James Bidgood March 28, 1933 — January 31, 2022

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Tuesday February 1, 2022
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James Bidgood; Bobby Kendall in a still from 'Pink Narcissus'
James Bidgood; Bobby Kendall in a still from 'Pink Narcissus'

Known mostly for his underground gay art film Pink Narcissus, artist James Bidgood died while hospitalized on January 31. He was 88.

As a child, Bidgood already showed a creative spark, and enjoyed dressing up dolls and watching Ziegfield Follies films. When he moved from his Madison, Wisconsin home to New York City in 1951 at 18, he worked as a female impersonator, window dresser, fashion, costume, and graphic designer, photographer, stylist, and filmmaker.

Bidgood developed a unique style with a homoerotic flair, which was dangerous at the time.

"I knew my film could be confiscated being processed by Kodak if they spotted too much flesh color while they scanned the processed film," Bidgood said in an interview for Another Mag. "However the surrounds in my photography were usually so elaborate those making these judgments were I think often confused. I usually covered the dangly bits with something like organza or china silk or stretch fabrics."

Considered a classic of gay underground erotic cinema, his 1971 film Pink Narcissus, shot entirely in his home over seven years, wove the fantasies of a gay prostitute, and became an underground hit when it was released. Performers included Bobby Kendall in the leading role, with Don Brooks and stage actor Charles Ludlam.

But after a disagreement with his producer, Bidgood removed his name from the credits, and it was released without his permission. The 'Anonymous' director credit was for years wrongly attributed to Andy Warhol.

Bidgood continued to work in obscurity until the late 1990s when writer Bruce Benderson located him and helped produce Bidgood (Taschen) in 2009, the artist's first complete monograph.

Pink Narcissus was re-released in 2003 by Strand Releasing and its cult status grew even more. In his later years, Bidgood's art was exhibited by Brian Clamp at Clamp Art gallery in New York City.

Bidgood's use of lush color and style, created with self-aware camp, later inspired artists Pierre & Giles, David LaChappelle and even Lil Naz X.

In his last years, despite living in near poverty, Bidgood maintained hearty conversations with his numerous fans and friends on Facebook (www.facebook.com/james.bidgood.5), where many people continue to offer tributes.

"Art only stimulated by praise or profit is not art," said Bidgood in an interview. "If it is not born from pain or anguish or pride or shame or desire or overwhelming joy, it is only something of decorative value. What is art should never be determined exclusively by those who can afford it. You have to feel art. It demands a physical response."

A GoFundMe account has been set up by his friend and estate manager Kelly McKaig to cover funeral expenses and the archival efforts for Bidgood's art. McKaig plans for a burial site at Cedar Park Cemetery in Hudson, New York. A memorial will take place in New York City at a later date.


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