The work of John Kayser (1922-2007, USA) is unique in that it was made in secret. A lifetimes oeuvre, like so much of the avant-garde teetering at societies fringes was almost lost for eternity. After his death in 2007 his work was discovered within his discarded belongings by a collector who saw in them salvageable treasures. This world he left, intercepted as it almost plummeted into non-existence is saturated with a taut sense of trepidation and voyeurism. Within lies a captivating erotic universe with inescapable draw, but its clandestine origins leave us questioning our welcome, and their mysterious origins.
Little is know about his life, as biographical information in scarce. He was born in North Dakota and lived in Los Angeles, he briefly served as an armorer in the 18th Bomb Squadron of WWII. He also attended the Art Centre of Los Angeles and the Allied Art School in Glendale California. The remainder of his story exists on a continuum of speculation in conversation with his work. On investigation we begin to unravel the life of an amateur, outsider artist with an unmistakeable feeling for composition and total lack of pretension. His work, not grandiose or performing for an audience, is indelibly personal; comprised of snapshot 1-hour service prints, colour Kodaks and home videos, likely developed at one of the drug stores on Sunset Boulevard.
Everything but a professional photographer, he nonetheless created works with immaculate theatrical sensitivity. He explored the use of hand-painted backdrops, outdoor locations, posture and lighting in ways that evolved over time. This evolution indicating that, no matter the fetishistic first impressions one might sense, this was his creative practice. That he had an insatiable thirst to embody some internal vision within his environment, whilst continuously delving. But who are his muses? Some models are recurring, relationships growing for years, which surely precipitated an enormous degree of trust. Some presumably dancers from strip clubs, each performing on his artfully constructed stage.
We see in his work an intimacy that might cause discomfort. But on further investigations he is not only playing out taboo desires, but meticulously constructing arresting scenes: Women crushing fruit with their buttocks, smothering him, or the looming threat of a high heel stepping in an open mouth. There is both an openness and playfulness but also profound and tender trust between the artist and the subjects depicted. Both in their bold explorations of sexuality in a time that would have scalded them for it, and in the implied physical danger. Slowly, the work breaks down your unease. The longer you look, the clearer the props, the scene and the play.
John Kayser’s work is a symbiosis of vision and sexuality, of one’s deepest longings and craft. In studio pouring all erotic inner-self into his work in a way that could only take place free of shame and out of sight. His work is proof of the perennial nature of human desire: disarming and comforting in its historicity. In his ascending of the laws of his time, we find relief from our own burdens. In his intimate sanctuary, we might also dispose of our guilt: we are not alone, we were never alone.