James Hoskinga Chicago-based LGBTQ+ artist who specializes in photography and collageis one of 17 people selected to be part of "Once: 2023 Emerging Artists Exhibit" at the Cleve Carney Museum on the College of DuPage campus in Glen Ellyn.
In the first iteration of this concept since 2018, the exhibit showcases contemporary artwork ranging in mediums, size, concept and technique from emerging artists across the nation, and it gives the artists a chance to display their work in a professional museum setting and reach new audiences.
Hosking's "Beautiful By Night" photo series and film focuses on three older drag performers in San Francisco (from the time he lived there), candidly depicting their routines and transformations to consider issues of aging and labor. However, Hosking is also working on the collage series "The Personals," made from his own collection of LGBTQIA+ items and the holdings of Chicago's Gerber/Hart Library and Archives.
In a recent talk with Windy City Times, Hoskingwho moved to Chicago from San Francisco with his partner in 2018talked about everything from "Beautiful By Night" to San Francisco itself to the evolution of his art.
NOTE: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Windy City Times: How did being part of "Once" come about?
James Hosking: Well, I just submitted my samples and I was lucky enough to be selected, and it was really humbling. Plus, I've been to Cleve Carney before and I was really impressed with the museum.
WCT: "Beautiful by Night" is a series I would almost call "photo verité." Tell our readers more about the series.
JH: "Beautiful by Night" came out of my time in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. It focuses on the drag performers at Aunt Charlie's Lounge; there are drag shows there on Fridays and Saturdays that are different from other drag shows because the performers have been part of the [local] drag scene for a while. The series focuses on three ladies, in particular [Olivia Hart, Colette LeGrande and Donna Personna].
WCT: But I understand you were compelled to do this series because another drag performer had passed away.
JH: YesVicki Marlane was a legendary San Francisco drag performer who had been in many different clubs [and is the subject of the documentary Forever's Gonna Start Tonight]. Vicki died in 2011, and her death inspired me to document Aunt Charlie's and the people who were there.
WCT: The Tenderloin has quite a unique reputation and history. There are so many aspects of this district you could've photographed, so why concentrate on the club?
JH: I think the Tenderloin used to be a neighborhood that was like the Castro. The gay demographic shifted geographically and it didn't have this history you could really see unless you went to Aunt Charlie's or a bar called The Gangway. But I just liked the different performers who were in the show, and how the bar fit into the Tenderloin.
The Tenderloin is unique in that it's downtown but it also has a large unhoused population and very visible struggles with drug addiction and mental health; there's also a large amount of supportive housing. It's right next to Union Square, with its glossy shops and tourist [stops], but it has its challengesand its scenic beauty.
WCT: You were also part of a benefit at Gerber/Hart Library's fall benefit.
JH: Yes! So Gerber/Hart is just incredibly important to me, as a Chicagoan. As a member of the queer community, I've forged a lot of wonderful friendships there with the volunteers as well as the staff. They've been really supportive of this collage project; access to the collage material wouldn't be possible without them. So Gerber/Hart introduced this idea of a benefit that would be around artists who were influenced by the archivesI would be one of threeand I thought it was a wonderful idea. I also donated some prints to Gerber from "The Personals." I feel Gerber is not known enough for the treasures it has.
Some of the pieces will be at the spring benefit, and I'll donate a few more.
WCT: "The Personals" and "Beautiful by Night" are quite different exhibits. What draws you to a particular subject?
JH: We're all getting older and "Beautiful by Night" interested me in how individuals change and relate to issues of gender and identity over time. It usually starts with a visual interest so, with "Beautiful by Night," it started with the setting, the people; I was trying to craft how that looked around the things that interested meand, in some ways, it was the same with "The Personals."
I was really drawn to the material I found at Gerber. And like how "Beautiful by Night" became about identity, I think the overarching idea of incorporating "The Personals" was a way for me to organize the visual material I was gathering. Getting material from newspapers that no longer existI found the narratives very fascinating and they informed how the visual material was organized. They inspired me.
WCT: I know that evolution is something that happens with almost every artist. How do you see your art evolving?
JH: I see myself as more of a documentary photographer who was about history and environmental portraiture. There are folks that I want to aspire to, like Diane Arbus and Christer Stromholm, who really was a big influence on me; Stromholm did a whole series on Parisian trans women in the 1960s. And with the pandemic, and the difficulty of doing photography, working with archival images was a way to invent how I saw images and to re-contextualize images by doing grids, diptych or triptych. So I think there's been an evolution there, in my practice.
WCT: I asked a variety of people this last question: For you, what is it like to be part of the queer community in today's America?
JH: That's interesting.
I think we're in a really exciting moment when there's much greater visibility and representation. But, obviously, there have also been attacks and discriminationbut I think that inspires me to continue to make things that deal with [LGBTQ+] identity, hoping that the representation can still reach a wider audience.
With "The Personals" and "Beautiful by Night," I don't necessarily want to be confined to the [LGBTQ+] community. I want to create work that people outside the community can relate to and want to learn more about who we are.
On a personal level, with this project, I can see so much of what people faced in the '70s and how difficult that was, [including] the context of the ads I've come across. But I've come across some interesting things, like how [former President] Ronald Reagan described gayness as a mental illness [per a May 1972 issue of Vector: A Voice for the Homosexual Community].
"Once: Emerging Artist Exhibit"which is free and open to the publicwill run through Jan. 7, 2024. Visit TheCCMA.org .