Sparks in a Dark Room:  Exchange, Pleasure and Play

Reimaginings by Gabriel Martinez 

December 1, 2023 – July 28, 2024 

Leather Archives & Museum

Curated by Heather Raquel Phillips, LA&M Board of Directors 

Opening Reception: December 1st, 2023 (World AIDS Day)

6-9PM, live music by Hard Femme at 7:30PM!

Gabriel Martinez transforms the photographic darkroom into a nightclub, a Queer church, a laser-lit dance floor dungeon that invites alchemy & the unexpected, exposing mystical evidence onto silver gelatin works. Searching and revealing various aspects of Queer dualities - trauma/futurity, sorrow/ecstasy, positive/negative, macro/micro, corporeal/celestial, destruction/regeneration - Martinez reimagines archival material into unexpected potentials.

Sparks in a Dark Room is the Leather Archives & Museum’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence exhibition featuring new work by Philadelphia-based artist, Gabriel Martinez. Through analogue and hybrid processes, Martinez explores parallels between history and the current moment. Archival material is transformed through the cultivation of a methodical yet intuitive darkroom process. Martinez integrates multi-exposed mirror-ball photograms, solarization, contact printing via paper negatives and non-traditional techniques that develop into seductive photographic works that vibrate between the magical and tragic.

Sparks in a Dark Room comprises three chapters- Leather Archives 1981; Altars; and Etienne Restaged.  


Gabriel Martinez is a photo-based multidisciplinary visual artist from Philadelphia. Over the last few years, he’s been creating hybrid silver gelatin prints that entwine a range of sources and experimental analogue darkroom processes.

Martinez was born and raised in Miami, Florida. His research is focused upon aspects of LGBTQ+ culture and history: Queer archives, AIDS pandemic, films of Wakefield Poole, aesthetics of disco, Donna Summer, novels of John Rechy, and the enigma of Fire Island. His work has been greatly motivated by themes of loss, celebration, memorial, sexuality, and cultural identity, with a particular interest in the milieu of the late 70s and early 80s.

Martinez has been awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowship, Sachs Program for Arts Innovation Independent Creative Production Grant, an Independence Foundation Fellowship, Banff Centre In-Situ Residency Award and Fabric Workshop and Museum Artist-in-Residence. He has attended residencies at Fountainhead, Ox-Bow, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, MASS MoCA and the Joan Mitchell Center. He earned his BFA from the University of Florida and his MFA from Tyler School of Art and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting. Martinez is a Senior Lecturer at University of Pennsylvania where he recently co-developed the first Queer-specific fine arts course “Queer Imaginings” with Heather Raquel Phillips.

Martinez has exhibited/performed at the ICA Philadelphia, Fabric Workshop & Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Art Alliance, Bike Stop, Fjord, William Way LGBT Community Center and Nexus Foundation for Today’s Art. His work has been shown at White Columns, Leslie Lohman Gay Art Museum’s Prince Street Project Space, Franklin Furnace, Exit Art and Thread Waxing Space in NYC, and in Miami at Miami Art Central, Lowe Art Museum, MDC Museum of Art and Bernice Steinbaum Gallery. 


Opening reception: Sunday, December 10, 2023

Inspired by materials in the David Grieger Collection at the Leather Archives & Museum, Distance is Not Material presents an exploration of queer fantasy, desire, and vibrant survival, as much as it is an altar for sexual worship and the commemoration of queer loss. During the 1990s, Houston area artist, erotic illustrator, and drag performer David Grieger (1955-1994) withdrew into seclusion after testing positive for HIV. Over the next few years he produced hundreds of handwritten letters and notes, erotic drawings, photographs and crude image scans with men who responded to the classified ads he placed in convenience store muscle- magazines.

Between June 12, 1992 and December 1993, Grieger exchanged letters with a bodybuilder he dubbed “Sir Richard.” Like all of David’s men, they never met. Their fantasies remained on the page. But as Sir Richard wrote to David, “distance is not material.” With an installation featuring graphite drawings by Joshua Rains, video projection by Dan Foley , and letters from the collection, Distance is Not Material breathes renewed life into their exchange.


“The Skin Feeling Like Physical Manifestations of Screams,” 2023

Sculpture by Sam Schwindt

Built with bronze leather sliced, glued, layered, carved, and then resined ... "A series of highly compartmentalized personas" (Justin Spring on Sam Steward/Phil Sparrow) ... Black leather harness straps ... Crumpled tattoo transfer paper ... "Violent little webs of scorn," and more.