01 June 2011

Before and After

This painting, part of my series against gay bullying, is called Before and After.

Tyler Clementi and the other teens who have committed suicide because of bullying are still on my mind, especially after recent legal action on his case these past couple of weeks related to his former roommate and hallmate.

Also, I’m in the middle of the It Gets Better book, and both of these related trains of thought keep raising the themes of “Before” and “After” in my mind.

Many people in the book (and in the videos) tell the story of how, as kids, they just went about their business until one day when they were confronted with a homophobic remark or action, one so remarkable that it somehow divided their lives into Before and After. Sometimes, it was notable because it marked the first instance of bullying in that child’s life. Other times, it was notable because that was the moment when the writer realized that the world perceived them as different. Or gay. But for everyone, it was remarkable because of the way that everything that came After seemed different. It changed the way the writers felt about themselves, how they saw themselves in the world, and how they interacted with others.

For Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, it was when his friends told him that their writing group would disband because “guys writing in journals is a faggy thing to do” (p 23). For singer Meshell Ndegeocello, it was the day her friend responded to a boy’s teasing by publicly rejecting Meshell and puching her in the face (p 112). Undoubtedly, the boys and girls who committed suicide due to anti-gay bullying had their own Before and After moments. Certainly, we can look at their lives and suicides in terms of Before and After: they were here, and now they’re not.

Thinking about all of this, I painted a lively, chaotic mix of colors and shapes throughout most of the painting. This is Before: kids being themselves, not necessarily self-censoring their speech or actions yet. This is Gregory happily and obliviously sharing his journals, Meshell playing with her friend Gwendolyn. It’s daydreaming or playing or the usual things that come with living a busy childhood. It’s not perfect or sugarcoated; colors muddy together sometimes, textures (some made by collaging drawings onto the surface of the painting) hint at things buried underneath, slightly ominous forest greens or gray-blacks appear amid brighter colors.

But a shift in color and imagery happens near the bottom of the painting. Two dark gray slashes of paint that resemble an X seem to bottle up the activity, like a plug in a drain. Below those marks, the painting becomes more gray, and less active. This is the resting point in the painting, but it’s not a peaceful rest. It’s tense and unsatisfying, a contrast to the activity and spirit elsewhere.

Before and After.

-Maura McGurk

Maura makes artwork about issues related to the LGBT/queer/gay experience, especially gay bullying. Take a stand against gay bullying by checking out her work, liking it on Facebook, or commenting on her blog.


  1. This weekend, a Facebook friend from grade school suggested that we plan to have a Class of '93 reunion. Nearly 20 years later, emotions of my adolescence rushed through my heart: happiness, nostalgia, anger. Despite the excitement of everything, I could not help but remember when Jaime pointed out for the very first time that I was indeed different, that I was a "homo." I hated him then, and I hate him now. I would love to say time healed my wounds and that we are all friends, but if anything, I still have my scars. I can't let it go, and I won't. Thankfully, it DID get better; if only it didn't NEED to...

    Thank you for the painting, Maura. It's a touching piece.


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