From left: A model from Loewe’s spring 2019 show reveals Pat McGrath’s creative rendition of Paul Thek’s pyramid imagery; the artist’s oeuvre is rich in

references to art history and spirituality. Paul Thek, ‘Untitled (Holy Angels...),’ 1973.

How Pat McGrath and Jonathan Anderson Paid Homage to Pioneering Queer Artist Paul Thek

For Loewe’s SS19 runway show, Anderson teamed up with makeup maestro Pat McGrath for GARAGE Issue 16.

by Dan Thawley
|
Mar 1 2019, 2:19pm

From left: A model from Loewe’s spring 2019 show reveals Pat McGrath’s creative rendition of Paul Thek’s pyramid imagery; the artist’s oeuvre is rich in

references to art history and spirituality. Paul Thek, ‘Untitled (Holy Angels...),’ 1973.

Among the flurry of artistic content the fashion designer Jonathan Anderson produces at Loewe, one of his most recent and subtler winks to the art world was an homage to the late American artist Paul Thek, discreetly integrated into the highly performative spring/summer 2019 women’s show at the Maison de l’UNESCO, in Paris. Blink and you’d have missed it. Makeup maestro Pat McGrath painted a trio of vivid motifs onto models’ skin, referencing an abstract pastiche of Thek’s illustrations and performance art pieces. “Paul Thek has always been this crazy obsession that I have had,” Anderson says. “I think there is a group of artists in that period without whom contemporary art could not exist the way it does today, without that moment. There is something incredibly youthful about it, that still is very youthful today.” When translating Thek’s references, Anderson gave McGrath free reign. “She came up with a very painterly version of Thek’s work,” he says, “and she did it instantaneously. If you look at his work, there is an enormous amount of reflection and research that goes into it, but there is also a sense of spontaneity.”

For the unacquainted, Thek’s oeuvre remains one of the seminal bodies of work to emerge from the queer New York art scene of the 1960s. His potent, anthropological output linked to his relationship with the photographer Peter Hujar, Catholicism, the AIDS crisis (in his later years), and an entirely humanist approach to making art that rejected the Pop Art consumerism of the day. A close but stormy friendship with Susan Sontag saw her dedicate her collection of aesthetic essays Against Interpretation to him in 1966. “Thek’s heterogeneous oeuvre spanned drawing; painting; wax sculptures in plexiglass cases, depicting pieces of meat or human body parts; newspaper paintings; bronzes; and walk-through, room-size environments made out of everyday materials,” says writer Roland Groenenboom, a Thek expert and the curator of the artist’s traveling retrospective show The Wonderful World That Almost Was from 1995 to 1996. “The work is very layered and rich in references to art history and spirituality, as well as everyday life.”

Paul Thek
Paul Thek, ‘Untitled (Holy Angels...),’ 1973.

It is through that treatment of everyday life that Anderson selected the artist’s extraterrestrial Earth drawings, which McGrath rendered in swirling glitter on models’ backs, and his cloudy pyramid of sky, which appeared on the lone male model’s lower abdomen. “The origin of the globe image is thought to be NASA photographs of the Earth published in newspapers,” explains Ted Bonin, whose Tribeca gallery, Alexander and Bonin, has represented Thek’s estate since his death in 1988. “I would say that the closest reference in his work to Jonathan’s use, with the clouds, is to a group of collaborative drawings made in Lucerne, each of which featured a triangle as the central image.”

The inclusion of the male model, who was tasked with manning a suite of vintage Dieter Rams record players, in the Loewe womenswear show reflected the performative nature of Thek’s work. “I thought about how we could turn this into a performance. I was looking for something low-tech, and I noticed that on Benjamin’s iPhone there was that standard Earth screensaver,” Anderson says, referring to his long-time collaborator and Loewe show stylist Benjamin Bruno. “That screen has always reminded me of Paul Thek. The globe and the pyramid motif links to when he did the Tomb piece [1967] and he had these two discs on his face—it was almost like looking directly into someone, bypassing through them.”