Critics’ Picks

Your Town, 2006.

Your Town, 2006.

San Francisco

Donald Urquhart

Jack Hanley Gallery
395/389 Valencia Street
July 16, 2013–September 30, 2006

San Francisco maintains its position as a progressive-gay-male mecca, though its myths have dramatically shifted from back rooms to courtrooms, from free sex to the legal concerns of gay marriage and adoption. London-based artist Donald Urquhart’s tart series of black-ink drawings are rooted in retro visions of the city’s queer history and acknowledge its lifestyle mood swings with sardonic wit. With a visual aesthetic that comes off as a mash-up of Aubrey Beardsley’s monochromatic graphic excess, “Candyass” Cary Leibowitz’s lowercase phrasings, and Rufus Wainwright’s winking camp, Urquhart captures a moment of fading ideals (Joan Crawford, the longing for wholesome beefcake). Many of the works on paper directly acknowledge San Francisco’s psychic draw. Vertigo Hair, 2006, depicts a deep hole at the center of Kim Novak’s cinematic coiffure with the dark pop sensibility of Raymond Pettibon, while a wall painting conflates ‘60s-era flower-power folk and the chemically tinged sex of the ‘70s with an image of a Mama Cass–like woman holding a bottle of amyl nitrate and a daisy; jaunty text across the top divulges “Mama’s on Poppas.” A thematic thread of dreams gone theatrically awry is at the core of Urquhart’s vision, and it’s most elaborately expressed in A Judy Garland Alphabet, 2006, an illustrated A-to-Z in which “D is for Drunk Again” and “W is for Weight Problems.” The artist grandly acknowledges the distracting entertainment value of bitchy self-loathing yet never underestimates its pathos.