What’s the biggest taboo ever in gay culture? That’s easy – ageing! It’s the huge, ever-present, utterly terrifying conversational elephant that’s glaringly absent from gay small talk, a biological fact we hopelessly deny. Why? Is the prospect of once rock-hard muscles – and rock-hard penises – deflating into inoffensive flab really so demoralizing?
Surely, it all depends on our personal, psychological perspectives. Four centuries ago, speaking of Cleopatra, one rather talented Willie Shakespeare said, ‘age cannot wither her/nor custom stale her infinite variety’. How true, and obviously he’s alluding to the endless, larger than life mind-games that many drag queens, gay men and women create to counter the crushing dullness of straight male patriarchy. And in every generation, certain individuals take that polymorphic brilliance to dazzling heights, effortlessly defying the dull behavioural clichés associated with old age. So please, stop frenziedly fearing your first wrinkle or drooping ball-sack – this week, we’re profiling that fabulous, female Quentin Crisp who’s gorgeously owning her later years; Molly Parkin.
Never heard of her? Get real – what other groovy granny has ever seduced a toned, tanned blonde male surfer fifty years younger than herself in Las Vegas? Why, glancing back at contemporary reportage at the encounter, it’s the stuff of wet gay-boy dreams personified. ‘Making passionate love in the lavatory’, Molly’s quoted as saying, ‘fifty years evaporated – we were starving for each other!’. Wow – how many grannies can say that? The point, surely, is that lazy assumptions about sexual frenzy, daily propriety and creative decline bear no relation to the blazing, sunburst brilliance of genuine, geriatric geniuses.
See, in England alone, we have a storming quintet of what I’ve chosen to fittingly christen Radical Rainbow Elders, all gleefully flipping the bird to senile stagnation. There are artists Andrew Logan and Duggie Fields, era-defining designers Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood, and Molly herself, a stunningly polymathic novelist, painter and journalist. Strikingly, all five exuberantly deploy what Duggie Fields has called ‘Maximalism’ in their daily dress, a riotous assemblage of styles seamlessly guided by an infallible, internal aesthetic.
So please, bin any derogatory, ageist slurs you may have involuntarily bubbling around in the depths of your minds. Why, even a cursory consideration of gay clubbing culture and performance art is festooned with artists crucially indebted to our five, Radical Rainbow Elders. Frankly, there’d be no Leigh Bowery, Transformer or, more recently, David Hoyle, Daniel Lismore, and Ginny Lemon without them!
But back to Molly, whose Renaissance woman, artistic versatility immediately flourished after moving to London from her native Wales. The title of her debut novel – Love All – succinctly encapsulates the unrepentant, open-mindedness she unforgettably applied to every endeavour. There was a steamingly physical affair with James Robertson Justice, the barrel-voiced, bear-like star of the 1960s Doctor comedies, which successfully cloned the Carry On movies recipe of blatant innuendoes, a trope masterfully developed in Molly’s later fiction. Artistically restless, she created hats and bags for the stunningly innovative Biba store, worked with quintessential, swinging sixties designer Mary Quant, and, as fashion editor, unforgettably revamped the style magazine Nova.
Whew – I’m knackered even listing her achievements, but Molly had barely begun, writing ten erotic novels and establishing a career as an artist. Representative pictures – currently exhibited in Molly’s Life In Colour show until September 28th at the King’s Road Chelsea, 508 gallery – are instantly, eye-poppingly memorable.
Deploying a searing, nuclear palette married to a deliberately naïve technique, they’re like raw, uncensored visions from the Freudian unconsciousness offered up with a non-stop, enchantingly child-like glee. Look closely, and the paint – and brush-strokes – are slathered on as thick as heaped pasta, an artistry so exuberant it’s bursting flatline, 2-D constraints to gorgeously frolic in three dimensions!
Just like Molly herself, who’s marvelously indefatiguable, and whose genius – arguably – is genetically transmitted; her daughter Sophie, also an acclaimed writer, runs and created Vout-O-Reenees private members club. So darlings, don’t fear age, embrace it – viewed through Molly’s eyes, it’s fabulously rich and strange!
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