From Swan Lake movies to Frankenstein movies to pop charts, the arts have always been deeply influenced by artists from the LGBTQ community. Now, a forthcoming book, “LGBTQ + Icons” sheds light on 50 pioneering artists from around the world who have made an indelible contribution to culture. We met one of the creators of the book, who is himself something of a local art icon.
Russia does not recognize that Tchaikovsky was gay. A new book recognizes the composer of Swan Lake for his artistic ability and for a part of his personal life that has been drawn up from some biographies.
David Lee Csicsko, artist, illustrator – all these people have done so much to enrich our daily culture that we hear or see all the time. And a lot of the people in the book are people who may have fallen out of the spotlight, that we wanted to acknowledge and tell young people about them.
Marco Vitali: We caught up with artist David Lee Csicsko who, with writer Owen Keehnen, made the book to honor the icons of late art, including some last-minute additions.
Csicsko: Owen and I had a conversation at this bookstore in February a year ago. We were looking at the publications that were out there and I said, “You know, I think we can do a much better job and make a really lively and fun book that celebrates the history of the LGBTQ community in the arts.”
And so the book came out as a project that the two of us thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do this book?’
Vitali: Csicsko’s work is all over town. From the Belmont station mosaics and … to the stained glass windows of Lurie Children’s Hospital … to grants for local businesses and nonprofits, including Lyric Opera and our sister station WFMT.
Csicsko: I start out as sketches and then I scan the sketch with my iPhone to my computer and then build it from there.
I am looking for wonderful images of the subject. In the case of Radclyffe Hall, who wrote the first recognized lesbian novel – which has a terrible title, “The Well of Solitude” – but there are photos of her and her partner with their champion dachshunds in England, and since I a dachshund, I was thrilled to find that photo. So I drew it with a dachshund.
Vitali: James Whale, the director of “Frankenstein”, was drawn with an electrode on his neck. Frida Kahlo has a little mustache on her lip. From Frida to Freddie Mercury, the creators of the book went through a tough editing process.
Csicsko: We looked back and made a list of our favorites, and we basically did a tug-of-war over who got into the book. It was very difficult to make the cut. We had to leave out some favorite people, but we really wanted to be representative of the community at large, even if all of these people are dead, but we really wanted to celebrate them.
Vitali: Celebratory or not, the book is published in a difficult political climate.
Csicsko: Sooner or later everything becomes political, and especially in the time we live now where certain policies try to cancel certain things or take away freedom from various groups. And the fact that we made it as a book for young people and that it is now being challenged in public education in Florida. We are truly lucky to live where we live where we can carry things forward and bring them to the table. And hopefully this book will be a wonderful book for young people, their parents, their relatives and friends to create discussions and make people feel good.
What I try to do is give you a bright spot in your day and create something wonderful that hopefully makes you smile but is also smart and witty and comes from an interesting place.
More on this story: “LGBTQ + Icons” was due to be released this month, but supply chain problems have moved the release date to July 12th.