The Big Gay Art Show honors LGBTQ artists

Sedona-based artist CJ Henderson painted an abstract black and white self-portrait in charcoal and acrylic of a silhouetted nude body facing the viewer. Henderson describes art as therapy, helping him through difficult times in his life.

“This particular painting that I did, I did it as I came to terms with my sexuality,” Henderson said. “I didn’t have other people from the LGBTQ+ community around me and I felt very alone. That’s why the piece is called ‘Alone.’ my depression pretty bad, and it got me through some dark places. But to get through, I had to put these dark images on the canvas.

Henderson said he was no longer in that space. “To this day when I see my creation it reminds me of that darkness, that feeling of emptiness and now I remind myself that it can be overcome,” he said.

Henderson, along with artists from across the country, participated in a juried art exhibition, the Big Gay Art Show, at the Sedona Art Center during Celebrate Sedona on Dec. 7. The show runs until Friday, December 23 and supports the LGBTQ+ community. and its allies.

“This is an important area of ​​focus,” said Julie Richard, CEO of the Sedona Arts Center. “We’re trying to do more diverse things overall and showcase the diversity of artists who live in Sedona and around the country. It’s important to tell their stories, not just to focus on what’s necessarily genre specific, but on things that have a bit more meaning behind them.

The event began as an effort to provide the LGBTQ+ community with a voice in the local arts scene. Since that first show in 2013, the Sedona Arts Center has welcomed hundreds of emerging and professional artists to Sedona to share their work.

“Every single person we put on the show had a really interesting story and/or the work was really cool,” Richard said. “It was hard to pick a favorite because so much of the work and the stories were compelling.”

In addition to the art exhibit, a holiday-themed drag performance was held featuring Las Vegas drag queens Carnie Asada, Phoenix Angel, and Vypra G. Saxton. According to Richard, more than 160 people attended the show and the performance lasted longer than expected.

“It seemed like everyone had a great time,” Richard said.

The Big Gay Art Show provides a positive venue for the LGBTQ+ community and allies to showcase their work. In the past, the Sedona Arts Center has hosted and promoted the event organized by Sedona Pride, but has now taken over this event at the request of the organization.

A portion of the proceeds benefit Northland Cares, a healthcare clinic for people living with HIV and providing cure services for Hepatitis C. Northland has been providing services from Cottonwood and Flagstaff clinics for over 20 years. Hedda Fay, community outreach manager for Northland Cares, said this was the first time they had partnered with SAC and helped organize the performance with the drag show.

“This was our first time hosting an event at the Sedona Arts Center and we are proud to be part of their program,” Fay said.

Artist Oli Boyer won first place for Lifetime Achievement. On his Instagram, Boyer said, “I’m so honored to be part of the Big Gay Art show with the Sedona Arts Center. It means so much to be included in a show based on queer people and our stories. I am rightfully speechless. To be part of a queer art exhibit alone is amazing, but to receive first place is insane. I did not expect to receive this award, but I am so honored to have done so.

Boyer said she spent much of her life hiding her queer and trans identity. “Being able to be proud myself is something I never thought would happen,” Boyer said. “To be able to create work that expresses my identity and show it to the world is absolutely amazing.” “Thank you so much, Sedona Art Center, for having a place where queer artists can share their work without judgement,” Boyer added.

The second place winner was a collaboration between Brenda Schweder and Max, and the third place winner went to Joan Cox for her lifetime achievement. An honorable mention was awarded to Brandon Dudley for his work “The Queen”.

“I’m 35 and just starting to break into the art world,” Dudley said. “I started late in this world, but I don’t necessarily regret this choice. I spent years in the performing arts as an actor and drag queen. I was also a hair and make-up artist, and even did a stint in retail. The only thing I regret is how long it took me to share my art with others. How long I’ve been creating in secret and I’m too afraid to show it. I learned that life is too short and now is as good a time as any.

Additional honorable mentions went to Kevin Eaton, Tom Hill, Stephen Honicki and Denise Katzen. Other artists included Henderson, Lisa Barnes, Lori Bauman, Rawley Chaves, Teresa Foster, Ashely Hamilton, Copious Harvey-Smith, Sarah Kahle, John Paradiso, Forest Svendgard-Lang and Henry Thomas.

Henderson said he was filled with mixed emotions about his work being exhibited to the world. “I was terrified, because this is the first time I’ve put on my [art out there] anyone to judge,” he said. “I felt very vulnerable. Because the play had such a dark meaning and history in my life. But I was also proud because I wanted to tell this story. Even if I don’t meet the person who watched and read the story, it might help someone else come to terms, whether they’re LGBTQ+ or going through a tough time. It might help them and give them some kind of hope.

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