In the predominantly heterosexual world of street art -- possibly the most important contemporary art movement of today -- there are only a handful of artists in the world that consistently feature gay themes in their work, and only one is based in Los Angeles. He goes by the moniker "Homo Riot."
"I wanted to be like a terrorist," said Homo Riot, who took his art to the streets in earnest days after anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 was passed in California in November, 2008. "I wanted to react that way. Just 'Homo Riot' is saying something."
Nearly three years later, Homo Riot is still pushing the envelope with defiant, politically charged art that riles homophobes and has been featured in two recent gallery shows in L.A. The other night, we rode with the artist in his Nissan SUV to watch him work.
Wearing a baseball cap, black shirt and black pants, and white Converse sneakers, Homo Riot was putting in a last night of righteous vandalism before he took a break for a week or two to come up with new images for his next art attack.
Although no one planned it, we hit the streets the night before Halloween, which in some parts of this country is known as "Mischief Night" -- a time when adolescent boys toilet paper trees and throw eggs at the sides of homes. Homo Riot was unknowingly following that tradition, but with a deeper sense of mission.
"We're like everyone's favorite punching bag," said Homo Riot, referring to the gay community. "I want to keep people aware that we're still out there. We're not just on Glee and Bravo. And I want to make gay people feel empowered when they see my work on the street. I hope they feel a sense of pride."
Homo Riot moved to Los Angeles with his boyfriend in 2000, expecting to move back to New York City in six months. That never happened. He's been living in Los Angeles for the past 11 years. "The quality of life is much better here," the artist told us.
In 2008, Homo Riot and his boyfriend worked the phone banks for the "No on 8" campaign, which tried to defeat Proposition 8 and keep gay marriage legal in California. A few days after the initiative was passed, the artist was driving around Los Angeles with his first posters.
In 2011, Homo Riot, an affable, easy-going guy who was born and raised in Florida, still pastes posters around town nearly every week. Sometimes the images of two men kissing rattles the public so much that Homo Riot will later find his posters defaced. "Anything gay like that," he said, "they don't like."
A few hours after we hit the streets, in fact, Homo Riot found that someone tore down his poster that featured two kissing men with clown make-up eyes.
Homo Riot can only think of six or seven street artists in the world who regularly feature gay themes in their work, and he knows all of them. But Homo Riot would prefer more to have comrades in arms in Los Angeles.
"I don't want to be the only gay guy in L.A. doing street art," said Homo Riot, who recently showcased his work at the Hold Up Art Gallery in downtown. "I want a dozen."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
After pasting in Hollywood and other neighborhoods, the artist headed back to his studio near the 10 freeway.
"Our night of vandalism has come to end," he said.
In a few weeks, Homo Riot will be back out again.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.