Penis straws and obscene quilts: the artist turning junk into a queer church

Here is Paul Yore showing me the hearse that he owns. He is always interested in creating a sculpture using cars (“they’re quite phallic, aren’t they?”) and throughout the pandemic, like many of us, he has been thinking about death. Therefore, he stripped the paint off a hearse and transformed it into a mosaic. This antique car now sports immaculately crafted tiny tiles that read “FUCK ME DEAD” on the boot, over a numberplate that reads “NO HOMO”.

Penis straws and obscene quilts

How do Penis straws Buy a Hearse? 

A mild smile spreads across his face as he says, “I found it online.”. The project was completed within three weeks of finding it online. As I examine his hands, expecting to see them mangled from years of sculpture and needlepoint, what I see instead is a neat coat of nail polish and some surprisingly normal looking fingers. He states, “They do not seem to be in too much trouble at the moment.”. “When I work on large installations, I usually appear as if I have been working with stray cats.”


With his spectacular, colourful vulgarity taking on gender, sexuality, politics, religion, capitalism and advertising, Yore’s art has become instantly recognizable. In Melbourne, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) just opened his latest – and largest – exhibition.

Penis straws and obscene quilts

A huge array of detritus-based installations are perhaps his best known works, and this exhibition features his largest installation to date: a tower and dome covered with Happy Meal toys, costume jewellery, nana squares, neon lights, fast food signs, dildos, chickpea tins and hen night decor. During one point, he glanced mournfully at a line of penis straws, saying, “That’s a horrible subcategory.”


Throughout the show, he conveys vulgar, bolshie messages about capitalism and colonialism via dainty needlepoint. He embellishes his quilts with slogans that are both queer and homophobic, racist and anti-racist, and contain sequins, beads, and a number of erections. An ACCA employee tells me that after staring at one of Yore’s more lurid tapestries for some time, one realizes they are looking at a penis.

Penis straws and obscene quilts

A slight, neat man stands behind all of this, revealing glimpses of a pearl necklace beneath his black T-shirt as he demonstrates the facility. Over 100 of his works are on display in this exhibition, many of which have been reunited after spending many years in galleries throughout Australia. There are some people he has not seen for over a decade. According to him, it is similar to attending a strange family reunion for the purpose of viewing old artworks. Having them in my life makes me feel as though I have been reunited with little babies.”

Although his art appears to be fun on the surface, Yore views both himself and his art as pessimistic. “My work is inspired by a very dark and cynical viewpointPenis straws and obscene quilts. The experience does not appear to be joyful to him. This product is made of plastic, which will not degrade for a million years, and it is nauseating.”


There is something appealing about the darkness, he believes. It is clear that we live in turbulent times, and a great deal of people sense this,” he says. The value of marginal voices is that they have taught us ways of surviving, as someone who has been assaulted or called names in the street. For instance, a quilt, a form I use frequently, is, on some level, a statement of comfort and security.


It is believed that Yore was born in Melbourne, and was raised by his English father, a former Franciscan monk, and his Australian mother, a Gippsland missionary. Having grown up in an extremely religious home, a queer boy was faced with bullying throughout his “hellish” years at Catholic school. “However, a lot of Catholic art is very campy,” he explains. My favorite period of art is 17th century baroque art; it is high drama, sensual, very Hollywood. There is even some erotic content in it. Religion and queerness share a great deal of overlap in terms of decoration and spectacle.”

Penis straws and obscene quiltsPenis straws and obscene quilts

In his studies at university, he studied archaeology and anthropology, which contributes to his urge to collect – or as he refers to it, “rescuing”. Through op shops and online marketplaces, he collects the detritus of capitalism. The first thing he does when he starts creating his art is to “improvise”.


He says, “I’m not sure how it will look until the piece is complete.” Instead, he intuits with his hands. “Even children understand this when they make collages – when they place one thing next to another thing, it is absurd and humorous when they do not fit together.”


The mental health breakdown Yore experienced in 2010 that was rooted in exhaustion inspired his intricate textiles, he has stated. It was during this time that he worked, studied, created, and partied – and he did a lot of all four activities. In York, England, he was sectioned against his will for two weeks during a family vacation in a psychiatric hospital. 

Penis straws and obscene quilts

He then learned how to sew, a craft with a long political history, which was embraced by suffragettes and trade unionists who used it to make banners for their protests while resting and weaning himself off of his medication.


A significant portion of my artwork does take a strong position … That is fine with me, political art is part of a great tradition. It is important to note, however, that art itself does not necessarily constitute protest or activism.”


 “What it does is propose questions that allows us to think radically. For example, after being here today, you might not look at those awful penis straws in the same way ever again.”


His blend of obscenity and vulgarity can rankle. In 2013, he was charged with producing and possessing child pornography, after police raided a St Kilda gallery that was displaying one of Several of his collages depicted children’s faces superimposed on the bodies of men performing sex acts. Yore’s legal fees were ordered to be paid by the Victorian police for damaging his art, but the charges were dismissed.


Does he find that experience to be a burden on his mind? “As I grow older, I realize there is a tension between what society expects art to be and what I do as a queer artist,” he remarks. At that time, it had a significant impact on me. Although it was over a decade ago, I do not often think about it.”

Nowadays, he is seen as a populist: most people are not concerned with the deeper meaning of an Hungry Jacks sign that says Horny Jocks. 


There is already a relationship between people and my materials, which deescalates the tension found in contemporary art, where someone may be thinking, Is this for me? Are you sure you understand what is going on? “, he asks. “Instead, it is ‘Oh, I used to have that toy’, ‘I know that logo’. It’s the stuff of real life.”

Penis straws and obscene quilts

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Penis straws and obscene quilts

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