Artist Olan Montgomery Brushes Up on Gay HateBarry Winchell

by Jason Lumiere

Artist Olan Montgomery paints societal conditions and their affect on the individual. His past collections have shined the light on topics like New York’s hidden gay underground, summer resort enclaves like Provincetown and Rehobeth Beach; and Chase Manhattan bank tellers.

In his latest collection, Atrocities, Montgomery presents his most heart wrenching work yet, depicting some of our nation’s most horrific gay hate crimes.


What message are you conveying through your art?
I encourage viewers to see the individual through color and light. By doing so, one’s own humanity can be more fully understood.

Your recent work seems to focus on the individual.
It always has. Their soul, essence; the wonderful value each person adds for simply being. One person can and has changed the world.

Like Harvey Milk?
Exactly. I often wonder what Harvey Milk could have accomplished had he had the chance to live. Imagine how much more he would have given to the world.

Your new collection, Atrocities, focuses on gay hate crimes.
I am shining the light on people who were horrifically beaten, tortured, and murdered because they were different.

Is there one piece that speaks loudest to you?
The piece that most tears at my heart out is inspired by the story of Barry Winchell, a military man who was beaten to death with a Louisville slugger baseball bat in his barracks after it was discovered that he was dating a transsexual.

Was he really awake during the attack?
He lay sleeping in his bed during the attack but I chose to see Winchell waking up. According to the police report, the blood spatter on the wall around Winchell’s head was like a halo.

You take poetic license in several of the pieces, including the painting of Matthew Shepard.Matthew Shepard
I saw Matthew Shepard begging those boys for his life. They had it within their power to stop what they were doing. I would like to think that at some point Matthew’s inner voice and soul took over and gave him a calm. I think there is a calm that comes over us all when we realize that we are not in control of our destiny

You incorporate references to historical works in the collection.

The Matthew Shepard piece is inspired by The Shepherdess, a painting by French painter Jean Francois Millet.

The tribute of Gwen Arguro is inspired by Rembrandt’s Rape of Ganymede.
Gwen was outted as a transsexual at 17, then beaten to death for five hours by three men. They choked her, hit her with a frying pan, tied her up in rope and then beat her with a shovel. The perpetrators used the ‘gay panic’ defense and were able to get a mistrial. Then, in their second trial, the court determined Gwen’s case was not a hate crime because she had sex with several of her assailants. Such injustice.

Who are the people in Shut the Front Door?
The people are figurative and not based on any real person. They represent my own feelings about how I have been treated by my own country being gay.

Is that why the capital building is in the background?
The capitol is in the painting because the legislature of the federal government of the United States does not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples and is prohibited from doing so by the Defense of Marriage Act. Again, someone else saying our gay relationships don’t hold water against straight ones.

Have you ever been a victim of a gay hate crime?
All gay people are victims of the biggest hate crime in history. When politicians can make speeches about us using blanket derogatory statements, comparing us to pedophiles, calling us all kinds of hateful things and they’re still allowed to hold office, hell, we’re all being victimized.

Is the gay community doing enough to combat gay hate crimes?
The community cannot combat something we did nothing to incite. What needs to be done is on the backs of every parent. It starts in the home.

Do we need a leader like Martin Luther King?
How does one find a leader in a world so divided? I would say let’s not follow the leader. Instead, let us as a people protect one another and teach acceptance to our children.

Do you plan to exhibit the collection?
Right now I am just trying to paint, feel and understand the atrocities going on in the world.

Ultimately, you will sell the paintings. Are these paintings appropriate for living rooms?
I have to look at Jesus Christ being crucified in every church and overzealous Catholic’s home. I think the world can stand for us honoring our dead.

What’s next for Olan Montgomery?
I’m painting a series on War along with the Atrocities series. I go between the two to deal with the emotional overflow. I’d say my mind and heart are on fire these days and for all the right reasons.

To learn more about Olan Montgomery and his work, visit


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