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The 2 Very Gay Painters Just Got a Brush With Destiny

‘Imagine a handsome gay couple,’ suggest Nicholas and Jenson, co-owners of 2 Very Gay Painters. ‘Imagine yourself hiring them to paint that mural in your home. Congratulations. You are gay.’

Dozens of Southern Californian millennials, bored by the same bland walls they’ve been staring at for eight months, are turning to a pair of enterprising comedians-tuned-muralists to enliven their living rooms with gay energy. Since July, boyfriends Nicholas Scheppard and Jenson Titus, 27 and 29 respectively and co-owners and operators of 2 Very Gay Painters (2VGP), have installed more than 50 custom murals — mainly geometric, retro and landscape designs with flowing lines and muted color palettes — for roughly $600 a wall. “We’re making a lot of money for the first time in our lives,” Titus says, befuddled that 2VGP is booked through the end of the year. Of course, comparable decal versions are available for a fraction of the price, but store-bought artwork is anathema to a generation that loves handcrafted furniture over plywood dressers from IKEA.

Fine arts consultant Kerry Gaertner Gerbracht confirms a significant uptick in personalization of interior space due to COVID, given that there’s no end in sight to our forced isolation. An art historian, she references the Biedermeier Period of the 1800s in Germany and Austria, when aesthetics appealed to common sensibility as a growing middle class spent more time at home, leading to the Art Deco movement. “Is this the Biedermeier 2.0 period?” she wonders.

When I catch up with Titus and Scheppard in a desert casita near Palm Springs, an Airbnb rental owned by a twentysomething gay couple, they’re applying muted variations of millennial pink to a mountainous landscape on the living room wall. Drenched in twinkish charm and matching, paint-speckled Dickies overalls and camouflage crocs, the duo gracefully moves about the mid-century modern living room, adding a touch of crimson red here and matchstick gray there, all while avoiding the long-exposure lens documenting the process for their 11,000 Instagram followers. It’s emblematic of an unrelenting performative aspect of the brand — frolicking on stripper poles, blowing on caulk guns, etc. — that delights an entirely millennial, LGBTQ and straight female clientele, yearning to infuse one-bedrooms with one-of-a-kind rainbow flair.

Titus, though, worries that their online persona may sometimes result in mistaken expectations of carefree wall nymphs arriving to bibbidi-bobbidi-boo the space like doting chambermaids (or worse, nude male maids). “We really don’t… do that,” he says.

2VGP does, however, offer a manageable price point for aspiring art collectors, says Seph Rodney, an editor of the online arts magazine Hyperallergic, pointing to a generation of young adults struggling to find their place in this economy. Millennials are financially precarious and gay-friendly, he notes, and demand to see their values reflected in the art that they buy, whether that means inclusion of a social justice message or their direct participation in its creation.

That’s where 2VGP comes in. According to them, the moon is decidedly gay — as are squares, autumn, musical instruments, 70 percent of dogs and the ability to type 50 words a minute. Expensive headboards, on the other hand, are straight. As are sunrises, though sunsets are gay, making the sun itself bisexual. These assertions, of course, like most everything about the brand, are made with their tongues planted firmly in gay cheeks. If anything, it’s to be expected from a pair of classically trained comedians for whom painting homo-moons is simply a lucrative side hustle.

Pre-pandemic, they cohosted Friends and Gay Shit (FAGS) at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre in L.A., a “half talk show, half character pageant, full gay extravaganza!!” Scheppard also created the standup show Stunning, Gorgeous and Beautiful, prioritizing diverse comedians in hopes of loosening straight white bros’ sleeper hold on local standup comedy. His Instagram handle, @verygayclown, inspired their brand name, @verygaypaint, which he calls “doubly effective” at both making light of an effeminacy that tormented him as a child and weeding out trolls. “If someone thinks, I’m not so sure about these fags coming into my apartment, they just won’t hire us,” he says. “People know what they’re getting into.”

As for 2VGP’s one straight male client, Titus shrugs his shoulders. “It was so weird, like, why are you hiring us?!” he tells me, comparing the house to a TGI Fridays.

“No, an Applebee’s,” Scheppard corrects.

Both attended college for performance in Philadelphia — the University of the Arts for Scheppard, the Pig Iron School for Titus — though neither has much fine art training to speak of. Well, that’s not exactly right: Scheppard’s parents do have a watercolor parrot he painted when he was six hanging in their kitchen. “I’ve always had remarkable penmanship,” he explains. “Somehow, I feel like that translates.” Titus concedes, however, that he’s never had much of an aptitude for visual art, despite his mom being a “visual mastermind” with Cake Boss-level decorative edible chops. Rather, being “super detail oriented,” he is called upon like a left-handed relief pitcher to only paint circles and curves.

“Nick can’t really paint circles,” he whispers to me, pointing to the moon in the desert mountainscape. Scheppard can draw circles easily, he says defensively, but painting them requires attentiveness better suited to Titus. “He will sit there with a Pointillism-level focus for an hour to get the edge of the circle just right, and I don’t have the patience for that. So yeah, we need each other.”

