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Nude watercolors tell the stories of their lives

Gabriel Garbow’s watercolors on display at Strut, featuring Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus participants, make a proud statement about the beauty of aging bodies.

This fall, visit the third floor of Strut (470 Castro St., San Francisco) to see an incredible watercolor show featuring art by Gabriel Garbow. The nudes featured in the show don’t depict professional models—they are participants of the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network.

The men who decided to volunteer as models showed incredible emotional strength. As we age, we lose muscle tone, we have scars from operations and we gain weight. These men have lived through the AIDS epidemic. Their bodies tell the stories of their lives.

“I wanted to participate and show what it looks like to be a survivor of HIV, AIDS and liver cancer,” said Michael Hampton, an Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus participant who modeled for the art show. “We are older, but we have the courage to represent ourselves in positive ways. Because I’ve had a liver transplant, I have a scar across my belly, which you can see in my painting. I don’t want to have shame about my scar, so I’m glad you can see it in the painting. I went in with a positive attitude, and it came out beautifully.”

50-plus members with Gabriel Garbow artwork
Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network Members pose with the artist, Gabriel Garbow, and their watercolor portraits at Strut

“My scars tell the story of where I am and how I got here,” said John Yarlett, an Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network member who modeled for the art show. “Gabriel asked if I was interested in showing my scars from a kidney transplant and dialysis, and I said yes. To me, they are a roadmap of my life. If you’re going to do a show with older people, you need to see the scars as well as everything else.”

Unfortunately, ageism is real, and if affects people in real ways. If you flip through a gay magazine—what do you see? People who are young, fit and just too good looking. When long-term survivors or older people are pictured, oftentimes their stories are ones of sadness. They are sick or look sad and lonely.

“As I aged, I felt like I disappeared for about 15 years in the gay community,” said Peridot, a 63-year-old San Franciscan who participated as a model for the art show. “I felt like I became completely invisible. I felt like nobody wants to see you, you’re not supposed to walk in the Castro, you’re supposed to go home and hide. But we are not ashamed and we don’t need to hide. You don’t have to be afraid of aging!” 

It was important for us to showcase some true examples of healthy aging with portraits that capture the true essence and personality of our 50-Plus members. This was truly a joyful project, that showcased the resilience of our community. The fact that people were willing to show their bodies with no shame is a sign of healthy aging. It really shows aging with grace.

“This is a proclamation about pride. We are beautiful as we age,” said Peridot. 

Man 3 - Necklace, Watercolor by Gabriel Garbow
“Man 3, Necklace”, Watercolor by Gabriel Garbow

Many of the participants were nervous as they got involved, but they are all so happy to have pushed themselves to be part of this project. And the paintings are all so incredibly beautiful.   

“I thought, I’m 66 years old. When am I going to get the opportunity to do something like this again?” said Yarlett.

The seasonal art show at Strut is an opportunity for artists to connect with either a community they hadn’t worked with before, or to explore a program of SFAF. 

Garbow said that this project pushed him as an artist to reconsider who he features in artwork. 

“I was talking to a person working at Strut, and I showed some examples of my work,” said Garbow. “They said, ‘Oh, it’s all young fit guys!’ I kind of stammered a reply and then sat back and thought about it–it’s kind of true. I was playing into the common body image thing that’s so prevalent already. So I thought it would be a good area for me to stretch myself. This experience definitely had an impact and changed my relationship with my own art practice, and also expanded my understanding of what I would be capable of conveying through art.” 

This was a perfect opportunity to bring together an intergenerational audience and lift up the experiences of people in our community over age 50.

These types of projects are important because they are a form of empowerment. Going to City Hall and speaking at a rally or for a cause you support isn’t the only way to be empowered. Sometimes it’s a quieter act—it can be about pushing yourself to do something emotionally challenging, too. 

Man 7, Back Tattoo
Man 7, Back Tattoo”, Watercolor by Gabriel Garbow

See the watercolor art exhibit

Watercolors by Gabriel Garbow are on display on the third floor of Strut (470 Castro St., San Francisco) until October 31, 2019. Stop by when Strut is open. See more art from Gabriel Garbow at

Attend a Strut art opening

The seasonal art program is one of two at the Foundation. In addition to the seasonal art show on the third floor, the second floor exhibits showcase the work of queers artists every month. On the first Friday of every month, Strut hosts an opening art exhibit showcasing works from queer artists, with wine and light snacks. Join us on October 4, 8 pm – 10 pm at Strut (470 Castro St., San Francisco). Check the calendar for additional information.

Community and services for people age 50+

Seeking social connection, medical services or support groups? We have a variety of programs and services for people over age 50 that will help you improve your health and quality of life, whatever your HIV status. Check out all of our services here, and connect to the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network