While it may not be obvious at first glance, a key theme to the pastel and phallus-infused work of Horacio Abdala Zarzur is humanity’s ever-enduring search to discover meaning within purpose:
How do we come to define that which is inherently undefinable? How do we reconcile the primitive with the polite? How do we satisfy our innate need for sexual expression and liberation within the antiquated confines of a hierarchical and normative-based life?
Although Horacio doesn’t purport to have all the answers, he’s more than happy to force us to address these perplexing ideas through the compelling medium of his queer and erotic-themed art. Whether reshaping our attitudes on masculinity and love with the help of some scantily clad and bearded bears, or forcing the more squeamish and ignorant sectors of our society to face the hard truth that, yes, queer men do indeed fuck, Horacio’s work provides us with an impressive reminder that art is a wonderful tool for delivering subtle – if poignant – social critiques. Captivated by the bond between his artistic and sexual identities, we stopped by Horacio’s cozy Palermo apartment to learn more about the bear-loving artist behind HORNO.
You’re widely recognized for your Instagram accounts that focus on queer and erotic art (soft_horno and h.o.r.n.o5). And yet, you also have your own personal account showcasing a wide variety of artistic themes. What exactly is your artistic background?
I’ve been drawing for my entire life, from trains and ninja turtles as a boy, to more erotic and queer art as an adult. Although I didn’t always see art as something I wanted to dedicate my life to, my notebook and colored pencils were always by my side. As I got older, I enrolled at the University of Buenos Aires to study design and my work became a little more technical. As I’m very passionate on a human and personal level, art – specifically illustration – has always acted as a direct expression of what is happening to me at any given moment in my life.
When did your work begin to shift towards queer and erotic art?
It’s strange, for a long time when I was younger I could only draw women. It was very odd. I couldn’t bring myself to draw men… except for when I was drawing Dragon Ball Z characters (laughs). Later, I started illustrating men and their bodies, but not their faces. I think it was a transition period for me to feel more comfortable with both myself and my art. I also used to illustrate very child-like and cute characters, particularly in the period right before I moved to queer and erotic themes, more or less around three years ago.
Did the thematic transition of your art parallel your “coming out?”
No, not exactly. I always say that I “came out” twice: once in my social life and once as an artist. Socially, I told my friends and my family I was gay at the age of 18. However, artistically, it took me another ten years to feel comfortable with eroticism and queer themes in my art. I never had any shame or embarrassment about being gay, but I did have those feelings about my artistic expression. In that ten-year gap, I never felt entirely comfortable with my art because I never expressed what I actually wanted to express – how I felt and the things that were happening to me. Three years ago, I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I decided to evolve and demonstrate that evolution to the public. My social media accounts have helped me feel more comfortable with both my sexual and artistic identities. They have helped me feel more comfortable with myself.
How do you define erotic art? Is it sexual expression? Passion? Sensuality?
My first contact with the world of erotic art really only occurred three years ago when I started to share my work publicly. I’m not sure if I have a definition of erotic art, but maybe I have a definition for what I do. On the one hand, it’s an expression of my sexuality. And by that, I mean two men having sex. This idea generates an impact no matter how subtle the work is. At the same time, the way in which I present it, I remove some of the more explicit aspects of sex. I try to transform something shocking – especially to people uncomfortable with queer sexuality – and move it towards something beautiful and visually appealing.
I’ve noticed that in some of your images, the theme of sexuality is more subtle than in others. You understand that something is happening, but you have to take a moment to think about it.
Exactly. It’s like a code. At first, you see some of the illustrations, and maybe the scene isn’t entirely clear. And yet, with thought, the scene evolves. I like to maintain that degree of observation in the audience. I want them to ask “what is this?” I want them to think about what they’re seeing.
With your more explicit illustrations, is your goal to arouse or stimulate your audience sexually? Does that idea impact what you create and how you create it?
People write to me all the time saying that they get turned on by my drawings (laughs). The truth is, no, that’s not my goal. I’m not haciendome la paja when I draw. I’m thinking about the colors and the positions. Yes, sex inspires me, and I definitely like to think about it, but more so in an appreciative way. It’s like listening to music for pleasure. People may get turned on by my work, but that’s not my goal… if it happens, great (laughs), because that means I’m generating something in my audience.
I imagine for soft_horno you get your inspiration from the bears that send you photos, but where does your inspiration come from for your more erotic work?
Mostly personal experiences, fantasies… sometimes pornographic material (laughs). I actually have a folder called “references” containing images and positions that I like (laughs again). I don’t actively investigate, but if I’m watching something sexual or pornographic, I sometimes pause the video, take a screenshot, and print it out to later use for one of my illustrations (laughs harder). I like to take those pornographic scenes and eliminate the vulgarity that we associate with it by using pastels and presenting a thought-provoking micro-experience.
What does the word “horno” mean?
