Mark I. Chester

images from Outcasts



I started  Gay Menís Sketch, a weekly drawing group for gay men, in 1987 in my studio with David Ross, another artist.  Scott O'Hara, the famous gay porn star and writer was our very first model.  We simply put up some posters around town and the group has been going ever since.

It may be one of the most extraordinary things I have done in my life.  Taking photographs is one thing, but I always got bad grades in art, because in school, art was good if it was pretty, cute and neat.  And nothing I have ever done has been pretty, cute and neat.  So I was convinced that I couldnít do art.  After 22 years, the guys in my group will tell you that I still canít.  (too bad you canít hear me laughing... ) But the difference is, before I believed that I couldnít do art.  And now I know, there is no such thing as ĎI canít do art.í

The group has had a tremendous effect on my life.  It is a very special thing to use your home, your space to bring people together.  And Iíve learned a lot about myself in the process.  And all those hours upon hours spent looking at men.  Maybe in some way I am trying to make up for all the years that I wasnít allowed to look at men, and the shame that others put on me for wanting to look at men.  But it has also has affected my photography, teaching me how light sculpts and reveals the human form.  It wasnít something I was even aware of until it came pouring out in these pictures.

Marcus showed up at the drawing group and tried out as a model.  He got up on stage and immediately sprung a hard-on.  Now thatís bound to get my attention.  In the end, Marcus modeled for us many times and I photographed him many times.  In some strange way, photographing him healed a certain wound in my heart.  At a time when I was artistically lost and searching, Marcus connected all the dots for me without even trying or knowing what he was doing.

Michael was a German artist who was a member of the sketch group for many years.  A large scale multi-person black and white charcoal drawing by Michael still hangs in the corner of the kitchen.  He was very excitable and gregarious, constantly pushing me and the class to be wilder and push the limits.  Eventually we insisted that he model his own crazy ideas, which he did and did well.  He left a permanent and indelible impression on me.

In Dec. of Ď89 we did an Erotic Sketch Nite to raise money for AIDS.  A number of our models were also into sexual performance at the clubs and didnít mind this combination of art and sex.  But this one night, tainted our reputation for years.  I had many artists and models tell me that they wanted to join our group but since all we did was sex, they didnít feel comfortable.  Of course it was just one night.  But what a night!