Gilbert Lewis, Tribute
One of Lewis’s largest paintings, Tribute depicts a three-way sexual encounter. The central figure reclines against green and red pillows atop a crumpled, multicolored quilt. The painting’s scale, dynamic composition, and dramatic contrasts of light and dark recall monumental works of erotic, generally mythological, subjects made by old master artists like Titian and Rubens for the European courts. In these paintings, women’s bodies are objectified for the privileged straight male gaze. Lewis’s offers “tribute” to that tradition, but also challenges it from the perspective of his own life experience, asserting a gay male interpretation. This is what erotic love looked like to him.
Lewis planned out this ambitious work in advance. Lewis’s longtime model Anthony Rullo muses that the artist likely posed the same sitter three different times. When the painting was included in an exhibition in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Lewis had it framed and scratched decorative patterns into the silver-leafed surfaces.