Naturally, all this talk about circles and the moon eventually drifts to astrology.

“My moon is in Aries,” Titus explains.

“I think, babe, your moon is virgo,” Scheppard corrects. “My moon is Aries, and my rising is Taurus.”

Like Barack Obama (i.e., “The First Gay President”), they are both Leos (i.e., “the gayest astrological sign), which makes them ideal travel companions for an upcoming nationwide 2VGL road trip to accommodate dozens of out-of-town requests. Titus is hoping to acquire a “Very Gay Van” for the journey, though he admits his Prius is “gay as hell.” As a gay Gen Xer, I’m delighted that American society has evolved enough to allow two gay men to not give a second thought to traveling across the country in a van emblazoned with the words “2 Very Gay Painters.”

To that end, Scheppard says there’s no way their brand could have existed 10 years ago. “We weren’t culturally in a place where as many people would be in on the joke,” he tells me. “People would’ve assumed it was all in earnest, because everything had to be earnest during the gay rights movements. We’re still fighting for many fundamental rights, of course, and there’s a big fight to be won in addressing why people think there are qualitative things that makes something gay or not.” Defining anything unrelated to sexuality as “gay” or “straight” is inherently comical, he contends, despite it long being celebrated in American culture to do just that. (To wit, as declared by an NPR Car Talk listener in 2007: “Gay cars: Lexus, Honda and any convertible. Lesbian cars: 1966 Chevy C20 pickups with manual steering and a straight six.”)

“It’s kinda like Bic’s ridiculous ‘made for women’ pens,” he says, now satirically employing the same logic to declare animals, furniture and astronomical bodies to be sexually attracted to the same gender. “I experienced a lot of trauma as a young person, desperately trying to avoid things that were considered gay. A boardgame, of course, can never be gay.”

Titus agrees: “I grew up with the constant thought process of, Oh, that’s too gay for me, because I played sports with a bunch of straight dudes. I now realize that was just internalized homophobia. We continue to rub up against pervasive straightness, though, so we just decided to make everything gay. I think our clients are in on the joke.”

Art critics enjoy it, too. “This is stunning,” says Gerbracht, sighing with delight while scrolling through 2VGP’s Instagram feed. “I see The Memphis Group referenced, but a modernized, California version that fits nicely within the ‘experience-over-stuff’ mantra held by young people. It’s not some junk art poster from IKEA, but actual craftsmanship made right in your home.”

While taping off parallel lines for a Boho-style mural, Scheppard explains that as the creative lead, he sees the 2VGP brand as more of an extension of interior design than art per se. His primary influences are “post-modern-meets-contemporary” interior design brands like Block Shop Textiles and concrete-collaborative, though he admits to be “faking his way” through artistic terminology.

Titus is clear about the mission, though. “I want to push against everything that fucked me over, especially in restaurants,” he tells me, referencing the abuse faced by working-class people and the $7.25 an hour he once made at Starbucks, which he chalks up to “wretched capitalism.” As such, 2VGP’s mission statement includes prioritizing hiring queer people of color and paying them “a very livable wage.” “We scream, ‘We’re gay, we’re fun and we’re so silly!,’ but behind the scenes, we want to take down institutions and dismantle everything,” he promises.

Scheppard towers over his much shorter boyfriend as he reaches to remove the uppermost line of tape from the Boho-style mural. The couple met while performing theatrically in Philadelphia and moved to L.A. in 2018, figuring the scene here to be a better fit. Comedy can be an intense, competitive pursuit, Titus says, and issues related to jealousy have cropped up. In that way alone, the 2VGP partnership has helped their relationship immensely. “It’s humbling because we don’t really know what we’re doing and kinda laugh at each other because we can’t believe people keep hiring us,” Titus tells me.

“We’ve got so much traction [with 2VGP] in two months of effort, and comedy is something we’ve put years and years into to get a tiny bit of attention, pre-pandemic,” Scheppard adds. “So it’s insane that people are asking us to show up places more than we’re available. Because that’s not how the comedy world was working for us.”

As Scheppard washes a pair of paintbrushes in the kitchen sink, I use the moment of respite to ask which celebrity he’d most like to paint a mural for. “Rihanna,” he says before I can finish the question. Based on visual cues he gets from the stripped-down Anti album cover and her bright, but simple fashion brand, he presumes minimalism is important to her. “We’re definitely not painting patterns for Rihanna.” For Titus, it’s Kacey Musgraves, for whom he’s planning a psychedelic dream-slash-nightmare scene, which he knows she will adore.

Pushing even further into gay lore, I follow up with a question about which Golden Girl they’d want as a client.

“Rose, obviously,” Scheppard says.

“I’ve actually never watched that show,” Titus confesses.

“Oh, Jenson!!!” he scoffs. “Now we have to change the name of the company.”