This Queer Communist From Kentucky Radicalized the Male Body In His Art

This Queer Communist From Kentucky Radicalized the Male Body In His Art

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Edward Melcarth’s artistic track record runs far and long. It includes being named one of Time magazine’s top artists to look out for in 1950, painting a mural for one of New York City’s most prestigious hotels and designing those iconic bat-framed sunglasses for his good friend Peggy Guggenheim. Yet Melcarth has yet to receive the following his work genuinely deserves.

But thanks to two 2018 exhibitions, the work of the openly gay artist was given a new breath of life. The resurgence of Melcarth’s work is also largely indebted to historian Jonathan Coleman.

Edward Melcarth at work in 1950 (photo courtesy of the Faulkner Morgan Archive)

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Edward Melcarth was actually named Edward Epstein. His father died at a very young age, which left his mother to remarry a wealthy aristocrat. Melcarth eventually made his way to New York City, where he immersed himself into the art scene.

In reference to how Epstein became Melcarth, Jonathan Coleman told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “the artist might have invented it from Melqart, an ancient Phoenician god.” Melcarth denounced religion at an early age but took an interest in history and Pagan gods. Coleman also pointed out that, “Melcarth lived a rebel’s life as an openly gay communist. During the McCarthy era, the FBI raided his studio and confiscated his passport.”

Many of Melcarth’s paintings were portraits of hustlers and blue-collar workers, which as Hyperallergic points out, “presumably also kept his bed warm. … Melcarth’s men can be rugged or pretty … the artist simultaneously renders accurate likenesses of his subjects and idealizes the features that attracted him in the first place.”

You can check out some of Edward Melcarth’s artwork in the gallery below.


What do you think of Edward Melcarth and his work?

This article was originally published on Feb. 10, 2018. It has since been updated.

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