As the hours and days pass since Las Vegas, yet another mass shooting that has killed more of the United States’ children, parents, sisters and brothers – my anger is becoming louder than my grief. I sit here at my desk, behind the computer screen of privilege and ask myself: what more can I do besides donate my time and money?
On a recent visit to the Louvre, I stood in front of Eugene Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People" for what felt like hours. I was overwhelmed with how timely the beauty of this painting still is. I was transfixed by the image of this goddess of liberty, rising above the darkness of a deadly French Revolution. It is said: "Delacroix watched the rebellion from his window, and though he didn't take up arms he wanted to show his political views through painting."
Now seems as good a time as any to officially announce a collaboration with my talented friend and activist, the amazing Ro Fino. She is currently hosting a monthly show in NY called "Not My President: A Monthly Show of Resistance." Every month since the Women's March in DC, she has been gathering musicians and artists together somewhere in NYC to raise money for the cause of the moment. A lot of us are feeling overwhelmed by all of the ways to get involved, and this is a great way to support a variety of charities while meeting others in the community with similar concerns. (It still terrifies me that there are some without concern - they walk among us!)
This month's show will be on October 21st at Flat Tops in Astoria, Queens. I will be creating prints of Lady Liberty portraits for sale both onsite at the show and also online. Additional information to follow in the coming weeks.
I don't which is more upsetting, waking up at least once a week to a notification on my phone of more terror attacks - or how normal it has become. Average. I almost expect it, waking up to bad news when I reach for my phone to turn off my alarm.
Another mass shooting in America. Another thing for us to argue about, to point fingers around - dividing ourselves even further.
What is it going to take for the thoughts and prayers to stop, and the action to start? I am tired of being judged for my social media posts. I can assure you the constitution did not get written in a “polite” and "quiet” manner.
If I hear “I don’t like to express my political views” one more time…..
You can’t have it both ways any longer. You are not able to stand for something, but refuse to take an opinion publicly. Some say I care too much, but isn't it more the problem that not enough people care? We need your help. Now is the time. Before it is too late.
This post is dedicated to my Aunt Mern (Marian Faulhaber). My godmother, and a constant example of what it is to be a strong woman in this world. Thank you for being such special support.
I’ve just gotten back from a long trip home to NY. After spending a lot of time with family and friends, I watched the new Lady Gaga documentary on the plane. It sent a rush of emotions through me. This trip was a strange one for me. I experienced pure joy - watching a few folks get married who I love dearly with all my heart, and pain - the unexpected loss of a family member. Timing, after all, is everything - so I can’t help but think things were meant to be this way.
Gaga’s influence on me is as much about my connection to her creative process, as it is about her work. The sources of her inspiration have always hit close to my heart. There is a scene in Five Foot Two when she visits her grandmother. Alongside her father, the three discuss family memories and the difficult passing of her Aunt Joanne at a very early age.
Joanne was a unique artistic spirit and very talented, gone too soon. After listening to the title song Joanne, her grandmother simply says “you are, you’re just so special.” The look on Gaga’s face watching her grandmother take in the song she wrote for her made my heart ache for my grandfather. I was lucky enough to be raised with 4 grandparents, all artists in their own right. I had a very deep connection specifically with my maternal grandfather, Francis X Faulhaber. In that moment, I heard his voice in my head telling me the same thing that Gaga’s grandmother said to her. There were so many times I showed him my own work, sitting next to him downstairs in his workshop creating pieces of my own. I missed him deeply in this moment, but I know that he is still proud of all that I am creating.
Also, like Gaga's experience - I was taught how to be a woman from the LGBTQ community. There is an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked Season 9, Episode 1 (min 14:30) which she spoke the exact words I have felt since I was young. I encourage you to watch the entire episode(s) yourself, but I think that the transcript makes more of an impact for purpose:
“I’m not a gay woman, you know - and it’s that touchy sort of subject, right? Where can you stand up for people that you are not necessarily fully part of that community in a way that you can understand what you all go through. But I have always been surrounded by incredibly intelligent powerful gay men who have lifted me up through lots of changes in my life. Becoming famous was very strange, and it’s the gay men in my life that helped me to become a woman. I don’t know that a lot of people would understand that, but it’s because of what you have been through. You have survived so much, that you inspire me to continue surviving. So thank you for that.”
My Aunt Mern was named my godmother before anyone knew we would have such a special connection. I always new Aunt Mern was gay, I always knew her 'roommate' was her partner, and I always knew that it must have been hard for her in a very Catholic family to be true to herself. My love for collecting Nikes started with her, and she came to just as many of my basketball games as my parents did. I had a hard time in high school, I was teased a lot for being tall and a tomboy. I never felt beautiful, but Aunt Mern taught me that "pretty" doesn't necessarily always look like traditional femininity. Beauty can come from strength in oneself and pure love. I remember once I was visiting home from college, and she asked me if I had ever been to a drag show - 'they are just so gorgeous' she said. She always asked me and my cousins to go with her to a show with her friends in downtown Buffalo.
