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Art exhibit: Bread and Blue

To the casual observer, Randall Lake may have a deal with the devil, a vendetta against the Mormon church and a gay agenda.

That’s only partially true.

Lake is a gay man who has lived in Utah for 35 years. He studied art in Paris before earning a Master’s degree in Fine Arts at the University of Utah and has spent the majority of his 40-plus year career painting idyllic landscapes, vivid still lifes and portraits.

However, his most recent works portray slightly different subject matter. A self-portrait depicts Lake at the helm of a galleon in the middle of a storm, the Grim Reaper hovering over him.

Another painting, "Bad Medicine," shows gay men who have either hung or shot themselves and Joseph Mengele, one of the infamous doctors associated with the Holocaust, at a podium as though he is deciding their fate.

At his upcoming solo show at Gallery MAR, Lake will showcase a collection that represents the dualities of his existence: beauty and pain, love and hate, life and death. The gallery will host an artist reception with Lake on Friday, May 28, from 6 to 9 p.m. The event coincides with the monthly gallery stroll and is free and open to the public.

Lake’s exhibition, entitled "Bread and Blue," will run through June 13. Half of the pieces are what Lake considers his bread the commercially viable pieces such as landscapes and still lifes. The other pieces are expressive of the artist’s frustrations and sorrow. "My blue art is more challenging and expressive of my anger regarding California’s Proposition 8, Iraq and Mormon advice to homosexuals on how to be straight," he says.

Lake joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was in his early 20s. "I’ve always been well-behaved and polite and desperately conformist because I was starved to fit in. I think one of the big appeals about Mormonism for me as a young man was normalcy," he says. "I decided if I couldn’t be happy, I’d be good."

As he came to terms with his sexuality, he encountered people who tried to convince him that gayness is curable, much like a disease.

"I wanted to be straight in the worst way," he says. He received suggestions to bond with strong heterosexual influences and even to try genital electroshock therapy.

He opted to get married in the Mormon temple and had five children. "I did everything I knew how to do," he says. "The reality is praying to be straight is like praying to have blue eyes when your eyes are black. It just doesn’t work."

In 1986, Lake fell in love with another gay man from the church. They were secretly together for a year before Lake decided to confess his homosexuality to his bishop, end his marriage and leave the church. A few days later, his lover hung himself.

At his funeral, the church chose to cover up the fact that the suicide resulted largely from dealing with the ostracism of being a gay man in the Mormon religion.

"I vowed I would never lie about [my homosexuality] again to anybody," Lake says. "I didn’t have the energy to pretend anymore."

Still, it wasn’t until many years later that his rage and resentment were revealed in his artwork. "I was enraged about his suicide, and yet I was painting asparagus," he says. He painted a portrait of his lover hanging himself and sent it to his dealer, who nearly had a fit.

But Lake wasn’t deterred by the dealer’s reaction, and he painted a series on the AIDS epidemic as well as several other portraits of suicide.

In 2004, he broke up with his partner of seven years and took a two-year hiatus from his art. During that time, he realized his paintings weren’t true to his spirit. "Art mirrors life. Your life is a progression and a revolution, and if your art is connected, it will follow," he explains.

He says he doesn’t have a gay agenda per se, he just channels his personal thoughts and experiences through his paintbrushes. He considers himself a crusader for human rights, but prefers to stay out of the political realm. "I think the way I can be the best activist is through my art," he says. "I’d rather paint my feelings than put them into a committee."

One of the central themes of his work is the debate over whether sexual preference is achoice. "If you could, who would choose [homosexuality]?" he asks. "I think the reason why the church wants it to be a choice issue is because if it’s a choice issue, then it can be evil. If you’re black, you’re born black. If you’re Jewish, you’re born Jewish. If you’re gay, you’re born gay. If you’re a pedophile or a polygamist, that’s a choice. There’s a difference."

Lake has found a sense of happiness in painting from a darker place. "It’s taken me 60 years to get to a place where Matisse got in 30 painting things that are idiosyncratic and personal to me," he says. "I feel like I only have so many bullets left. If anything ever distinguishes me as an artist, it’ll probably be these paintings."

Gallery MAR is located at 580 Main Street. For more information about the gallery, visit http://www.gallerymar.com . For details about the artist, visit http://www.randalllake.com.


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