Timeline of an artist: Alan Bennett Ilagan
Spring 1993 ~ As a senior in high school, Alan Ilagan releases his first official written work, The Letters of Melissa Jeanwell, created for an English assignment. It receives laudatory reviews that are all but erased by the ensuing controversy. Graphic depictions of sex, violence, drug abuse, family trauma and suicide prompt the teacher to submit it to the school psychiatrist, while rumors run wild over whether the work is entirely fictitious.
Fall 1993 ~ Ensconced at Brandeis University, Ilagan releases the first of his official "projects" ~ multi-media productions featuring writing, photography, music mixes and assorted paraphernalia relating to a single theme. In October the virgin project was "Sex", and the racy postcards almost land Alan in jail. November brings about a more serious subject, "Depression".
Winter/Spring 1994 ~ Romantic escapades influence the February release of "Love" (containing Ilagan's first documented foray into poetry), while former familial drama resurfaces in March with the "Family" project. In April, he sends out the rollicking "Fun" package to friends in Boston, Los Angeles, Ithaca, Albany and Rochester before finishing out his first year at Brandeis. May brings the release of The Semi-Circle, a semi-autobiographical tale of friendship, dashed romance, suicide attempts and death, all to damning reviews by friends.
Fall 1994 ~ A return to controversy is heralded by the "Darkness" project in September. The bloody knives sent in the mail wouldn't get through today, but they were a powerful message to accompany the disturbing tone of the subject. A backlash from friends resulted in the equally-offensive "Apology" project - a defensive strike back at those who found fault with his artistic output. He ends the year with The Journal of Alan Ilagan, Vol. I, a too-revealing misstep that further alienates his audience.
Winter 1995 ~ Ilagan releases the light-hearted "Whimsy", a superficially-sweet attempt to get back into the good graces of certain people, but underlying the project is a darker theme of loss and mental instability. In February, he makes his first motions of coming to terms with his sexuality. The "Preference" project did not find him personally coming out, but instead took an objective look at gay and lesbian issues.
Spring/Summer 1995 ~ The April release of "Joy" is a throwback to the "Fun" project - a silly collection of amusing comments and a cheesy pop soundtrack, bundled up with feathers and sequins and lots of trademark glitter. Ilagan kicks off his "Friendship Tour 1995: Chameleon-in-Motion" ~ the first of his "Tours", which mostly consist of a series of trips and visits to friends. The renovation of the attic at his family home in Amsterdam, NY is celebrated with the written work The Attic's Secret, a novella that explores Ilagan's now-familiar fascination with suicide. He writes a front-page story for the local upstart paper The Star.
Fall 1995 ~ While attending school and holding down a retail job, Ilagan moves into Boston. By November he has completed his first comic work, The Mansion, a lampooning of his closest friends and a departure from the serious drama of previous pieces.
Winter 1996 ~ A more sensual look at sex is proffered with the February release of "Desire"; Ilagan manages to imbue the subject with a deeper sense of longing than previous outings suggested. Surprising some, he hits the road again for "The Magical Mystery Tour 1996: Master of Manipulation." March brings about "Loss", a somber, straightforward autobiographical work detailing various failed relationships.
Spring/Summer 1996 ~ Closing out the 1996 tour with "Happy", Ilagan spends the summer in Boston, working and plotting out future projects.
Winter 1996/1997 ~ Ilagan graduates a semester early from Brandeis University. The Graduation Ball on December 23 is the kick-off to "The Royal Rainbow World Tour: Alan is King!" ~ his first World tour. It will run until August, and he will traverse North America and make stops in England, Ireland, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Puerto Rico. In March 1997 Ilagan releases diSenchAntMent, what many consider to be his first written work worthy of notice. It garners rave reviews and reveals striking artistic growth. For the first time, Ilagan is taken seriously as a writer of fiction.
Spring/Summer 1997 ~ The Royal Rainbow World Tour continues, as Alan visits the Philippines for the first time. The last of his "Fun" projects, "Bliss", is released in April. Ilagan pens his official "coming out" Letter to the Editor and it appears in the local newspaper in July. Though everyone from his family to his closest friends advised him against publishing it, response is overwhelmingly supportive, and the event is the pinnacle of the Tour, and of Alan's life up to that moment. The Royal Rainbow World Tour concludes in Ilagan's hometown of Amsterdam, NY on August 24, 1997, his 22nd birthday.
Winter 1998 ~ Following a tumultuous visit to Rochester, Ilagan chronicles the events in "Spin Control", the first of his "mature" projects. Released in early March, the writing is undoubtedly the focus now, but photography is the new artistic companion. Words and images combine and collide in a brilliant piece of pop art that skillfully conveys the emotional devastation Ilagan felt at the time.
