Portfolio > In the Navy (In Progress)

Drawing on American queer history this series of small scale acrylic paintings on masonite are inspired by the Newport Scandal. The Newport Scandal occurred in Newport Rhode Island from 1918 to 1920. Erving Arnold, an ex-private detective in the Navy, recruited soldiers to seduce and record sexual exploits of queer members of the navy under the support of FDR who was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. Over fourty soldiers served as “operatives” in this mission to entrap and arrest queer sailors. The straight soldiers who participated in entrapping their peers kept detailed reports on the locations and interactions with the queer men they were leading on. Inspired by these reports this painting series reimagines reports as paintings. Images from the Naval archive serve as a basis for the imagery with intimate queer scenes added to the settings of the Newport Scandal. I inserted photos of myself into the reference images as history is cyclical and queer life today is shaped and bruised by events of the past. The persecution of queer bodies in the past will be repeated on the queer bodies of the present if history and legislation does not change and evolve. Color is used as a way to denote which soldier is recording a report, each color serves as a visual code name to denote the sailor who inspired it. The scale of the work is inspired by notebooks in which the straight spies would quickly record their observations.

The series grew to include other accounts of the interaction between the Navy and queer culture. Throughout the Newport Scandal the Navy used drag as a means of propaganda notably touring with a production of Jack and the Beanstalk to display the talents of soldiers and recruit young people across New England. The military has a habit of using drag as a form of propaganda and frames from the film This is the Army are used to convey the turbulent relationship between drag and the military. While the American military praised public displays of drag and female impersonation to boost morale and recruit, it demonized the same actions practiced in private as an expression of queerness. This is the Army features dozens of active soldiers in female regalia capturing a stage show produced during the second world war to boost morale. The film captures the double standard of drag being comedic and entertainment when performed by a straight performer but demonized when part of queer culture. This queer demonization is also presented in the third segment of the series. On April 19, 1989, a turret on the USS Iowa exploded killing 47 naval crew members. This event caused months long torment as the Navy dragged Clayton Hartwig’s name through the mud claiming the sailor, who died in the disaster, deliberately caused the explosion due to his queer relationship with a fellow married crew member. These paintings document the battleship and the moments preceding and following the tragedy including hearings and press conferences discussing Hartwig’s involvement. The orange color scheme represents the moment of explosion which came to be synonymous with the legacy of the USS Iowa and Clayton Hartwig.