Why I Painted a Gay Triangle in My Fireplace

19 January 2018

Pretty Photograph by Zeke Ruelas Gross Ugly Photographs by Orlando Soria

Dear Fireplace Diary,

There is a time honored question literally every single person who has a decorative (nonfunctioning) fireplace must ask themselves at some point. “WHAT SHOULD I PUT IN THE FIREPLACE???” It is a question I get from clients all the time. And there are about a million answers. None of them are totally satisfying to be fully honest. Because what you really want in a fireplace is – wait for it – A FIRE.

When I stopped by (read: basically broke in) to check out Chateaulando, the first thing I noticed was the fireplace. Because I was moving from the organic modern Orcondo (a vibe I’m still into), I was looking for an apartment that had beautiful architectural details, something totally different and unique I could shoot for my book. The fireplace seemed a little over-the-top, but I loved how curvaceous and feminine it was.

I’m not entirely sure if this fireplace was ever functional or not. On the other side of that wall behind it is the kitchen, so if there had been a chimney at any point the kitchen would have been wildly different than it is today. I guess I’ll never know. The past is a mystery sometimes. I guess I could ask the landlord but we hate each other. Oh well.

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It might not surprise you to know that I am not the first blogger to contemplate what to do with a fireplace that doesn’t actually burn fires. There are plenty of great (and totally hideous) ideas out there for making your awkward empty fireplace less awkward and empty. My go-to for filling fireplaces are simple andirons and birch logs (see below).

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In slightly related news, Crate & Barrel sells sets of birch logs for $19.99. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but if you’ve ever tried to source cute birch logs, you might actually find the convenience of being able to order them online worth it. If you live in a city with a good flower market, you can buy them there. But they’re not cheap. I spent about $300 on the 3′ tall stack of logs I bought for Orcondo, and I used to freak out when people threatened to burn them. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m mad I left those there. Like part of me wants to go back and demand my logs back. YOU BROKE MY HEART CAN I HAVE THOSE LOGS??? I’m totally fine guys I swear.

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When I was twenty I dreamed of being a college professor who lived on the Upper West Side in a house filled with books and artifacts from my travels around the world. My life turned out slightly different when I went to grad school and found out academia was terrible. So I may never have that crazy apartment filled with books, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take inspiration from it. I love the look of fireplaces filled with books. It says “I’m a hoarder, but I hoard things that are socially acceptable to hoard – books!” Also, this is as good a time as any to remind you to pre-order my book, Get it Together! on Amazon. I probably won’t stop blabbing about it until it comes out April 17.

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Another solution for a fireplace is a mirror. I don’t think it’s a particularly good solution unless you have a major shoe/foot fetish and you need a place to ogle your shoes and feet. Also, it makes it kind of weird to put a mirror above the fireplace (the only reason that works in the above photo is that the color is amazing and the styling looks good). I love this simple fan-in-fireplace solution I found on Instagram. It has the added benefit of creating a pretty place to display your fan collection (you have one, right?).

Okay, now to the task at hand. My stupid fireplace. As you can see in the above photo, Chateaulando was totally sad and lame before I moved here. Like honestly thank God for me because if someone else had moved in it would probably still be this nasty butter yellow color and those dumb sconces would probably be there.

Before I moved in, I had the mirror removed from the inside of the fireplace and had the space inside painted the same color as the walls. The mirror above the fireplace is from CB2 and the sconces that flank it are from my friends at Park Studio (they were actually a prototype we designed together that ended up being too annoying to manufacture so I’m the only one who has them now).

Two of these items are gifts from Emily (the brass alligator and the lucite photo of my family). I found the pottery in Ojai and the lady vase in Palm Springs.

For months, this blank canvas stared at me, screaming directly at my face “WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO WITH ME???”

And this is where the story takes an unexpected turn.

You know how some times you know something but then you forget you know it until you’re reminded that you know it? That’s kind of the journey I had with ACT UP (I’ll explain what this is in a minute if you’re not familiar). I’ve known about them forever but I hadn’t really thought about them (or expressed any gratitude for them) in years.