Summer/Fall 1998 ~ Rebounding somewhat with a brief summer romance, Ilagan closes out the season with "The Fall". Its artfully-rendered black-and-white photos accompany some of his finest writing; a striking amount of growth and a honing of his craft evince critical acclaim. Supporting himself with a temporary job at John Hancock Insurance, he begins his first long-term relationship with a man.
Summer/Fall 1999 ~ Their relationship seemingly solid, Alan and his boyfriend move to Chicago. Prior to departing, Ilagan sends out "Of Heart & Home". Devoid of colorful photos, the writing is the feature ~ and it is one of the most powerful pieces he has ever produced. Rich, yet stark - bold, but subtle - the work is heartrending, poignant and moving. Romantic, familial and platonic relationships are explored, while a growing propensity for drinking adds a dark undertone. In Chicago, Ilagan writes a few freelance articles for the Windy City Times ~ it marks the first time he receives a pay check for his writing. His submission package to xy magazine results in a trip to San Francisco to meet with the editors.
Winter 2000 ~ Alone in Chicago, away from friends and family, and his relationship fizzling out, Ilagan pours his loss into Heart of Winter, a stream-of-consciousness piece that is widely regarded as his best work thus far. On his return East, he begins contributing a gay-themed column "Tales from the Outside" to the sidewalks and The Buzz, two alternative newspapers in Amsterdam, NY.
Summer/Fall 2000 ~ Ilagan starts submitting articles to the Albany magazine Capitalmen and quickly becomes its star writer. He meets current partner Andrew Van Wagenen in July and begins commuting between Boston and Albany. In September "A Man of Mode" is released. Epic in scope and rife with vivid photographs, the project is an instant classic and seals Ilagan's reputation as a full-fledged artist.
Winter/Spring 2001 ~ Moving into Albany, Alan settles in with his partner Andy. A lifelong passion for gardening results in the written work Words of A Gardener. It is a mature work and shows off a polished skill at making something as seemingly pedantic as horticulture into a personal and philosophical reflection. Capitalmen comes under new ownership and becomes Q Northeast - Alan begins penning most of the cover stories.
Summer 2001 ~ In his most controversial artistic move yet, Ilagan releases 'Man-Boy', a photographic musing on beauty, youth, and art ~ featuring graphic nude photos of Alan himself. Mayhem ensues ~ the scheduled launch party is promptly cancelled and the work causes friction between Alan and his partner. The select few who actually see the book are amazed at the artistry, and Ilagan receives glowing reviews once people get over the shock of seeing him naked. August finds him scantily-clad in Genre Magazine as the Genre Man for the Month, while xy magazine finally gets around to publishing two of his pieces. He begins working for New York State to support himself.
Fall 2001 ~ Andy's Mom passes away in November. Alan's Uncle Roberto is diagnosed with cancer. Plans for a new tour are scrapped for the year.
Winter 2002 ~ Uncle Roberto passes away.
Spring 2002 ~ Alan gets a promotion and begins working for the NYS Thruway Authority. He and Andy purchase and move into their first house together in Loudonville, NY. Home renovations take up most of the Spring.
Summer/Fall 2002 ~ Preparations begin for a new tour. Photo shoots and writing for the tour book ensue, with the sad events of the previous year acting as a strong influence.
Winter 2003 ~ In January, Ilagan appears on the cover of Q Northeast. The web-site www.alanilagan.com opens to great fanfare. A repository of Ilagan's written and photographic work, the site is an instant success, made so by a promotional blitz that includes postcards, e-notifications, and Ilagan's 2003 tour. "The Talented Trickster Tour: Reflections of a Floating World" begins in March; it is Alan's first tour in six years and serves to promote the new web-site. The accompanying tour book is darker in tone than all his previous tour work. Initial stops include Miami, FL and Boston, MA.
Spring/Summer 2003 ~ The Talented Trickster Tour continues with stops in New York, NY, Beacon, NY, Ogunquit, ME, Ithaca, NY, Rochester, NY and Saratoga, NY. In July, Ilagan is voted Best Local Print Journalist by Metroland newspaper readers. Alan's birthday is celebrated at The Geisha Gathering.
Fall 2003 ~ The Talented Trickster Tour concludes with trips to San Francisco, CA and New York, NY, followed by Alan's 10-year High School Reunion. A chimney fire destroys the wood stove; focus returns to home as Alan and Andy continue to renovate the house. Ilagan pens his first "review blurb" for Haworth Press and the book Aura.
Winter/Spring 2004 ~ A year after its launch, www.alanilagan.com gets revamped with new content and a daily web-log. When an amendment banning gay marriage is proposed, Ilagan writes a scathing Letter-to-the-Editor that gets printed nationwide. A burgeoning interest in politics is the result. Not completely letting go of his glamorous past, Alan completes a photo shoot with photographer Dennis Dean in Miami and poses for a portrait by artist Dave Haskins. He accepts a promotion and starts work at the NYS Office of Mental Health.
