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Harter, J. B. (1940-2002)  
page: 1  2  

The disease would cost Harter many friends. On a wall in his home he hung portraits of some eighty HIV-positive acquaintances and painted a small coffin next to the name of each of the over fifty men who died of AIDS.

Harter frankly stated that he had lived much of his life closeted, "partly . . . in deference to family, partly in deference to employment." Sadly, for decades he "felt more comfortable living the proverbial double life" than being able to live openly as a gay man.

Since he remained closeted, he wrote, "Of necessity I became my own most accessible model." It was only after twenty years that he began showing his work to a few friends, who suggested that he use other, younger subjects as well.

Harter heeded their advice and began seeking models, whom he typically photographed in preparation for paintings.

Of his technique he wrote, "I little direct the poses my models take for the camera. Each finds his own gravity and the result suggests uses to me I would not have imagined were I more controlling. In this way the model contributes to the creativity of the artwork I make from him and innocently collaborates in the direction it takes."

Following his friends' advice and perhaps his own aesthetic taste, he depicted many Adonis-like figures in his art, but he also painted an elderly "Silenus" (1995). "Not everyone is ever-young after all, and the body does represent the forces of aging which we cannot ultimately deny," he noted.

A major influence on Harter's style was the work of Paul Cadmus, but his interest in other cultures is also reflected in his art, which includes Mayan themes and an image of the Hindu "Lord Shiva" (1994), whose "imagery has not been sufficiently explored by men in the West who are interested in men," wrote Harter.

Harter was also greatly influenced by the city in which he spent most of his life, New Orleans. Not only did he paint images of the city's buildings and landmarks, but he also depicted its bar scene and its gay subculture.

Harter's sense of humor is evident in his comment on his "Roman Idyll" (1995): "It has been customary in the slow emergence of homocentric art for artists to add on classical references to their gay images so as to give them a veneer of respectability. We all know how those Greeks and Romans were, but culturally we forgive them because they could be such good artists and they're safely dead." His sly humor is also evident in many of his works, even those that are sexually charged.

Harter bought a warehouse in the Faubourg Marigny district of New Orleans and refurbished it to serve as a gallery for his art. His plans were never realized. He was found murdered in his home on March 13, 2002.

There was no sign of forced entry, and Harter's assailant apparently stole nothing except his pick-up truck, which had been hot-wired and was subsequently found abandoned. The murder remains unsolved.

A second book of Harter's art, The Drawings of J. B. Harter (2003), was published posthumously.

Harter was honored with an exhibition, "The Culture of Queer: A Tribute to J. B. Harter," in the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center that opened on July 22, 2005. Curator David Rubin called it "a dialogue with the art of Burt Harter," adding, "He dared to chart the uncharted territory while he was still in the closet. He began to explore his sexual identity during the sexual revolution."

The show featured, in addition to Harter's drawings and paintings, the works of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol and several contemporary Louisiana artists, including George Dureau and Roberto Rincon. Scheduled to run until September 11, thus being in place for Southern Decadence, the New Orleans festival celebrating glbtq culture, the show was cut short by the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. Happily, the artwork escaped damage, and the exhibition reopened as planned at the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation in New York City in May 2006.

Harter's artwork is in the collections of a number of museums, including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Louisiana State Museum, the Historic New Orleans Collection, and the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation.

Linda Rapp

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arts >> Overview:  American Art: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

After Stonewall, American gay male art underwent a radical transformation as artists came out and began to treat gay themes openly and directly.

arts >> Overview:  Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art, which designates new currents in art since 1970, is identified with postmodernism; during this period an art addressing gay and lesbian identity emerged.

social sciences >> Overview:  New Orleans

One of America's most colorful cities, New Orleans boasts a rich tradition for glbtq people and is both a popular travel destination for gay men and lesbians and the home of a diverse glbtq community.

arts >> Overview:  Photography: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

Post-Stonewall gay male photography merits recognition for its contribution to fine art, documentation, photo-journalism, and advertising, as well as erotica.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Males

Throughout much of history, the nude male figure was virtually the only subject that could be used to articulate homoerotic desire in publicly displayed works of art, as well as those works of art intended for private "consumption."

arts >> Cadmus, Paul

American painter Paul Cadmus is best known for the satiric innocence of his frequently censored paintings of burly men in skin-tight clothes, but he also created works that celebrate same-sex domesticity.

arts >> Dureau, George

New Orleans artist George Dureau is best known for his male figure studies and narrative paintings in oil and charcoal and for his black-and-white photographs, which often feature street youths, dwarfs, and amputees.

arts >> Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation

New York City's Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of explicitly gay art.

arts >> Mapplethorpe, Robert

American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's controversial images typically combine rigorously formal composition and design with extreme subject matter.

literature >> Saints and Sinners Literary Festival

The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, an annual glbtq-themed literary festival held each May in New Orleans, has become one of the world's most influential alternative literary festivals.

arts >> Warhol, Andy (as artist)

The avatar of Pop Art, Andy Warhol expressed desire in his images of celebrities and flouted traditional notions of masculinity by embracing extravagance, effeminacy, and an obsession with surface appearances.


Cooper, Christopher. "Art Theft Suspect Claims Deal with Museum Curator." Times-Picayune (New Orleans) (July 1, 1993): B1.

Harter, J. B. Encounters with the Nude Male. Swaffham, England: Éditions Aubrey Walker, 1997.

Leslie, Charles, ed. The Drawings of J. B. Harter. New York: Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation and John Burton Harter Charitable Trust, 2003.

MacCash, Doug. "Legacy in Limbo: Author, Artist, and Collector John Burton Harter Was Murdered before He Could Finish Making His Mark." Times-Picayune (New Orleans) (June 25, 2002): Living, 1.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Harter, J. B.  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated May 24, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006 glbtq, Inc.  


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