I was at my parents’ house watching an amazing CNN documentary about the eighties, aptly titled The Eighties. If you haven’t seen this CNN series you should check it out (I think they’ve done a lot of the decades, I’ve only seen the 70s, 80s, and 90s). There was a whole segment in The Eighties about the AIDS crisis, the Reagan administrations disgustingly inhumane response to it, and a group of incredible activists that fought like hell to raise awareness about the disease. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was founded in 1987, a group that fought tirelessly to force the government to wake up and do something about a disease that killed an entire generation of gay men.

I don’t fully know how to express the importance of this. If I were born twenty years earlier it’s likely I’d be dead. I am continually thankful to have been born when I was born.

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In order to understand exactly why ACT UP was so amazing, you kind of have to understand what was going on with AIDS at the time. The Reagan administration basically ignored it until 1985 and didn’t do anything to begin to address is until 1987 (first cases were reported in 1981, though it’s traced back to the 1930s). There are recordings of Reagan’s press secretary laughing about the disease in 1982. By the time Reagan even started to do anything about AIDS in 1987, there were already 50,378 reported cases of the disease. By that same year 40,849 people had died.

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It’s difficult to imagine what this scenario would be like. Basically imagine everyone in your friend group dies. Or maybe more appropriate everyone in your “type” group dies. Say you’re a white mom who lives in the suburbs. And there’s a disease that’s killing only white moms in the suburbs. No one knows what’s going, the president hasn’t acknowledged that all your friends are dead, and his press secretary is laughing at you. There are drugs being developed in other countries to help white suburban moms not die but they aren’t available because the FDA hasn’t fast tracked them for approval.

That was AIDS. People were scared for their lives, they were losing everything. And nobody cared because they were viewed as deviants getting what they deserved. Enter ACT UP, screaming.

Because someone needed to scream.

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The pink triangle associated with ACT UP was based on the pink triangles homosexuals were forced to wear in concentration camps during the Holocaust. The silence of the Reagan administration was seen as a death sentence to those suffering from the disease. Silence = Death was shorthand for a longer slogan. ‘Silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.’ [Source]

Breaking that silence was ACT UP’s number one goal.

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Sorry, by the way, for this extensive history lesson. I realize a lot of you know what ACT UP is. I’m writing this because one of my very with-it friends had never heard of it so I want to be as informative as possible. Everyone should know about ACT UP. They are one of the most important activist groups in American history. Their activism was crucial to getting people to actually do some thing to address not only fighting the disease, but also helping those infected live out their lives with dignity (this was at time when AIDS was still a death sentence, which is thankfully not the case today).

The number of artists lost to the AIDS crisis is innumerable. An entire generation was lost. Of course, a lasting favorite it Keith Haring. I’ve loved his work since childhood and he continues to be an inspiration to me in my art and my design work. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988 and died two years later.

But not before contributing to the cannon of activist art that helped spread messages about AIDS awareness, safe sex, and tolerance.

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Haring’s work has found its way onto a number of products. I myself have bought tote bags, t-shirts, and wallpaper all emblazoned with this cartoony drawings. I always wonder if everyone who buys this stuff knows much about him and his activism. It is my belief that if you don’t have any interest in the political nature of his work or if you don’t care that he died of a disease the U.S. government did little to address, you don’t really deserve to have his work in your house or on your body. You can’t just take his aesthetic and leave his politics. So if you’re a Reagan or Trump supporter, you don’t deserve this beauty. The policies of both men go directly against the rights of gay people and artists like Keith Haring.

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The ACT UP triangle has found its way onto countless posters and products, including the below t-shirt. It has become a cultural symbol for gay rights and the kind of punk rock activism that eventually paved the road for strides in AIDS research and treatment.

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Now back to my fireplace. I’m not entirely sure where the idea to paint a shape in there came from, but my original plan was to paint a perfect circle in there. I decided against this because I wasn’t sure if I liked the repetition of the circle inside the fireplace and the circle mirror above it. In retrospect the circle totally would have worked, but I liked the idea of incorporating another shape and I also had ACT UP fresh on my mind having just seen the CNN documentary.

The process of adding the triangle was simple but I’m going to show it here just for fun. Basically it entails figuring out the maximum size triangle that will fit into your, measuring it out, taping it off, and filling in with paint. I left a little breathing room on the top and the bottom so it would look like it was suspended inside the fireplace.

