I was so impressed with my first trip around the Coming Out exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that I jumped at the chance to join in with the Curator’s Tour with the amazing Lisa Beauchamp who was sadly coming to the end of her time as the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at BMAG. Lisa was leaving for a career in New Zealand so it was a real treat to benefit from her tremendous insight and enthusiasm for some of the standout pieces on show.

Harvest Assembly by Keith Vaughan

Lisa began the tour by Keith Vaughan’s striking work ‘Harvest Assembly’ which was done in 1956. In his personal journals, Keith referred to how his sexuality meant that he was a member of the criminal class. Around the time of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, he publicly announced his sexuality by publishing his journals and drawings. Lisa explained the importance of landscapes to Keith and how this work has contrasting emotions with both the celebration of the vitality of the central figure and the melancholy demeanour of the figure on the right.

We Two Boys Clinging Together by David Hockney

Next Lisa moved on to one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition, David Hockney’s We Two Boys Together Clinging which took inspiration from the poem of the same name by American poet Walt Whitman. It especially paid tribute to Whitman’s idea of ‘adhesiveness’ a force that creates attachment. What was especially interesting about Lisa’s talk was how she pointed out the secret meanings of details such as the number 4.2 bottom left and the music score by the head of the figure on the left. Enjoy Lisa explaining in the short video below.

David used a simple numeric code to give clues to the identities of the figures in the painting with a=1, b=-2 etc. The 4.2 then means D.B and stands for Doll Boy which is a reference to his crush on Cliff Richard who of course had the hit ‘Living Doll’. The music score you can see clearly below is also another reference to Cliff.  It’s not visible on this close-up but the figure on the left has the numbers 4.8 close to it which translates as DH so David Hockney is labelling that figure as a self-portrait. The figure on the right has two sets of numbers next to it (not visible here) referring to his two crushes 3.18 means CR for Cliff Richard and 16.3 means PC for Peter Crutch a student he knew. You can see the word ‘never’ on the lips of the left figure which refers to this love being unrequited as Peter Crutch was a heterosexual.

Close up of We Two Boys Clinging Together

Finally, Lisa also pointed out how the quote from Whitman’s poem and how the background with its graffiti represents toilet cubicle doors. I loved the story behind this painting, the details and the emotions behind them. I can’t recommend the curator’s tours enough so do look out for them on future exhibitions.

We 2 boys together clinging details