Éamon McGivern’s ‘Trans Portrait Project’ Reflects a Luminous Community

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Two people of color joke around on the beach. One of them is holding up the other as they make a dramatic pose, as if overcome with emotion. The Golden Gate Bridge is in the distance.
Detail of 'Ray & Sathya,' a portrait by Éamon McGiven that's part of 'Still Lives, a Trans Portrait Project,' currently on view at the Tenderloin Museum. (Courtesy of The Tenderloin Museum)

There is a luminosity in Éamon McGivern’s paintings that is impossible to capture in photographs. Still Lives, a Trans Portrait Project is a collection of seven of McGivern’s large-scale paintings that depict the everyday lives of transgender people in the Bay Area. Each of the portraits radiates a warmth and joy that is infectious; they are testaments to the love and adoration McGivern feels for his community.

McGivern’s subjects are happy couples at home, at the beach and in comedic embraces. We see a hair stylist and tattoo artist lost in their work. Oakland artist Leila Weefur is captured in a moment of stillness on a night out. McGivern’s own self-portrait, shirtless and smoking at Ocean Beach, is the very picture of defiant self confidence, top surgery scars proudly on display.

A painting of a shirtless, tattooed, smoking man wearing a baseball cap pushed back over shaggy hair. He is standing on the beach, under a blue sky and in front of a graffiti covered wall and buildings off in the distance.
Éamon McGivern's self-portrait, as seen in 'Still Lives, a Trans Portrait Project.' (Courtesy of the Tenderloin Museum)

Éamon McGivern’s name and work call to mind the British figurative artist Eamonn McGovern, who also specializes in transforming everyday scenes into something incandescent. But McGivern’s work carries the extra punch of being a glorious rebuttal to the perpetual othering that trans people live with.

“This series of paintings was initially intended as a testament to trans joy and the joy of trans community,” McGivern says. “Looking at the finished work, it feels more like a collection of ordinary people living our lives under a regime that, when it allows us to live at all, works to exclude us from public life. Perhaps it is both, and more besides.”

A painting that closely resembles a photo, depicting a man receiving a leg tattoo from another. They are both wearing surgical masks.
'TJ Giving Jamie a Tattoo,' one of Éamon McGivern's paintings for his show 'Still Lives, a Trans Portrait Project.' (Courtesy of the Tenderloin Museum)

The number of paintings in Still Lives, a Trans Portrait Project may be small, but the scale of the work, and the attention to detail in each, carries a sizable impact. (A painstaking rendition of Tony Jackson tattooing a client at Rose and Thorn Tattoo in the Mission is the most hyperreal and mesmerizing of them all.) These portraits contain multitudes; they are short stories captured within fleeting moments. There’s nothing ‘still’ about them.


Éamon McGivern’s ‘Still Lives, a Trans Portrait Project’ is on view at The Tenderloin Museum (398 Eddy St., San Francisco) through Jan. 7, 2023. Exhibition details here.