heroes & heroines

  Bishop Gene Robonson

  Martina Navratilova


  Peter Tatchell

Radclyffe Hall

  Oscar Wilde

  Ian McKellen

  Michel Foucault

Kenneth Williams

John Waters

Elton John
  Quentin Crisp  


Aroyo learned his gay activism in one of the many self-help groups that sprang up in the heady decade following the Stonewall riots in 1969.  The underlying texts come from papal encyclicals and the now defunct Section 28.  These harsh words are effaced or overlaid with secular gilded icons. 

Tatchell and Aroyo


“Every painting is the sum of destructions” – Picasso’s observation applies to a variety of art practices.  Paint is applied and removed; choices made; marks and brush strokes rejected or retained; the finished work emerges and, as Picasso says, “becomes the unique painting that nullifies all other possible paintings”.  

Unlike this unique end product, erasure in Rauschenberg’s iconic “Erased De Kooning drawing” allows all possible paintings into the work.  The erased image leaves traces and a surface alive with possibilities, a living emptiness that becomes a horn of plenty receiving any accident that impinges on it, giving back a multitude of possible images and meanings.


Erasure can have a further purpose and meaning.  Blacked out words, cancelled lines in a letter are marks left by the heavy hand of authority, a demonstration of the power that can censor and suppress.  “Victim Art” has never been a category that has appealed to me, so I prefer to think of these images as “Oppressor Art” where my authority supersedes that of the Establishment.


However, it would be too easy to think of these images as coming merely from a desire to erase what I disapprove of or what seems outrageous to me. These erasures, carefully calibrated as they are, like the traces of a vanishing inscription on a gravestone reveal fleeting glimpses of words and meanings.  We are reminded of a past before our slow and painful progress towards equality.  They become a memorial that admonishes past authorities, confronts those in our contested present and declares “never again” for our future.

Mask and Icon

The Icon is a valued and time-honoured format.  It is too easily claimed by authority, either as totem, taboo object or even Saint.  Similarly, the portrait can be too specific, too burdensome.  The mask by contrast does not impose itself, but offers a template that I might inhabit if I chose to. When I made “Masks disclose” in 1991, it illustrated the paradox that wearing a mask can simply betray the fact that there is something to hide.  Today, the mask I choose to wear can also reveal the virtues or the persona I desire. I can become any of my Icons – even Earth, Air, Fire or Water.

Erasure, memorial, mask and icon, these are all parts of the palimpsest that overlies the original text; its authoritarian meaning is transformed and at a time when so much of our equality remains contested this gallery of heroes and heroines still bears witness to-day, as it did yesterday.  Like tribal, emblematic masks they endow us all with some of their honesty and courage.