Friday, November 25, 2011

In Memoriam Oscar Wolfman, 1956-2011

We lost one of our best queer artists this week, a man whose vision was as idiosyncratic and unsettling as it was fresh and luminous, whose photography is, as he often said, “too Jewish for most queers, and too queer for most Jews.”

More often than not, Oscar Wolfman’s sexiest nudes are shot through with allusions to the Torah, the Psalms, the Prophets. An aging, muscular man dances naked in a tallis. A young woman in a blue turban and white stole out of Caravaggio prepares to drive a spike through the ear of a man sleeping with his head in her lap, in a scene that tropes the story of Yael and Sisera from the Book of Judges. Human flesh never appears apart from the charge of desire; nor apart from its mutability and mortality. Still lifes gleam with rich, saturated colour, fruit and fabric vibrating against impossibly pure blacks.

Oscar was early on a dancer, a choreographer, later a high-school English teacher, then a university teacher of sociology. He came to photography late in a life that should have gone on for decades more. He was charming, irreverent; unabashedly forward, unselfconscious, and casual in speaking about his own sexual experience and pleasure; shy, introspective, perceptive; a brilliant and generous commentator on the creative work of others; the child of Holocaust survivors; a man who hungered and thirsted after righteousness.

He lived long enough to see the High Holidays this fall; to curate a last solo exhibition of his work at Queen Gallery in Toronto last month; to prepare for his death with the same care, dignity, and grace with which he lived. Those of us who knew him feel the impoverishment of our lives for his absence. Those of us who know his work bless his memory and the Source of his life for what he brought into the world.

Oscar’s photography remains at present on view at his website: His biography and further images are at Photographer Bill Pusztai shares his memories and his own splendid, joyous pictures of Oscar, at

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Soul Upon the Skin: Larson Rose's Reflections on Body Painting as Spiritual Practice

"... I never suspected that [my body painting practice] would have such a huge emotional impact on the men who volunteered to participate with me. I was actually surprised at first how the men reacted. I watched shy men prancing about painted and naked, inviting pictures to be taken of them and openly desiring men to look closely at their bodies. Bodies that they weren’t so thrilled about earlier in the day. I have been told by men that they experienced for the first time in their lives being able to simply lie still and relax for an hour and a half. I have seen tears, laughter and a great deal of gratitude. Some men are rather speechless and stare at their images in amazement. I have been told that it has changed a few people’s lives.

"For me, my body painting practice has increased my awareness of the intuitive gifts I am so blessed to have and how important my work can be. I confirm and reconfirm that I must stop denying to myself that my psychic, sexual and spiritual side is a powerful force for positive change. That my upbringing and prejudices about doing spiritual work, energy work, intuitive work, body work, needs to continue to be challenged. That I need to be proud of what I am able to bring to the world as a spiritual gay man and not apologize for it. Which is also what inspired me to share this in writing..."

For Larson's full reflections on why he paints naked men--and for more examples of his work--see the page in Ritual Resources and the photos to the right.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Few New Tarot

Three Major Arcana from an alternative Tarot deck: my version of cards from a collaboration with Sara Norquay

XIII The Costume Mistress
The putting on or off of an assumed role. A tension between freedom and restraint. A combination of seemingly disparate possibilities. Fluid identity. Inverted: the compulsion to perform a part imposed upon the individual.

XIV The Front Man
Deceptive congeniality, disguised malice, or at least hypocrisy. An immanent collapse of what has seemed stable.

XV The Customs Broker
A facilitator of border crossings. Specialized or arcane knowledge available for a price. Passage from one state to another.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Share Your Ritual

The Ritual Tent last summer at Easton: a laboratory, play space, and refuge for the ritually gifted and challenged.

I’m amazed by the riches of an on-line clearing-house for progressive Jewish rituals in everyday life:, coordinated by Rabbi Roni Handler. You can find there rituals for the adoption of a pet; for acknowledging the advancing Alzheimer’s disease of a family member; for healing from trauma and abuse; for coming out; for gender transitioning; for the preservation of the earth from ecological violence; and for far more. Even better, this is a grassroots effort: members send in rituals they’ve created or discovered and found helpful.

What consciously spiritual gay and bisexual men need is our own version of RitualWell. I’m inviting you to help create it.

You’ve got a wealth of wisdom stored up in your own experience of creating ritual that expresses and nourishes your inner life as a man who loves other men. What’s helped you grow and move forward is a potential resource to your brothers. Sharing what’s within you builds a bridge that spans from your own internal life to widening circles of community.

The ritual supports of your inner life may be absolutely simple and unelaborated—as simple as pausing mindfully before beginning a meal, or lighting a candle before a photo of someone you love. If so, they’re likely to speak all the more easily to other men you share them with. They may be rich and elaborately developed. If so, they’re all the more generous an invitation to men who may be grateful to draw on your practice.

Maybe you have a ritual to center yourself in times of stress; to deal with loss and grief; to remind you of who you are most deeply and who you want to be; to connect yourself with the natural world; to reaffirm the bond you share with a partner or a friend; to deal with the effects of homophobia in your life; to honor the humanity and worth of a stranger you’ve just made love to for the first and last time. (Maybe your ritual is pure vanilla, and you could share it with your grandmother; maybe it’s deeply engrained in your erotic life and oy, may your grandmother never know.)

I invite you to share your rituals here—in a few lines that describe a simple practice; or in a longer explanation of something more elaborate and personal. Post them as comments on this entry; or send them as e-mails to my address in the sidebar. Attach photos if you’d like. I’ll move your contribution from there into the more permanent “Ritual Resources” module to the right, posted with your name if you want to share it, or anonymously if you don’t.