Famous Gay Visual Artists

Gays are artistic and empowered that’s why there are many visual artists who proudly represent themselves as gay. Here are some of them.

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe is known for his black-and-white photographs of celebrity portraits, male and female nudes, self-portraits, and still-life images. His work began in the late 1960s with Polaroid cameras, and then he moved on to a medium-format Hasselblad camera. He photographed musicians, rock stars, artists, and members of the New York City gay community.

He also created photographic collages using spray paint, stencils, and found images, such as those from gay porn magazines. He was interested in sexuality and fetishism, as well as the ways that photography constructs and confers intimacy.

In 1988, a retrospective exhibition of his work opened at The Whitney Museum of American Art. The show included the X, Y, and Z Portfolios. It was the first time these works had been shown in their entirety. Eight months after the exhibition opened, Mapplethorpe died of AIDS. His work was controversial and often sexually explicit, but it was important in the way that it portrayed and celebrated the gay community. It also sparked debates about government support for art and censorship.


The son of a powerful Yoruba family that fled to England during the Nigerian Civil War, Fani-Kayode was a seminal figure in 1980s black British and African photography. His work was lyrical, sensual, sexual, and mythical self-portraits that explored the intersection of spirituality, erotic fantasy, and cultural and racial identity.

Using the black queer body as his primary subject, Fani-Kayode’s images were often a critique of homophobia and a call for equal political representation during the AIDS crisis. His portraits use a combination of Western art historical iconography and African aesthetics to depict the complexity of queer life.

Fani-Kayode died of AIDS-related complications in 1989 at the age of 34. His work remains a testament to his unashamedly black, African, and gay vision of masculinity and its power. In his iconic photographs, he fuses the beauty of African culture with the erotic sexuality of Western society. His ambiguous portraits challenge the assumption that only cis white men can be sexually explicit and evocative. His works are also a reminder of photography’s history of mangling (particularly black) queer bodies.

Keith Haring

A gay icon for many, Keith Haring’s work spanned across mediums, influenced generations, and is held in collections worldwide. He was open about his sexuality and made it a point to use art as a platform for social issues, specifically AIDS awareness.

Haring was born in Pennsylvania but moved to New York City to pursue his career as a painter. During his time there, he was known for his chalk graffiti on the subways and his street art pieces. He was able to break through the boundaries of what society expected from a contemporary artist and used his talent to promote safe sex and AIDS awareness.

In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS and the illness became an important focus of his work. He devoted much of his time and effort to raising awareness of HIV/AIDS and using his art to help raise funds for the cause. He also established the Keith Haring Foundation to provide support for underserved children and AIDS organizations, which still operates today. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1990 at the age of 31.

David Wojnarowicz

The painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, songwriter, and performance artist David Wojnarowicz was a key figure in the New York art scene during the 1980s. He died in 1992, of AIDS-related complications, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy that is still relevant today.

In his work, he addressed same-sex desire, the AIDS crisis, and the persecution of sexual minorities. Ultimately, however, Wojnarowicz’s art was about America, which he called a “killing machine” and a “tribal nation of zombies.” He argued that silence is complicity and that it’s important to speak up for those who are not heard.

His diaries, which he kept from his early teens until the end of his life, describe a roller-coaster journey of family division, drug use, rejection of capitalist mores, societal isolation, and profound friendships. His appropriations often addressed these themes, using images of landscapes and cityscapes broken by circular insets that resemble X-ray visions. These insets were often taken from photographs by his lover and muse, Peter Hujar. The relationship between sexuality and friendship was central to his practice. Wojnarowicz fanned his anger but never gave into political exhaustion.

Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie’s photography explores American culture and landscape. Her work ranges from intimate portraits to panoramic subtle seascapes. The camera has reframed the world for Opie since she was given a Kodak Instamatic at nine years old.

The portraits that established her reputation in the ’90s celebrate queer communities. Her two self-portraits from this period, Leather & Skin and Nursing, address themes of identity formation and sexual fluidity and rework the genres of Renaissance art. The former depicts Opie’s naked torso with the word “pervert” cut into her flesh; the latter shows a mother holding her baby, evoking Madonna and Child paintings.

The images in Opie’s later series investigate how people unite within inhospitable landscapes. Her freeways and mini-malls, shot in long panoramic frames, are reminiscent of the elegiac views of 19th-century photographers of Egyptian monuments. Her photographs of surfers and high school football players, taken in icy and humid swamps and suburban neighborhoods, also speak to the ways that we form a community. Opie also photographed her own family for the series Domestic, which reveals her interest in the ways that families interact with their surroundings.