Why did you get started doing digital illustrations so late in your life?
Madeira Desouza: I was in my 30s when personal computers became available to the general public. And, I did not admit to myself and to others that I was gay until a decade and half after that point. Until I came out, I did not have the courage to express myself artistically as a gay man. I could not even be honest that I was gay, so how could I possibly attempt anything in terms of visual expression of myself? I was a total liar! The compelling drawings of Tom of Finland and Dom “Etienne” Orejudos are works that I greatly admire. I fantasized about having the skill and talent to produce visually compelling works like they did during their lives. I am not someone who creates with pencil or pen upon paper, but using 21st century computers and software gave me the chance to create similar works to theirs in terms of themes and visual aesthetics.
Do you care about the differences between those who create using digital technology versus those who use old-school methods?
Madeira Desouza: I was in an Apple store once when I saw a store employee wearing a T-shirt that said, “I paint with a computer.” That really impressed me! I use a Mac and I think that “painting with a computer” is the new normal nowadays. The traditional, manual methods will always be available to those who want to use them to create visual works. But, I prefer using the 21st century methods because that’s just how my mind works. Martin of Holland once criticized me in a personal email to me in which he expressed his strong opinion that those (like himself) who use traditional methods are the only ones who should be considered “real” artists. He’s gone now and I don’t speak ill of the dead. But, Martin of Holland’s opinion about who gets to be considered “real” as an artist is rooted in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Do you envision that your visual works merit calling you an artist?
Madeira Desouza: I choose to define myself as a digital illustrator. Some call this 3D digital art. But, by whatever name, I want other gay men around the world to have the opportunity to see the visual works that I create. That’s why I use the Internet to share my digital illustrations.
Is there a story behind your name?
Madeira Desouza: Yes, this is a pseudonym. I’m a citizen of the United States, born in California. My heritage is Portuguese from both my parents. Madeira is the Portuguese word for wood. The surname Souza comes from my old country grandfather. So, the name has the meaning of Souza wood.
In 1990 I made the decision to leave my wife, file for a divorce, and relocate from New England back to the Western States. Those three mileposts in my life opened me up to make changes in who I was and how I lived. I chose to focus upon storytelling and the visual arts, but I did not want to use my legal name.
When I was a boy, I had an irrational fear that I would turn out to be merely an ordinary man. When I was in my 20s during journalism school, I grew to admire writers who distinguished themselves through their professional works. I developed a very strong attraction to the well-known practice of writers who use a pseudonym. I knew that Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Filtered through the perceptions of my youth, that was the coolest thing I had ever come to know about the writing profession.
No surprise that Mark Twain has remained my favorite American writer of all time. Not that I think I am as good as he was or ever will be. But, I seek to be humorous like him, to tell vivid and imaginative stories like he told, and, yes, to have a memorable nom de plume like his. I created a pseudonym for myself that would sound considerably more Old World ethnic compared to my own birth name while being a name that everyone should recognize no ordinary person would ever have.
It does not really matter whether someone with a pseudonym is prominent and globally identifiable like Mark Twain or Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Jay Z. The simple reality is that having a pseudonym is a timeworn way of differentiating yourself from everyone else.
What have other gay men said about your works?
Madeira Desouza: I honestly accept that what I do is not going to appeal to a “mass audience” in the gay world. Some gay men have said that they especially like how I depict men so realistically and yet it’s obvious that the men I create do not exist in the world that we all live in. Others have said that my work is too extreme because of violence and how the men I create treat each other sometimes so brutally. But, I work within the bara genre, which is a genre that a much smaller audience finds appealing–compared to other genres of visual works. Bara genre works depict gay male same-sex feelings and sexual identity with masculine or muscular males that is sometimes violent and exploitative. The more vanilla works of young and shirtless gay men falling in love with other young and shirtless gay men are a lot more safe and less emotionally challenging for the viewer. So, yeah, those works are going to have a “mass audience” compared to the bara genre.
Do you deliberately produce works that are not “safe” and “unchallenging emotionally” for the viewer?
Madeira Desouza: Guilty as charged.
Madeira Desouza: Because I choose to provoke the viewer. That choice is deliberate on my part. When I look around me at the straight world, I see straight people who do not like to see masculine men showing affection towards one another. Straight men and women will accept drag performers like RuPaul Charles, whom I greatly admire as a genius and always enjoy watching. Straight people derive pleasure from enjoying laughs at the satirical comedy and the sexual ironies that RuPaul excels at. I think that major Hollywood comedies featuring men in drag such as the Mike Nichols film The Birdcage are also “safe” and “unchallenging emotionally” for straight people. That nonthreatening kind of gay man is what seems to find a “mass audience” at least by Hollywood standards. But, I don’t work in Hollywood. I choose to depict muscular and masculine men who connect with one another emotionally, physically and sexually. And yes because I am working within the bara genre, I use violence and exploitation as themes. What I do is considered provocative. And this is no accident.
Did you intend to provoke people with your novel as well?
Madeira Desouza: Yes, of course. That was my intent. My science fiction time travel novel is now entitled Baja Clavius. It was originally released in the early 2010s under different titles, but I started writing it decades ago during the 1990s before I had ever begun doing any digital illustrations. Provoking readers is a very different process compared to provoking viewers with visual works. I chose the science fiction genre deliberately so that my novel would turn out to be emotionally challenging and not at all “safe” in the intellectual or visceral sense. Baja Clavius is a science fiction about time travel, but it is also true to the bara genre because I depict gay male same-sex feelings and sexual identity with masculine, muscular males that is sometimes violent and exploitative. My target audience is gay males, but I suspect that straight females will enjoy it because straight females are known to enjoy the bara genre. I doubt that this science fiction novel will ever become a Hollywood movie–and that’s fine with me–because this is unfilmable on many levels. However, I continue to believe Baja Clavius would be excellent as a series on streaming services such as Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix.
You’ve mention Hollywood a couple of times now. How does Hollywood fit into what you do?
Madeira Desouza: I worked in Hollywood. That was back in the day when I was in my 20s. I lived and worked in the other great American nexus of fantasies and fabrications, Washington, DC, from the mid-1990s through the early 2010’s. I relocated in 2012 to Las Vegas, Nevada.
You see similarities between Hollywood, Las Vegas, and Washington, DC?
Madeira Desouza: Yeah, I do. All three places exist to create fantasies and fabrications. Deception or trickery is at the heart of what gets done in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and Washington, DC. But, Hollywood and Las Vegas are all about show business. There’s an emphasis upon business–making a good name and money for oneself and for bringing wealth to corporations. In contrast, Washington, DC is all about the fight to attain and maintain power for oneself and for governmental organizations and for corporations. Hollywood and Las Vegas produce entertaining deceptions. The normal process is that the audience chooses to willingly suspend disbelief and buy into the deceptions and go along with deceptions because doing so is what is expected. That’s the tradition after over a century of show business coming from Hollywood. Las Vegas is slightly younger than Hollywood in terms of show business. But, in both places, the audience knows what is expected of them. Meanwhile, Washington, DC also produces deceptions–some are entertaining and others are tragic. But, unlike with Hollywood or Las Vegas, in Washington, DC the big difference is that there is no willing suspension of disbelief in the deceptions. This is not a subtle point, either. The point is that deception which demands willing suspension of disbelief is not at all dangerous. The deception from Washington, DC is somehow perceived as reality even though deception by any other name will always be deception.