I’ve learned a fun trick for creating clean lines while taping off for painting. One of the biggest issues with taping off is that paint can seep under the tape and create a ragged edge. This normally happens during the first coat of paint because that coat actually seals the edge. So I like to paint around the perimeter with the wall color or a clear coat. This means that whatever seeps through the tape won’t contrast with the wall color. Once that’s dry you can paint the actual color you originally planned on taping off. I CAN’T TELL IF THAT DESCRIPTION MADE SENSE OR NOT I’M SORRY.

Pro-Tip! If you don’t have newspaper, you can use grocery bags as a barrier to protect the floor from paint splatters. I’ve been going to Whole Foods quite a bit lately. Not because I’m fancy or need to, but because there’s one two blocks away and I don’t have to go into a parking garage to shop there. Sidenote: the longer I’ve lived in LA the more I hate going into parking garages underneath buildings. Just adds so much to the process of getting in and out of a building. I will literally pay twice the price for groceries just to avoid going into a parking garage. There is a Trader Joe’s up the street from me but I rarely shop there because it has an annoying parking garage. Okay I’ll stop talking about grocery store parking now. ALSO PLEASE ALLOW ME TO TAKE THIS MOMENT TO THANK ACT UP FOR MAKING IT POSSIBLE FOR MY BIGGEST GAY PROBLEM BEING THAT SOMETIMES I HAVE TO DRIVE UNDERGROUND INTO PARKING GARAGES.

Painting inside tape isn’t rocket science so I don’t have a ton of tips. I guess the main thing is to make sure you’re not laying it on too thick. Do multiple thin layers so your brushstrokes aren’t too prominent.

I did three coats to get the color to be consistent. The color I used is discontinued but I found a very close match in Jessie by Pratt & Lambert.

It’s a scientific fact that pulling blue tape off paint is the most satisfying thing on earth. If I was forced to live in a room doing only one thing for the rest of my life it would be pulling blue tape off paint edges and seeing the beautiful clean line underneath.

I’m happy with the end result of the fireplace triangle. The reason it works is that it gives the eye something vibrant to focus on. Because we’re used to seeing crackling fires inside fireplaces, the fiery color feels appropriate and right at home inside that space.

I know that painting a pink triangle inside my fireplace is a rather superficial, passive way to express my appreciation for ACT UP, but I love looking at it every day. It is a reminder of the incredible work of a group that basically made it possible for me to live a life where I’m not constantly in fear of dying or of losing all my friends.

One of the tenets of my design practice is that if you have an opportunity to add something meaningful to your space, you should do it. Your space should be a reflection of  your personal history and identity. Adding this triangle to my fireplace was a small way of expressing gratitude for the activists whose work made living as a gay person a whole lot easier, maybe even made my survival possible. THANK YOU, ACT UP!

Love,

Orlando

For Further Reading on ACT UP and the AIDS Crisis: Wikipedia, NPR, Vox, Reagan Wiki, Washington Post, amfAR AIDS Timeline, Keith Haring, HIV.gov, ACT UP NYC.

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28 Comment

  1. Shelley B says:

    I was a young adult in 1981; grew up in the bay area and was just horrified at how quickly AIDS was moving through the community and killing so many people. That said, I had no idea about Keith Haring – how did I not know that?! I appreciate your history lesson on the crisis and ACT UP because as time goes by and things get better, you (well, I) forget how horrible it was.

    Love your style; if you ever want to come to Texas and fix my house, I’m in. 🙂

  2. Rachel says:

    If you have not read How to Survive a Plague by David France – do!! It’s an amazingly in-depth history of Act-Up and the start of the AIDS epidemic in New York.

  3. Bethany says:

    I’m so glad you’ve resolved to write more this year! I love reading what you write.

  4. Jessica says:

    I had no idea about the Act Up movement. Thanks so much for sharing! Love your blog posts and the fact that you’re writing more!

  5. Jen says:

    Thanks so much for sharing about ACT UP! I grew up in the 80’s and was obsessed with Keith Harring in high school. I feel like my only real education about HIV and AIDS at that time was by reading books about him and seeing Rent million times. I’m going to look for that documentary now!