Summer 2004 ~ Ilagan is voted Best Local Print Journalist by the readers of Metroland for the second consecutive year. Promotional blitz for a new project, shades of gray, begins in August.
Fall 2004 ~ In September, Ilagan completes a San Francisco photo shoot by celebrated photographer Steven Underhill. Following that, shades of gray, Ilagan's first written project in three years, is released in October to wide acclaim. Heralded as his most mature and accomplished work to date, it is a series of vignettes and memoirs that Ilagan presents free from the usual photographic bombast of previous projects, signaling a return to traditional, solid writing.
Winter/Spring 2005 ~ Begins writing for www.EdgeBoston.com and continues contributing to Out-in-America. The web-site www.alanilagan.com gets its annual update as Ilagan begins preparations for a new world tour that will take him into 2006.
Summer 2005 ~ Celebrates 5th Year Anniversary with Andy. Embarks on 'The Divine Diva Tour: A Fairy's Tale' in July - marking ten years of touring. Voted 'Best Local Print Journalist' and 'Best Local Blog' in Metroland. In August, Ilagan turns 30 years old. Promoted to a professional position at the NYS Department of Conservation.
Fall 2005 ~ The Divine Diva Tour continues. Ilagan hosts a baby shower for Suzie Ko and Pat Knight at his home, as well as a family celebration in honor of his 95-year-old Grandmother.
Spring 2006 ~ The website www.alanilagan.com now receives an average of 1000 visitors daily. Total number of separate hits has soared beyond three million. Touring continues with a solo trip to London, England. Nominated for "Blog Crush Contest" on www.bestgayblogs.net.
Summer 2006 ~ The Divine Diva Tour concludes its run. Work commences on a new project, rumored to be a religious story steeped in blasphemy.
Fall/Winter 2006 ~ The Revelation is released at The 80’s Glam Gala in December of 2006, and simultaneously on-line. The story of a young altar boy’s affair with a priest is instantly scandalous, but the writing is riveting. Controversy continues with Ilagan’s Christmas card, which depicts him as Jesus on the cross, clad only in a loin cloth, a crown-of-thorns, and stigmata.
Winter/Spring 2007 ~ Cooling off the white-hot heat of The Revelation, Ilagan’s project for March 2007, ‘Solace & Solitude’, is a subdued work – a hand-bound book of quaint nature photographs and brief passages by Ilagan to ward off the chill of winter.
Summer 2007 ~ The focus shifts entirely to photography, as Alan conducts numerous photo shoots for his next project.
Fall 2007 ~ Ilagan’s first collection of photographs, StoneLight, is released in November 2007. A black-and-white series of photos taken in local cemeteries, many featuring Alan completely nude, StoneLight earns him the artistic and critical acclaim that eluded him in prior naked romps. His skills as both photographer and subject come together, and it marks the start of an interest in exhibiting his work.
Winter 2008 ~ The year begins with Alan being voted “Best Dressed Man in the Capital District” by the readers of the Times Union newspaper. He begins volunteering at the Romaine Brooks Gallery at the Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Center – the oldest continually running gay community center in the country. At the same time, he is offered his first solo show at the gallery.
Spring 2008 ~ “The Circus Project” is released in April, chronicling the cross-country travels and travails of a fictional protagonist, delving into themes of fitting in versus being an outsider, and the reactions it provokes. The storyline is compelling enough, but it’s the photography that puts it into another realm – Ilagan manages to combine trains, industry, dead animals, and his own risqué poses into a meditative journey of what it’s like to be different.
Summer 2008 ~ Alan hosts a retirement party for his mother at his home, while completing the promotional plan for his first gallery show. Postcards, brochures, letters, CDs, DVDs, posters, print and radio ads serve to set the stage for the solo exhibition.
Fall 2008 ~ ‘The Eye of the Ego’ premieres on September 5, 2008 as part of 1st Friday Albany. A racy, risky collection of black-and-white nudes of himself and full-color nature photos, it’s a bold, vainglorious move, and an instantly stunning success by all measures: 22 pieces are sold by the end of the month. He continues to exhibit his photographs, donating work to Art 4 AIDS Sake and preparing for another solo show in January 2009. Alan officially takes over as Manager of the Romaine Brooks Gallery in September.
Winter 2009 ~ ‘The Reaping of the Vine’, Ilagan’s second solo photography exhibition, premieres at The Wine Seller at Harmony House Marketplace in Cohoes, NY. A far cry from nude vanity, it uses its surroundings as inspiration, made up of photos from local upstate New York vineyards. A revamped version of his website, WWW.ALANILAGAN.COM, is unveiled six years after its debut.