Friday, March 28, 1997

Donnie Russo: In His Own Words, Part 1

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #48, March 28, 1997)

On March 9, the Twin Cities leather community turned out in force for the grand opening of The Tank, the Saloon’s new Sunday leatherspace. Tastefully decorated with chain garlands hanging from the rafters, The Tank was quite festive. But it was so crowded that the action had no choice but to spill over into the rest of the Saloon. If you missed it, you missed quite a party. (But that just means you’ll have to check it out for yourself. You could do that by going to one or both of the upcoming fund-raising events being held at The Saloon: this Sunday for Mr. Minnesota Leather ’97 Kevin Cwayna, and next Sunday for Ms. Minnesota Leather ’97 Aalan Cameron).

The climax of the evening’s revelry was when ubiquitous adult-video star Donnie Russo made his appearance on the Saloon’s dance floor. To say the man knows how to work a crowd is an understatement. Starting on the small stage at the front of the bar, he literally dove into the audience and did some energetic power-mingling while having his clothes ripped off by various fortunate fans. He obviously enjoyed every minute of it, and so did the enthusiastic and appreciative crowd. I don’t smoke, but when the performance was done I felt like an after-sex cigarette would have been appropriate.

The previous evening I had the privilege of meeting Russo and doing an interview—in his hotel room. Clad only in yellow gym shorts (him, not me), I found him to be charming, cordial, genuine—and full of surprises. He’s got a fraternal twin (who has darker skin and hair and is straight). And, incredibly, he’s in the funeral business. “It’s basically a family-owned business,” he says. “I live above the funeral home, we all participate in it. I go in every day.” His Brooklyn street-punk roots are evident, but he doesn’t give attitude. Instead, he’s a genuinely nice guy who bares his soul as easily as he bares his body. Speaking in his native-New-York accent (of which only hints can be captured in print), here’s a side of Donnie Russo you don’t see in the movies. Then again, maybe you do.

Childhood: I discovered I liked men when I was six years old. I remember this one kid getting on top of me and tickling me on the playground, and I knew I got a boner then. As far as participating sexually, probably about eight—with the neighborhood kids, you pull yours out, I pull mine out, you play a little bit but you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s just the experimental stages.

Adolescence: I was 120 lbs., and I was a tough guy. I hung out on street corners, I hung out at the clubs, I hung out at bars. When I was in high school I had “male callers” come to take me out to lunch. Not “male callers” as far as prostitution or anything—I was just into guys, and guys were into me. I had the blue jeans, tank top, a very “Peter of Berlin’”look—very skinny, you know, I just had that “piece of candy” look.

The start of his career: I started in magazines back in the 80’s. Somebody I was dating sent me to a photographer and he did some pictures of me. Next thing I knew, Honcho took them, and from there I did a whole host of magazines. Then my roommate, who’s no longer with us, who was my best friend came home—this must have been in ’91—and told me he was trying out for a porno part, and they asked if he knew of anybody else who would be interested and who looked like a cop. And he told them, “Yeah, I do, I know somebody who would definitely make a good cop.” They set up an interview, and I got the part. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the part that he went out for.

I did my first film, Beat Cop, and my second film probably a year later, which was Find This Man. Then in October, two months after Find This Man, I was working as a bouncer in Boston where I moved to be with my ex-lover. And this guy saw me at the club bouncin’ and he recognized who I was. He said he knew this guy, Bob Jones, who makes films in Washington D.C. He took a couple Polaroids, Bob called me up, I told him I was into boots and jeans, we set up a film date, and it went from there. And here I am.

I’ll have more from Donnie Russo next issue.

Upcoming Leather Events

The Atons present: “With the Fall of Winter comes the Erection of Spring”
Sunday, March 30, 4-9 pm, Gay 90’s Men’s Room Bar (side entrance)
Leather dress code encouraged. Put your Easter basket on display in the wet underwear contest ($50 prize). Temporary tattoos and boot polishing will also be available. $5 at the door includes free keg beer and sodas; for an extra $3 you can partake of the buffet in the Garden Court.

Atons Bar Night at the Chicago Eagle
Saturday, April 12, The Pit (downstairs) at the Eagle, 5015 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL
The Atons do Chicago, selling raffle tickets for prizes including an IML Weekend Package ($125 value) and publicizing their upcoming 25th-anniversary run. If you’d like to join them, call for more information or visit their web site (

Sunday, April 13: Mr. Minnesota Fantasy Contest 1997. The winner of this contest will represent Minnesota in the International Mr. Fantasy 1997 contest. To compete, call Dale Willman (Mr. Minnesota Fantasy 1995).

Friday, March 14, 1997

The Art of Leather, Part 2

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #47, March 14, 1997)

Part 2 — Local Leather Artists

Presented here are three local artists who identify themselves as members of the leather community, and whose work includes (but is not necessarily limited to) leather/SM themes.

