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Casey Doyle Aims to Elevate Dialogue about LGBTQ Rights through Art

Doyle used his sculptures in his 2016 wedding ceremony, now they’re installed in Riverstone Park to help define North Idaho’s Cultural Environment.

When Casey Doyle contacted a Palouse landowner about using his wheat field to perform his artwork — bringing together two large-scale sculptures he made of diamond engagement rings — he didn’t know what to expect.

“I didn’t tell him, ‘I’m trying to do this queer-themed performance in the field’ — because you never know who you’re dealing with,” said Doyle, an associate professor in the University of Idaho’s College of Art and Architecture Art and Design Program.

I didn’t tell him, ‘I’m trying to do this queer-themed performance in the field’ — because you never know who you’re dealing with. Casey Doyle

But what Doyle was doing was simply advocating for an underrepresented segment of the population.

In Idaho, certain counties, including Moscow’s Latah County, provide protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, but there is no statewide protection when it comes to renting a house or getting a job. That’s why Doyle hopes to raise awareness of potential discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community.

Engaging the Palouse

Casey Doyle performs his “ENGAGE” sculptures — bringing movement to them with the help of his community — during his 2016 wedding ceremony.

Artwork as Catharsis, Then Advocacy

Doyle came out to his family at 21 while a student at New Mexico State University.

It was then that he began using art as an outlet “for working through queer ideas and family issues.”

“If something would blow up at home, it would result in something in my art — as a way for me to work through my ideas and share them,” Doyle said. “My dad told me he thought I had the potential to be an artist, and he thought highly of that. He was an iron worker and a metal artist himself. But he said that if I continued doing this ‘gay thing,’ I wasn’t going to succeed.

First you need to love and respect yourself and understand your own self-worth, and then surround yourself with people who care. Casey Doyle

While Doyle’s artwork has historically come from a place of personal strife, today it’s more about advocacy. As the faculty advisor for U of I’s Gender Sexuality Alliance student organization, Doyle facilitates questions the group has about issues on campus. He also attempts to model his own advice.

“First you need to love and respect yourself and understand your own self-worth, and then surround yourself with people who care,” he said.

Doyle began designing his engagement ring sculptures, titled “ENGAGE,” in 2013, when California Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

Two years later, in 2015, Doyle received a grant from U of I’s Office of Research and Economic Development that allowed him to bring the sculptures to fruition. With $12,000 in funding, Doyle bought the materials he needed, including mass amounts of aluminum tubing and a powder coating that would give the sculptures a reflective shimmer.

Bringing the Community Together

Over time, Doyle’s dad, who is now a joint-partner in a steel fabrication company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has become more supportive of Doyle’s work. He took his son’s design and, with the help of his co-workers, welded and fabricated the sculptures.

“One of his engineers actually came up with the idea of turning the square tubing to a 45-degree angle so I got more facets out of my rings, and so they would be a bit more reflective,” Doyle said. “Everything’s on a corner now, so the light hits all these different points.”

With the intent of unveiling his sculptures near the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriage is constitutional, Doyle had already invited his family, friends and co-workers to witness the event. He and his partner wanted those in attendance to pull the two sculptures across opposite ends of the field in a statement of unification.

“I wanted to make a cultural-social statement that we can’t pull this diamond ring as one man, that it has to be pulled by a collective group of people,” Doyle said.

Ultimately, Doyle and his husband, who’s also an artist, decided to turn the event into their wedding ceremony, and on June 25, 2016, they were married on the rolling hills of the Palouse.

Video footage of the ceremony has been showed regionally and nationally in multiple art shows. Doyle’s dad shared pictures of the event with his employees. And Kirk Harden, the landowner who allowed Doyle and his husband to use the site, where the sculptures remained for some time, showed them to his own friends and family.

Now the sculptures are installed in Coeur d’Alene’s Riverstone Park as part of the city’s Arts Current Program, whose mission is to build an exceptional collection of public art that defines the community and improves the cultural environment of the city. They’ve been on display since September 2017 and will remain in the park through September of this year.

Doyle hopes the sculptures will provoke future conversations related to gender identity and sexual orientation — and help people “truly have love and compassion for one another.”

Article by Kate Keenan, College of Art and Architecture
Published February 2019

Art & Design

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