus for all the institutions and relationships that formulate the world around us. From weddings to wars. And erotica is the quickest way I know to grab peoples attention, and far more effective than pondering images of kittens rolling balls of yarn. It has been my observation that when you wave a stiff penis in front of nearly anyone you’ve gotten their full attention–if only for the fleeting moment it takes them to “react” and turn away in disgust. Bingo! I have made my point, and created art that has “moved” them which is supposedly the purpose of art. Either mentally or in my case, physically.

My bottom line is a firm belief that sex lies at the very core of our being, no matter how we wish to definite it for ourselves. Nothing else trumps its importance although many would never admit it. But to ignore that fact degrades the importance of sex and really does humanity a great disservice. In my drawings I say to Church and State–look–the penis is here to stay and you’d all better get use to that fact and focus your attention on more pressing issues that face mankind, then banning my art.

See images of the opening on TOM's Blog.

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“I almost never draw a completely naked man. He has to have at least a pair of boots or something on. To me, a fully dressed man is more erotic than a naked one. A naked man is, of course beautiful, but dress him in black leather or a uniform — ah, then he is more than beautiful, then he is sexy!”
— Tom of Finland