Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt: The Story of One of the Only Artists at the Stonewall Uprising

“Reasons for Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s art not reaching a wider audience totally elude me. This is major, major work…Many artists, including a generation of Lanigan-Schmidt’s students, have been repeatedly amazed, inspired and guided by its panache, rapier-sharp wit, subversiveness and opulent beauty.”

— Robert Kushner, Art in America

We are thrilled to be back with a new episode of the Hyperallergic podcast. 

For our 100th episode, we spoke with legendary collage and mixed-media artist Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt. His works, made from crinkly saran wrap and tin foil, emulate the gleam of precious metals and jewels in Catholic iconography. They reference his upbringing as a working-class kid and altar boy in a Catholic community in Linden, New Jersey, where tin foil was an expensive luxury they could rarely afford. But they also hold memories of where he found himself as a teenager: the LBGTQ+ street life and art community of New York City, which led to his participation in the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. 

Lanigan-Schmidt is as much a visual artist as he is a storyteller. We climbed up to his fourth-floor walk-up in Hell’s Kitchen, where, surrounded by teetering piles of books and artwork, he regaled us with tales about artists like Jack Smith and Andy Warhol, his decision to leave his hometown as a penniless teenager, his steadfast identity as a working-class artist, his conversion to Russian Orthodox Christianity, what changed for gay artists in New York between the 1960s and today, and of course, his recollection of that historic night at the Stonewall — all infused with that same “rapier-sharp wit” that painter Robert Kushner saw in his artwork.  

We know you’ll enjoy this artist’s sparkling humor and singular vision as he shares reflections on his life and this critical moment in history.

We also talked with Ann Bausum, author of Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights, about the significance of the uprising. She also shared some of her own first-hand recollections of segregation in 1960s America. 

A selection of Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s work will be on display at a show titled Open Hands: Crafting the Spiritual at Saint Louis University’s Museum of Contemporary Religious Art until May 19. 

Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, “Lollipop Knick Knack (Let’s Talk About You),” (c. 1968-69), foil, printed material, linoleum, glitter, cellophane, plastic wrap, staples, wire, string, other media, 9 x 16 x 5 1/2 inches (image courtesy the artist and Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, NY)

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