Boys Will Be Portraits

David Armstrong Reflects On Intimacy With the Subjects of His New Show

<span style="font-style: italic;">Artist and photographer David Armstrong’s latest exhibition, Mad About the Boy, at New York’s Half Gallery, collects photographs of four of his favorite male subjects. Intrigued, NOWNESS gave Armstrong a call at his home-studio in Brooklyn (an enormous house strewn with props, costumes and a giant matrioshka doll) and asked to him to tell us more about each sitter—see their photographs here.

I moved to New York in 1977. And Kevin and I hooked up that first fall that I was here. I actually met him, believe it or not, in the back room of the Anvil, one of the sex bars at the time. Which proves that you can actually find true love in those places. We ended up being together for four years. He was absolutely beautiful, and just so sweet. He asked me if I wanted to go back to his house. And it was funny, because he was a kept boy. He took me back to this gorgeous townhouse on St Luke’s place. The guy he lived with was Jim Goode, then the editor of Penthouse. The night before Kevin moved in with me, which was about six months later, Jim came over. It was like he was giving away his daughter in marriage. We really had a lot of fun together, Kevin and I. Kevin was the only boyfriend that I’ve ever had that I broke up with, and the only one that I realized I should not have.

Kevin went to Paris in 1979 for six months because he wanted to model, and I didn’t break up with him then, but the day Kevin left for Paris, Chris moved into the house. Chris was from Paris. He was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. I can remember opening the door to the house when he first came round. I practically fainted. The whole Mudd Club scene was going on pretty strong then, so we were involved with that, and we were getting into drugs quite a bit. Really Chris was kind of nihilistic, I would say, but he was a really great friend. I lived with him in New York, Paris and Provincetown—I’d got a traveling fellowship and had a lot of money. On his wrist he had a tattoo, which he did himself, which says “Maman.” He was really close to his mother. When I lived with him in Paris we went to his parents every Sunday for dinner. In the morning he would always get into bed with his mother, which for me was peculiar, but it was always perfectly natural for them.

If there were 100 boys in the room, Boyd’s the only one you’d see. In the beginning of 2000, I had a couple of shows in Paris. I’d never done anything in fashion before, period. But someone called me from the Dior atelier and asked me if I wanted to do Hedi Slimane’s portrait. I didn’t even know who he was, but he came to my house, and spent Sunday doing the picture, and I really liked him. The next year I came to Dior for the week before the men’s show and Jimmy Paul the hairdresser, who’s an old friend of mine, was there. And Boyd was in the room, and Jimmy told me Hedi was thinking of using him as the exclusive for the campaign. Boyd was so shy he could barely even talk. In those years I started doing a lot of fashion, and if ever there was a casting, I’d recommend Boyd. We started talking and I started to see things he’d been doing, little films and things like that. I gave him a camera and we started to be friends. I really probably photographed him more than anyone, first in situations to do with fashion, then not. He would always hang out here—it’s a big house, there's always a lot of people here. He lives here now.

The thing with Eric was that I never had a personal relationship with him in the way that I did with any of the others. An agency sent him over for a test, he showed up and I really got a kick out of him. At the time of Kevin and Chris I was more or less their peer, I was two or three years older. It’s quite different when you’re old enough to be their father or grandfather. I really liked Eric at the time because he was that borderline between beautiful and hideous. Everything was so accentuated. At that point I was coming back to doing one-on-one portraits—I don’t like a lot of people around when I’m doing stuff. And then there was a lot of sexual energy sublimated into the pictures. It’s not like you’re going to have sex with them, it’s not a lead up to that, but you’re worshiping their beauty. And that’s a strange territory to navigate.


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