  6. sayonadat says:

    this is amazing! i never knew the origins of the triangle and i didn’t know the name of the ACT UP movement — i just knew there was a force in the 80s fighting the good fight. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Love that you are writing more! Is there a reason you chose to change the orientation of the triangle from the original Act Up posters?

    1. Orblogdo says:

      Good catch! On most of the posters I saw it was the pyramid orientation (with the point at the top). I’ve also seen it the way I oriented it but not as much. For some reason it reads stronger to me the way I painted it, so I chose to orient it that way. Because the color and proportions are the same as the act up triangle it still reads the same.

  8. What a great and thoughtful post. I somehow hadn’t even heard of Act Up and I even took a seminar once called “Art After Stonewall” that was all about gay artists in the 1980s (which was an awesome class). Thank you for the history lesson. These issues remain so vitally important.

  9. Brooke says:

    I just watched “Philidelphia” for the the first time in forever the other day. It broke my heart! The first time I saw it I was in fourth grade and it always stuck with me but seeing it as adult I obviously understood it a little more. Its easy to forget how scary the AIDS epeidemic was at that time! We’ll never know what could have been….so many talented people lost forever. 💔💔💔

  10. Corrine says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’m 25 and have never heard of ACT UP before, which makes me sad that the education system has failed me yet again. Thank you for your honesty, your humor, and your heart. Can we be BFFs?😂

  11. Hilary says:

    Love that you’ve embedded something you care about socially into your design! And it’s beautiful to boot :).

  12. Trisha says:

    Orlando, I love this. I love the creativity of it. I love the history behind it (thank you for sharing) and I love the color you chose. But this: “So if you’re a Reagan or Trump supporter, you don’t deserve this beauty.” This makes me sad. As an “open minded” liberal, gay artist, I would think you of all people would believe that EVERYONE deserves art. I do. I believe that art is a gift that everyone should be blessed with the opportunity to experience and appreciate for whatever the reason (regardless of race, gender… -even politics) -maybe it reminds them of a loved one. Maybe they love the colors and it makes then feel happy or serene. Maybe it reminds them of a cherished experience. Maybe the the history behind the piece has deep personal meaning. Art IS personal. It is beautiful and it is subjective. And I love it! And, I love your big pink, gay triangle! I love your amazing talent for design and I am so grateful that you have this platform to share it on. I love your wit and writing style -you’re so funny! AND, I’m a Republican. I voted for Donald Trump. I even voted for Ronald Reagan when I was 10 years old in my school’s mock election in the 5th grade. But I promise you Orlando, we really are not all that bad. Really!

    Love the talent you are blessed with. Please keep sharing it with the world. We appreciate it!!

    1. Orblogdo says:

      Hi Trisha! Thank you for reading and for that thoughtfully crafted response. I appreciate it, but here’s the point: how the Reagan government responded to the AIDS crisis was deplorable and personally hurtful to me as someone that would likely be dead if I had been born earlier. It’s kind of impossible to support that president and also say you support artists like Keith Haring. The president did absolutely nothing, said nothing, while thousands of people were dying. I don’t know how exactly to describe this to someone who isn’t gay, but just imagine you and all your friends are in danger OF DYING and no one cares, people are actively speaking out against you and your morality. So no, I don’t think people who supported that president deserve the beauty of Keith Haring’s artwork. You can’t actively support someone who helps oppress minorities then bask in the beauty created by the artists whose oppression you supported. Remember, Reagan’s CLOSE FRIEND Rock Hudson was dying of AIDS and he did nothing, wouldn’t even take a call. I don’t see how people can see stuff like that and think that guy was good or moral. Nancy was complicit too, the Reagans were terrible people. As for Donald Trump, he not only has degraded the reputation of the United States around the world (which matters for our economy and our status as a world leading nation), he has put friends of mine (mostly people in the trans community) at risk by promoting policies that allow discrimination and allow doctors to refuse to help them, even in an emergency situation. I made a new year’s resolution that I was going to use my platform for good, and part of that is speaking out against injustice, both past and present. If you voted for Donald Trump you did something terrible and damaging. It’s not just “politics” he has done things to put national parks, womens/minorities rights in jeopardy. And he’s not going to do anything to make our economy better. I and most of my family fall within the wealthy category that supposedly is going to benefit from his garbage tax plan. But that doesn’t make me feel any better because I believe in paying my fair share so that old people don’t die without medical care or kids don’t go hungry. Call it socialism I don’t care. That’s what part of being a good person is, which seems to be the opposite of what the Republican party stands for. Watch the CNN documentary I mentioned. Reaganomics destroyed the economy in the 80s and Trump is doing the exact same thing now. We’re living off a cloud of success from the Obama years now but that will go downhill soon because of the Trump administration’s reckless lack of planning and insight (so many White House roles have been left empty, our government isn’t fully functioning). So in short, I am deeply grateful that you read this but I stand by what I said. If you support a president that oppressed minorities, allowing them to die en masse (without saying anything for years, while laughing at them), then NO, you most certainly do not deserve to enjoy the art of the minority. Everyone deserves art, except people who stand by while an entire generation of artists die and say nothing.