Satyarthi (Marc DeBauch) works in oils, watercolors, graphite, tempera, and pen and ink. He describes his art thusly: “I create erotic art that is mysterious, occult, sensuous, educational and sometimes humorous. I hope to excite the viewer visually, emotionally as well as spiritually, because sex is one of the most powerful forces in our lives.” His travels throughout the United States and to India, Europe, and Mexico have influenced his art, which covers a diverse range of styles from monochromatic figure studies to wildly-colored mythical images.

Satyarthi recently distinguished himself by winning First Place, Group Figure Division, in “The Second Tom of Finland Emerging Erotic Artist’s Competition.” He has had solo exhibitions at Patrick’s Cabaret in Minneapolis and Quatrefoil Library in St. Paul, and has been published in R.F.D., Art Police, Holy Titclamps, Speed Demon, and a book entitled Yeah . . . But Is It Safe Sex?

You can see Satyarthi’s art on exhibit until the end of March as part of a group show at the Sex Art Gallery (241 2nd Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612/672-0556). His art will be part of “Erotic,” a show opening this weekend at the Art Jones Gallery (2101 Kennedy St. NE, Minneapolis; 612/331-3909). The opening reception for “Erotic” is March 15, 7-10 pm and the show runs until April 12.

Works by Satyarthi have found their way into private and public collections in Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milan, and Zurich (to mention a few). He accepts commissions.

“Dungeon Master” ©1996 by Marc DeBauch

Damon Thrift of Da Ray Studios has been producing leather-oriented art for the last eight years. You’ve seen his art on the poster and program cover for the 1995 Great Lakes Mr. Drummer contest; he also recently created two drawings of Steve Kelso which were auctioned at Kelso’s recent local appearance. His art is “inspired by Tom of Finland, but it’s not as X-rated”; he prefers to leave more to the imagination. His subjects have included leathermen, men in uniforms, and construction workers. He’s recently started painting men as angels, including this year’s Steve Kelso angel.

For a period in his art career Thrift worked in a pointillistic style, starting with gray board and adding dots in both black and white. (The Great Lakes Mr. Drummer poster was done this way.) His more recent pieces, starting with what he calls “the Rainbow Shorts guy,” are colored pencil on tan board. He plans to continue in this medium and perhaps add airbrushing.

While his art has been predominantly representation studies of the male figure, he is starting to explore different directions. For this year’s “Celebrate the Art of Living” art auction presented by DIFFA (Design Industry Foundation Fighting AIDS), he produced a drawing hearkening back to WPA-era posters, and he plans to do more art with the male form in an environment, as opposed to the form alone.

Thrift has done commissions, and his work is often on display at local leather gatherings. His future plans include a display at the International Mr. Leather Contest’s Leathermart..

“Steve Kelso Angel” by Damon Thrift

Jeff Jacklin’s art has been appearing in print for 10 years. His work appeared in the 1988 book “Strip AIDS U.S.A”, as well as in Gay Comics #8 and #25. He currently has a work on display at Zachary Showrooms, International Market Square, Minneapolis. His art has also been seen in ads for The Saloon, the old “315” baths (remember when we had baths in this town?), and most recently Town House Country.

Jacklin says he “likes drawing masculine men.” His art is “sensual — not explicit, more suggestive.” His photorealistic style is partly inspired by the art of Tom of Finland, and he credits Bill Ward, who draws the “Drum” comic strip in Drummer Magazine, as another influence (“He’s a great visual storyteller.”). His subjects, often drawn from memory, include weightlifters, men in workout wear, blue-collar men, soldiers and other military scenes, men embracing and cuddling, and policemen (which he calls “cop art”).

His media of choice are pencil or pen and ink, and he sometimes adds watercolor. He has also done “animatic” art of military scenes — artwork that is filmed, making use of the camera’s pan and zoom capabilities to add the illusion of animation. He is also currently working on a graphic novel, and plans to do more life-drawing and male-figure art as well.

Animatic art by Jeff Jacklin

Upcoming Leather Events

Mr. Minnesota Leather Fund-raiser
Sunday, March 16, 4-9 pm, The Saloon
Hosted by Kevin Cwayna, Mr. Minnesota Leather ’97. Get warmed up for St. Patrick’s Day — green leather, anyone? $5 at the door.

Ms. Minnesota Leather Fund-raiser: “All Together Leather, Whipped Into Spring”
Sunday, March 23, 5-9 pm, The Saloon
Food, discounted drinks, unique door prizes. On-site scenes: electricity, whipping, waxing, liquid latex, bondage, tattooing and piercing by Body Arts, and the power play of the team from Hard Mondays. $6 at the door ($5 if sporting a whip, paddle or your favorite play toy). FFI: W.I.L.L.O.W. Productions.

Sunday, March 30 (Easter Sunday): Atons Bar Night at the Men’s Room Bar, Gay 90’s.

Saturday, April 12: Atons Bar Night at the Chicago Eagle. For further information call the Atons.

Sunday, April 13: Mr. Minnesota Fantasy Contest 1997. It could be you. To compete, call Dale Willman (Mr. Minnesota Fantasy 1995).

Saturday, April 20: Mr. Northwoods ’97 Fundraiser hosted by Colin Spriestersbach at The Saloon.