John Gutoskey’s vibrant “Cake & Flowers for My People” exhibit preserves ephemeral arrangements denied to LGBTQ+ marriages and events
John Gutoskey’s vibrant, kaleidoscopic Cake & Flowers for My People exhibit honors LGBTQ+ community members who have been denied these celebratory arrangements due to bakers and florists citing religious objections to same-sex marriages and queer events.
“I make a lot of work about queerness because a lot of stuff is happening around it in our country. You see the whole pushback now,” said the Ann Arbor artist-designer-printmaker, whose exhibit runs through October 30 at Ypsilanti’s 22 North gallery. “I just hope anybody who sees it … feels seen and knows they’re not alone.”
The welcoming aesthetics of Gutoskey’s exhibit run throughout the eight mixed-media cake sculptures and 39 floral bouquet monoprints. An electrifying spectrum of color elicits feelings of empowerment, unity, and hope for all who experience Cake & Flowers for My People.
“People are kind of overwhelmed with how hard the world has become, so I just wanted to do something that was fun,” he said. “There’s enough stuff to be down about. Let’s celebrate it, honestly, while it’s still legal for [us] to do so.”
Gutoskey’s exhibit also addresses the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and included a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas.
Thomas argued that the Supreme Court “should reconsider” past rulings codifying rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage.
According to Gutoskey’s artist statement for Cake & Flowers for My People, there’s a growing concern the Supreme Court may rule that it’s legal for florists and bakers to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community because of personal religious beliefs.
“The extremes they’re talking about … are we headed that way?” asked Gutoskey, who’s been with his partner Peter Sparling for 32 years and married since 2015. “I vote … and I do what I can do from Ann Arbor, but I’m not picking the Supreme Court justices.”
While Gutoskey didn’t experience discrimination from bakers and florists during his wedding preparations with Sparling, an artist and retired University of Michigan dance professor, he pondered the service refusals other LGBTQ+ community members have received.
“This struck me as especially petty as flowers and cakes are such ephemeral things with a short life—unless they are preserved,” wrote Gutoskey in his artist statement for the exhibit. “I could not imagine being so cruel as to refuse service to someone celebrating love and joy in their life.”
In response, Gutoskey started thinking about his exhibit over a year ago and wanted to create “permanent” cakes and flowers that captured the lasting impact of same-sex marriage and other important queer life events.
For the mixed-media cake sculptures, he used old cake pans to give the pieces their dessert-like shapes. Gutoskey also sought inspiration from LGBTQ+ pride flags and their color palettes and stripes as well as drag culture for the cakes’ decorative elements.
To give the cakes their confectionary sheen, he added “queer” materials, including glitter, Mardi Gras beads, washi tape, rhinestones, sequins, feathers, artificial flowers, paper butterflies, and other flashy, inexpensive craft supplies.
The goal was to capture a “high/low” aesthetic with each cake sculpture. “Queer materials are so evident in drag, where you take these cheap materials … they’re often shiny, sparkly plastic, glitter, rhinestones … but they have the look of gold and diamonds,” said Gutoskey, who also has a professional background in theater design and LGBTQ+ studies.
“[They’re] things that are thought to be low and crafty that are brought into this illusion of glamour and richness, and that’s very drag. There’s also this thing in fine arts where those materials have until recently been very frowned upon.”
One of the exhibit’s most eye-catching cake sculptures includes the “Polysexual Pride Cake” adorned in gleaming pinks, greens, and blues. It celebrates those who are attracted to people of multiple genders and honors a greater variety of sexual orientations than the traditional gender binaries of male and female.
“I absolutely think that’s one of my favorite ones, and I just think the colors of that cake are really pretty,” Gutoskey said. “That’s the first one I found the stickers at the Dollar Tree for. The one by me … they had a really good selection.”
As for the floral bouquet monoprints, Gutoskey features a striking rainbow of color to represent the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community and preserve the beauty of tulips, roses, sunflowers, carnations, chrysanthemums, and other flowers.
For the bouquets, Gutoskey created an original print from a fully inked plate and later a "ghost print" using the remaining ink from the same plate. He liked the juxtaposition of the vibrant original print to the faded "ghost print."
After applying that creative process, Gutoskey assembled a stunning collection of floral bouquet monoprints, including a brilliant red-and-green winter bouquet, a lively tropical bouquet, and an emerald-yellow bouquet for Irish poet-playwright Oscar Wilde.
“I love the winter bouquet because the colors are so intense, and it’s just reds and lime greens. There are some where the colors are really punchy … like the tropical bouquets,” Gutoskey said. “I [also] did a bouquet for Oscar Wilde that’s green because he was famous for wearing a green carnation.”
With his exhibit underway, Gutoskey hosts weekly sessions every Sunday from noon to 3 pm at 22 North through October 30. People are welcome to visit the gallery, browse the exhibit, and chat with the artist.
Once the current exhibit concludes, 16 of Gutoskey’s floral bouquet monoprints will be displayed in the main lobby of U-M's University Hospital in Ann Arbor as part of the "Gifts of Art" program. After that, Gutoskey’s contemplating a sabbatical.
“I’m kind of actually thinking of taking a break; I’ve never actually taken a sabbatical from making work,” he said. “I think that might be what I’m doing next year. I’m feeling a tad bit burned out, and I haven’t really looked much past that show at the hospital.”
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.
"Cake & Flowers for My People" runs through October 30 at 22 North. Located at 22 N. Huron St. in Ypsilanti, the gallery is open from noon to 3 pm on Sundays.