Drake Carr, whose painting Antisocial Headwear (2019–2021) features on the cover of the Summer 2023 issue of Art in America, learned how to draw from superhero comics and has trained his eye as a chronicler of queer assembly of different kinds. Taking inspiration from Happyfun Hideaway, a self-identified “queer tiki disco dive bar” in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where he has worked as a bartender for six years, Carr makes drawings and paintings that allude to fashion illustration and social-scene surveys from across the ages. Carr told A.i.A. a bit about his work on the cover, which features a detail of a larger painting shown in full below.
As told to A.i.A. I started this in the fall of 2019. Before that, I was primarily making these cutout paintings that are larger-than-life figures, like 7 feet tall. I still paint those a lot. I hadn’t really painted before on a rectangular canvas, other than in college. So this was like my reentry into a more traditional format for painting.
Clothing is a point of inspiration for me. I started painting people wearing different clothes and masks and headwear that are a bit fantastical and are at varying levels of obstructing the faces. This was pre-Covid: that hadn’t really entered my world yet, so I don’t know exactly what prompted me to start depicting masks. But, obviously, they soon became much more relevant. There’s also a sort of superhero-fantasy vibe to the painting, which comes from me learning to draw by tracing comic books and this X-Men encyclopedia I had as a kid.
The figure in the center changed over time. As you’re painting, especially if you’re spending months or years on something, characters start to develop a personality. When I began this, I went through a breakup. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but that character sort of took on the persona of the person I’d dated. That figure was the hardest to finish. It was a bit of a battle. I hesitate to articulate some concrete meaning or interpretation of what he’s supposed to convey. But I will say he was emotional to flesh out. There’s a calm kind of fear to him, and I think that’s connected to what I was going through while I was working.
The head pieces obstruct the figures’ faces in ways that hinder or maybe enhance them in some decorative way. Wearing a mask affects the way you communicate with someone, especially when their face is obscured too. I was thinking about fashion and adornment and decorating yourself to attract or repel interaction. Sometimes you want to attract, but other times you might want to repel, maybe by creating a force field around yourself for protection.
Backgrounds and settings are not the fun part for me. I’m not sure where these people are exactly, but I get the sensation of weather, a feeling of the air and wind and movement. It feels like a bit sexual to me, like a party, but also kind of ominous. I want it to be a little unclear.
Everyone’s dressed in this kind of real-but-unreal way. It feels related to other stuff I’ve done, with gay guys and weird outfits. It’s like a version of a gay bar, some exaggerated version of a real place. But it is quite different from my other work. I feel like this is maybe a world that I’ll go back to.