It’s the word “porno” with an “h” for Horacio (laughs). Also, the Spanish word “horno” means oven, so it’s a great metaphor for being sexually aroused.
How long will you continue with these two series?
It’s entirely possible that I will eventually move on to themes that have nothing to do with eroticism or queer sexuality. But, if that’s the case, it will only be because I’ve already liberated those ideas through my art. This is a journey with different stages. When I started, my work was very raw and carnal – poetic pornography if you will – but that helped me free myself. I may transition to a new stage in the future, but I don’t know for sure.
What is the relationship between your artistic and sexual identities? Are they one in the same?
You could definitely say that my sexual and artistic identities have shared a common bond over the last three years. I feel comfortable in my art because both my sexual and artistic identities now manifest as one. My sexual personality is not dependent on art. But, as an artist, I like to draw attention to both the queer community and the idea of sexuality. At the very least, to help overcome false norms and misplaced taboos. In that way, my artistic and sexual identities are linked on a social level. Not for nothing, outside of the artistic and the personal, we will always suffer if we experience rejection and inequality. Searching for equality through my art – that is, the intersection of the personal and artistic – it seems appropriate.
Do you consider your work “mainstream” in the Buenos Aires art world?
Honestly, I’m not sure I can say. The majority of my “community” – that is, my social media following – mainly comes from outside of Argentina. In Buenos Aires, the erotic art community is rather small. For a time, I was involved in what you would call the “mainstream” art movement, but it wasn’t really my scene. The interactions were difficult for me. I’m a social person, but in that circle, you have to network and sometimes put on a face. I’m not a false person, and I don’t like having to think about how I present myself. Let me be clear, my time in that circuit helped me in a lot of ways: making friends, developing professional connections, evolving my art, etc. I just find it difficult to follow that type of artistic rhythm. In any case, I also discovered that you don’t have to be mainstream to be successful. Just because you aren’t there, that doesn’t mean you can’t be somewhere else.
As an artist, how do you define success?
Success is determined by what one feels through their work. It’s the ability to create something that you like, something that you feel passionate about, something that stimulates both you and your audience. I believe that success is a uniquely personal journey for each artist. Income, notoriety, Instagram followers (laughs) – all that – if it happens, it can only come after.
Because I love them (laughs)! The beard, the panza, the hair, the masculinity… I just love it. I like to play with that idea of masculinity and infuse it with the beauty of femininity – that is, to remove it from its expected form and show that those ideas don’t have to be a contradiction.
I like to demonstrate love and affection between men. Many people say that they “love gays,” but if they see two men holding hands or being affectionate in public, their opinion changes. I like to show the connection that exists between male couples – that two men can hug and kiss each other and share love. I want to show people that the things society assumes about gay men are misplaced. At the same time, I understand that depending on how you were raised and your idea of masculinity, it may be shocking to see and accept some of these ideas. I also understand that you don’t become comfortable with these things from one day to the next. The point is, after a new idea initially shocks you, it should be less and less shocking with each additional exposure, interaction, and experience.
Does that apply to your more explicit work as well?
With my explicit art, I like to express the rawness of sexuality. Once I express that, once you understand the idea that men have sex – that we all fuck – I think it’s necessary to show something more emotional. I want to demonstrate that a puto can have feelings and emotions too.
Socially speaking, how are things for the LGBTQ community in Argentina in 2018?
With respect to most places in Latin America, Argentina is very advanced, both legally and socially. However, there is a certain degree of discrimination, what I call “false acceptance.” It’s the people who say they care about queer rights, who say they accept the idea of someone being gay. But showing affection in front of them? Forget about it. I think it may be stylish or cool now to have an open mind, but how open? That question has yet to be answered. In Argentina, there are still people who equate queerness to cowardice, who think queer men are men who want to be women but cannot. And yet, to a certain extent, I understand why these ideas still exist. I myself continue to evolve as society does, and I know I must overcome my own social prejudices when it comes to love and sexuality. It’s also important to recognize that the fight for transgender rights and the transgender community persists. Transgender people in Argentina continue to be mistreated even though their struggle for equality started at the same time as the fight for queer rights. The transgender community in Argentina has minimal social acceptance, and even less so in the rest of Latin America. Although we have all progressed a long way, we must recognize that the fight continues.
Who/what inspires you?
For my work that isn’t overtly erotic, I mostly find my inspiration through music – and not one musician or band in particular. All music generates within me an impulse to act. Beyond music, there are a number of artists that I admire – James Jean, M.C. Escher, Pastel Fd, to name a few. Although I may not use them as specific references for my work, they motivate and inspire me to create.
What’s one question you want me to ask you?
Do I want to be a bear? The answer is no (laughs). I like bears, but I don’t plan on being one anytime soon.
To close, how do you want the public to see you? As a queer man? As an artist? As a queer artist? No label at all?
A queer artist. That’s who I am.
Check out Horacio’s Instagram for more bear-inspired art!