A new art exhibit at Affirmations, Ferndale’s LGBTQ+ community center, has a unique focus: erotic art created by senior artists.
Four artists from Affirmations’ Senior Koffee Klatch will present their work as part of the 4×4: Queer Exposures exhibit starting Aug. 30. Local artists participating in the event include John JD Dennis, Dave Gelbach, Richard Miller and Steven Schoeberlein, who will each display four works of art.
Dennis, who came up with the concept for the show, said he was inspired by the annual Mississippi Mud exhibit in Detroit, the area’s only Black erotic art show. “It made me think that this could be something that we could pull off — a queer erotic art show,” he said.
So Dennis turned to a few of his friends from the Koffee Klatch. “They’re a really large, active group at Affirmations, which we refer to as the Chit Chat Club.” Dennis says he goes every Wednesday and has for quite a while. “I noted the art on the walls and one day I went to the front desk and said, ‘Who do I talk to about putting some art up on these walls?’”
The person he needed to talk to was Justin Bettcher. Bettcher got permission from the higher ups for Dennis to put up a show on the Purple Wall in the center’s Pittman-Puckett gallery space. Dennis turned to his friends from Chit Chat Club who he knew also did art. “I had been in a class taught by Steve Schoeberlein,” he said. “Then I knew Richard did photography.” In addition, Dennis asked Dave Gelbach. A fifth artist, Robert Evans, might be added to the show if there is room.
Dennis, born in Iowa and currently residing in Royal Oak, has lived in Southeast Michigan most of his life. Finding the Senior Koffee Klatch was, he said, “a blessing,” adding that “the group is a great and fun social outlet.”
In addition to holding regular meetings at the center, they have group picnics, game days, group dinners, trips to the movies, golf, museums and shows. “It’s sometimes tough to make new friends when you get older,” said Dennis, noting that the Koffee Klatch has been a great place to start.
Of the show, Dennis said the subtitle Queer Exposure “means the works are primarily R-rated oil paintings, photography, silk screens and drawings. This show is intended for mature and progressive adults who are not offended by artistic depictions of nudity.”
Miller, Dennis said, has been instrumental in helping to create the show. He created the flyers and posters and other advertisements. “He has a great eye for format, color and presentation. He’s a multi-talented silk screen artist and photographer, among other forms of artistic expression.”
And as for Gelbach and Schoeberlein? “Their paintings are just so incredible and fantastically different as they both have a terrific grasp of color and of that very difficult medium of oil painting. And Robert Evans, his work is fun and quirky and adds a whole different element to the show.”
Miller, for his part, is a Grosse Pointe native who lived in Los Angeles for more than 40 years. Like Dennis, Miller said the Koffee Klatch has become very important to him. “I was lost when I first moved here, looking for any gay resources I could find online. I found Affirmations and found Senior Koffee Klatch. I quickly discovered that I enjoyed it a lot. The group has a huge heart, immense kindness and empathy. The people who don’t possess those qualities seem to attend one meeting and they never return.”
Miller started taking photos at the age of 8. “In the swinging 1960s, I was only about 13 years old, but was heavily influenced by that period,” he said. “I discovered artists that I greatly admire, photographers like Diane Arbus and George Platt Lynes. I enjoyed Andy Warhol’s work, which got me interested in silk screening.”
In May, Miller returned to L.A. to empty his storage space, which included his photos and a massive number of photo negatives. “I shipped it all back and have begun to sort through a lifetime of work.” Miller said he has digitally scanned about half of his images so far.
“I would describe my art as ‘ever evolving,’” he said. “I embrace any new digital technology, and I use Photoshop, Illustrator and other programs to either improve or alter my images.”
Miller said he has not done any showings of his work since about 1990 and that this will be his first show in Michigan. It’s important to him, he said, because his work pays homage to a dear friend he lost to the AIDS epidemic.
“He is the blond model in some of the photos in the exhibit,” said Miller. “He died at age 30. He was a beautiful man, inside and out.” Christopher Hall, the model, was a dancer in Las Vegas shows and even appeared behind Jane Fonda in a couple of her exercise videos.
Schoeberlein is not a Koffee Klatch regular but has attended a couple of their meetings. He works now as a full-time artist. He currently has work at the Hannan Center and the Scarab Club. Schoeberlein also teaches part time at Articipate in Berkley.
Schoeberlein said Queer Exposures “has the common thread of the male as subject.” He said he is happy to be a part of the show, where “all of the artists have a niche in individual expression and a signature that identifies their work.”
4X4: Queer Exposures will run Aug. 30 through September at the Affirmations LGBTQ+ community center in Ferndale (290 W. Nine Mile Road). The Senior Koffee Klatch meets each Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Affirmations in Ferndale and on Fridays at 1 p.m. at the Royal Oak Senior Center (3500 Marais Ave.).