      1. Emily Brown says:

        Thank you for this response. Thank you for standing by your morals. Thank you for this post, which I certainly learned something from.

        It reminds me of this opinion piece I read this summer, I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People. Even when someone is respectful and seemingly reasonable, I don’t know how to discuss the current political climate if people simply can’t care about others.
        https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/i-dont-know-how-to-explain-to-you-that-you-should_us_59519811e4b0f078efd98440

      2. Lindsay says:

        YES! Thank you Orlando!!

  13. Geraldine says:

    As a kid in the 80s I remember how Act Up made me think about politics, public health, my own health… The day they put a giant condom in Paris on a pretty posh place was enlightening (https://www.google.fr/search?q=capote+obelisque+paris&client=firefox-b&dcr=0&prmd=ivns&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiHgK7BmubYAhVJmbQKHaiqDWUQ_AUIBigB#mhpiv=0&spf=1516439822897). A French movie about Act Up was presented to the Cannes Festival last year and gained a lot of consideration, even a price I think? I do recommend it. It’s called “120 battements par minute” (120 [heart]beats per minute”.

  14. mikepro says:

    I believe the downward pointing pink triangle is how the symbol was used by the Nazis. I remember reading somewhere years ago that ACT UP flipped it around to reverse it from its original meaning.

    1. Orblogdo says:

      Thanks for that! I didn’t know that. I was trying to find the reason for turning it but didn’t come across that in any of my research.

  15. BevNap says:

    Thank you for posting this, it is very meaningful for me. I was in the trenches in the 80’s, acting up with ACT UP, Chicken Soup Brigade, NW AIDS Foundation – just trying to keep my friends and family alive. So many were lost.

  16. […] design blogs when I’m relaxing, and I especially loved this one about what to do with non-functioning fireplaces this week (which also includes an important history […]

  17. I love this so much! Thank you for sharing the reason behind your choice. I really enjoyed the history lesson, Orlando Style (I would definitely watch an Orlando Documentary, an Orlandoc, if you will, on most any subject). It is such an important issue. I was a little girl & then a teen in the 80’s & I remember being very intrigued about it. Act Up is so important. I also loved Keith Haring & taught a class about his art to kiddos last summer. Anyway. I love your blog & Instagram Stories. Thank you for being so great!

  18. Nick says:

    As an Aussie gay I never knew about ACT UP so thank you for the history lesson. Even though we are different countries the crisis was the same.
    Thanks for the tips on painting with blue tape, i had never thought about painting around with the wall colour first!!! If only I had known that it would have solved so many headaches! I am off to buy some blue tape.

  19. I love that your identity and your beliefs are woven into your home. I’m always in awe of this space whenever I see it. It’s like a feast for the eyes and nothing is boring.

    One of the best RENT lyrics to scream at the top of your lungs is “ACTUAL REALITY: ACT UP! FIGHT AIDS!”

  20. Danielle says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the history of Act Up! Love your work, love your message! 🙂

  21. Ayumi says:

    I think you are a lovely person and am grateful that you are willing to draw hard lines despite being a “public figure”. Too many bloggers are wishy washy about politics and willing to give the benefit of the doubt to their readers. Thanks.

  22. KRA says:

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this! Yay for art that is political and reminds us of how far we’ve come even in times of gut-wrenching awfulness.

  23. You’re so rad.

Comments are closed.