Harry Bush May Be the World’s Best Unknown Gay Erotic Artist

Written by | Art & Design

Harry Bush color image

Harry Bush, an expert at depicting the male form, might be the best gay erotic artist unknown to the public.

Bush loathed gay culture, which he regarded as shallow. He was notoriously hard to work with, and destroyed much of his artwork out of spite. He railed at publishers for inferior reproductions of his drawings, and fell out with nearly every one over time.

Still, his talent was impossible to ignore. His whimsical renderings of boys-next-door at the apex of their appeal continue to find collectors clamoring for originals. They appeared in magazines throughout the late ’70s and into the 1980s, when Bush drew nude likenesses of young Hollywood stars that could have cost him a fortune in lawsuits.

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Bush mostly drew from imagination. During his most productive period, he was a recluse hooked on cigarettes and dependent on an oxygen tank.

Unlike his contemporary Tom of Finland, Bush favored hairless athletic young men who appeared to be barely more than adolescent. And unlike any of those who worked during his lifetime, Bush’s drawings were never more than single stand-alone images. He did not use them to tell a story or to build a following.

Tortured Genius

When obscenity laws were loosened at the end of the 1970s, other artists came forward to sell their work publicly. Bush never did. He lived in lifelong fear of being outed and the possibility his relatives would disown him and leave him destitute. Despite this — and the belief that his signature was a pun — Harry Bush worked under his real name.

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Much of what was left behind appears in a 2007 anthology called Hard Boys. The collection was assembled by Bob Mainardi, who befriended Bush late in life.

Mainardi says that realism set Bush’s work apart. He believes most of the artist’s contemporaries were “leaning toward comic book cartoons. Much of their work was a parody of reality. Maybe Harry’s work is more threatening because it’s visually more realistic. People would look at it and think that these drawings were taken from life.”

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Last modified: August 29, 2019