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By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
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Gallery owner Paul Soriano; photo by Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

Paul Soriano’s small gallery on NW Everett would be easy to miss were it not for the red neon rooster in the window. Like the iconic New York City gay bar from which the gallery takes its name (and signage), Cock invites a meaningful provocation that belies its modest stature.

“I like the duality the name invokes,” Soriano says. “Depending on your point of view it can be innocent or it can be pornographic. Much like the artwork I hope to show, it provokes you to think.”

Plenty of the art Soriano has shown since (and including) March’s inaugural “Attraction and Repulsion” have danced on the line between idyllic and illicit. The first show included colored pencil drawings of sphincters by Arty Johnstone, floral like a child’s sketch of a Georgia O’Keefe painting.

When Cock showed “DARK,” a collection of brother Theodore Soriano’s emotionally intense Gollum-like sculptures in July, “Someone asked to stand next to it so they could weep,” Soriano says. It’s an experience he can relate to.

“The first time I had gone to [the Museum of Modern Art in New York City], I walked into the room that held Picasso’s ‘Guernica.’ Not knowing anything about the politics of this piece, I stood and wept. It was beautiful,” Soriano says. “I was changed.”

Despite his lack of formal training, Soriano has identified as an artist since he was a young child, learning about art by skipping school to hang out in museums. He puts together shows like an artist rather than a curator, because that’s what he is.

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Scott LaForce's exhibit "Cum in Your Eye," on display through Aug. 31, deals with meth addiction. Photo by Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

Between his day job as an apparel designer for Hanna Andersson and utilizing the live/work space, Soriano doesn’t have to worry about making money off of the art. Instead, he strives to create a space for artists who, like him, have had difficulty showing their work because it is too erotic or might not sell well.

“Cock Gallery is not a queer gallery per se — although I am a queer artist and I show a lot of queer art — as it is under-represented in the more mainstream galleries,” Soriano says. “My first responsibility is to present quality art.”

Though most of the artists he’s shown so far have been gay man, Soriano says he’s aiming for diversity and would like to show lesbian and transgender artists as well.

“The mission of the gallery is to show provocative, intelligent, professional works that might not otherwise be shown due to content or commercial value. I interpret this in the broadest sense,” Soriano says. “I ask [artists] to create a show around something meaningful to them, something they can’t show anywhere else because the subject is too personal or political or sexual or just too dark.”

The self-taught painter says he has had a hard time showing and selling work for that reason, though the one piece he has sold in Portland is also one of his darkest and most personal and political pieces.

The painting — a self-portrait done while Soriano was sick and emaciated by HIV, with a pink triangle and the names of Nazi camps gays were sent to written around the edges — is now hanging in a synagogue.
Cock’s current exhibit, “Cum In Your Eye,” showing through the end of August, shares that power to create an emotional resonance. Scott LaForce’s vulnerable photo essay about meth addiction has inspired others to open up and spontaneously share their stories, Soriano says.

LaForce juxtaposes sex and drugs-filled snapshots from his party days with picturesque scenes and poetry to highlight the intensity (both positive and negative) of his experiences. Soriano says LaForce’s art has previously been watered down and misunderstood completely by people who fear its darkness or lack a context for understanding the culture it reflects.

“My only hope in all of this is to give a voice to the work of the many artists whose work might not otherwise be seen because it speaks to things that are a risk for commercial galleries — to elevate it, to honor it,” Soriano says. “These works are beautiful and powerful and meaningful. They are important because they’re about our real lives, our true natures and are artifacts to our times.”

In September, Cock will show work from photographer Wayne Bund’s MIMESIS, an exploration of childhood fantasies and adult realities. Read more of PQ Monthly’s interview with Soriano on PQ’s blog. Cock Gallery, 625 NW Everett #106, is open Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. (through January) and by appointment. New exhibits typically open on First Thursdays.

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