New York

Antonio Lopez, Body Study (Lacrosse), Louis Falco Dance Company, 1985, graphite on paper, 17 × 14".

Antonio Lopez, Body Study (Lacrosse), Louis Falco Dance Company, 1985, graphite on paper, 17 × 14".

Antonio Lopez

Antonio Lopez (1943–1987) was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, and relocated with his family to New York’s Spanish Harlem in 1950, where he honed his artistic inclinations by assisting his mother and father in their respective occupations: dressmaker and mannequin producer. In the early 1960s, while studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, Lopez met Juan Ramos (1942–1995). For a time, they were lovers, but it was their lifelong creative partnership—Lopez as illustrator, Ramos as art director—that established their preeminence in the fashion industry for more than twenty years, until Lopez’s untimely death from AIDS-related complications.

Lopez supercharged his drawings with sumptuous colors and an electrifying sexual potency. He had an almost preternatural instinct for discovering sitters with whom he felt a spiritual bond, be they dancers, street kids, hustlers, or celebrities. Lopez created dynamic narrative contexts for his models by turning them into blazingly hot motorcycle studs or young urban beauties racing through towering cityscapes. But his most riveting quality was his zeal for the human form, which he frequently shaped with lines of such scalding fluidity that they seemed ready to shoot off the page as though they were hot streams of fresh ejaculate.

These qualities were everywhere on view in “Let Me Hear Your Body Talk,” an exhibition of Lopez’s works at Daniel Cooney Fine Art. The show comprised seventeen figurative drawings made between 1982 and 1985 and all titled Body Study (with the majority subtitled Louis Falco Dance Company, after the troupe whose members served as his models.) Thirteen of the works were pencil-on-paper illustrations of lithe women or strapping men of Olympic mien: archer, vaulter, basketball player. Four graphite-and-watercolor sketches depicting naked athletes—straining, torqued—in red-orange hues completed the presentation.

Body Study (Lacrosse), Louis Falco Dance Company, 1985, depicts a well-sculpted man clad in sports gear who has a decidedly centurion flair. He is balanced on one foot, which is encased in a gladiatorial shoe, while the other leg is drawn up high above his waist, causing the dark furrow between his buttocks to be stretched wide open. His torso is almost horizontal as he swings down for the ball, crosse in hand. The angular details of his head, which is turned in profile—sharp jaw, heavy brow, thick mustache—command attention and together call to mind the thrusting prow of a steam locomotive. There is exquisite delicacy, too: The model’s drooping tank top permits us a glimpse of nipple perched atop a taut pectoral, and the sheath of his crested cap evokes the Roman god Mercury’s winged helmet. Indeed, this splendidly proportioned titan exists solely for our prurient delectation.

Body Study (Ballet), Louis Falco Dance Company, 1985, features a woman wearing only a tutu. Although her legs and head are not visible, her defiant stance is nevertheless clear; it seems as though the artist captured her at the conclusion of a dramatic performance. The diaphanous skirt blooms, and her back is so arched that it creates a V shape. The soft curve of her left breast flows from her shoulder to her arm, which bends ninety degrees at the elbow. Her left wrist, a nub—Lopez did not draw her hand—digs into her rump. The composition’s starkest aspects are at its summit, where the bony protuberance of the right acromion points upward and the throat is fully exposed in a manner of supreme self-possession.

The watercolor-and-graphite pieces each present an agglomeration of partial anatomies: truncated limbs, headless torsos, and flexing sinews in a range of hues, from visceral crimson to light tangerine. The most arresting of these portrays three intertwined heterosexual couples. Contoured shadows where skins gently converge are complemented by moments of climactic gripping—a hand splayed firmly over hewn-rock abs, for instance, or an arm reaching tightly around a prostrate companion—in displays of sensual abandon.

Lopez often delineates flesh—thigh, bicep, calf, neck—as though it were marble, revealing the glistening meat and vascular tumescence that fuels the physical grace of his heroes. He combines a surgeon’s scalpel, a pornographer’s eye, and a mystic’s intuition with a kind of virtuosic draftsmanship that produces a saturnalia of torrid choreography and carnal magnetism.