When I moved to New York after school, I eventually ended up working in the creative industry. I spent a few years in fashion, and my 20's became more nights at a gay club dancing all night, and less of dive bars drinking beers watching sports with dudes who were more likely to grab my ass inappropriately than make me laugh - (except for when we went to Boxers of course! shouts to when I met my idol Greg Bennett ). I guess I just felt safer, but above all I had found my tribe. I was accepted, straight or not. It felt really good to feel normal in my own skin for the first time outside of athletics. Rachel took me to Cubby Hole for exclusive table dancing antics, Bruno taught me how to accessorize, and Thomas taught me how to drink distilled vodka from Vlada while we plotted world domination. The Drag Queens I met along the way showed me that I wasn't athletic and awkward - I am my own self and that is where true goddesses are born. They also taught me how to wear makeup properly, how to walk in heels, and how to pair a manicure with a bag, and walk with my head held high - things my mother never taught me. These people are my family. They lift me up when I am having anxiety attacks, and are a constant reminder that I am loved.
I don't know if Aunt Mern will ever know how much she taught me to be a woman. How she opened my heart, by opening our family's eyes. Most of my own inner strength was born out of her example. She was unapologetic about who she was - and so I knew it was ok to feel different.
Thank you. You made me whole.
I finally watched The Handmaid's Tale, and I am here to tell you that it is just has terrifying as everyone says. It's hard to watch for a variety of reasons, namely if you are a human that has been repeatedly triggered by the past year's political events... because - well, this: This is the way the world could end—not with a bang, but a gradual elimination of rights.
For me, this piece in particular is the most successful of my recent body of work. It happened spontaneously, and I was working from different images in my own head. I would like for the rest of this collection to move in the same direction - a group of portraits, undescribed by gender or race. There is an essence of a being that excudes a feeling, hints of an image, but ultimately is defined by how it makes you feel in spirit.
Margaret Atwood continues to be my everything. Hot Tip: If you loved The Handmaid's Tale - Oryx and Crake is equally as amazing piece of speculative fiction.
I went to Drag Ball at the Hammersmith Apollo in London last weekend, followed by an all nighter at The Glory. (Alaska was far and away my fave performance - see photo from the inspo). After living here for almost 3 years, I finally felt like I had a night at home in this city the way I used to feel at home in NYC circa my 20-something's.
At some point in the evening, we met a lovely straight bi-racial couple from the US. They were asking my gay friends how they felt about the drag scene becoming so mainstream, and it got me thinking exactly about why I am painting these queens in the first place...
Let me first say that I understand that identifying as a straight cisgender woman does not necessarily make this a community I can speak for - however - the LGBTQ community has always welcomed me as one of their own. Aside from athletics, it is the only place my whole life I have felt truly safe, accepted, and understood. (Lady Gaga elaborates on this in a much more eloquent way on the first episode of Season 9’s Untucked - more on that in a later post).
I own the fact that I have traditionally been a hater of all things underground becoming basic - however - I think that now is the time that the world needs more tolerance and appreciation for things that may be different than them. Exposure, understanding, and empathy are what this world needs right now. Exposure namely, to help unlock the rest. The world needs laughter, irreverence, joy, and love - all things that drag has brought to my life especially during dark times.
This is one of the many reasons why drag portraiture has became my main subject matter. I walk down the halls of the worlds’ most relevant art museums, and see images of people that were framed and hung on a wall for generations to remember their importance.
Drag is performance art. Drag has been there leading the movement of change since the beginning - from Shakespeare to Stonewall. Drag is an art form that uplifts, inspires, and fights for evolution - and it has become very important to me that it be commemorated and remembered in art history as such. And so, I will keep painting. I will keep championing these heroes of diversity and inclusion that they may be revered as all of the art history heroes that have come before.
Having heard Detox’s name thrown around in conversation as a “plastic queen” - it is my personal opinion that she is really not given enough credit for being a legit fashion icon both in and out of drag.
Enigmatic is a word that comes to mind when I think of Detox. Watching her live show is really the best part about her work, but here ability to walk the tightrope of classic and cool. She pushes boundaries while inspiring the youth and noting fashion history.
She is most known for her Mugler obsession, and even inspired an entire episode of Drag Race with her monochromatic look from the season 5 finale. I love that the more I am inspired by her, the more I learn - in turn getting a pretty serious/subtle education on style.
It took me a while to warm up to her. I know she isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Rolaskatox was a bit cringe after all. But, she ultimately won me over during All Stars 2 - and bumped up to my top 5 drag queens after listening to her episode of What’s the Tee?
Once I started painting her, I really couldn’t stop. To date, she is the only queen I have done studies of both in and out of drag. She is also the only RuGirl to like my instagram posts leaving me to believe that she (or her social media manager?) keeps it 100%. It helps that she isn’t bad at spitting lyrics, and has that phat a**.
I love painting Kim Chi mainly because she herself is a brilliant painter. There are notes of her Korean heritage, high fashion, vulnerability, and wit in every face she creates. To admire her own work in study is a joy, and every new look a fresh inspiration. Her unique ability to make fun of herself in a way that is uplifting rather than self deprecating - a skill I am yet to master. There are many things to love about Kim Chi. I think she describes herself best:
“Kim Chi is a 7' tall, live-action anime character and high-fashion model.... One cannot bound Kim Chi with any stylistic stereotypes. She deftly absorbs and interprets our contemporary cultural milieu with unflinching focus. An ever-evolving chameleon, Kim never fails to surprise and delight with her larger than life looks and her high standard of work.”
She is "Femme Fat and Asian"
There is nothing I can put into words that will explain the eloquence in which Sasha has fully married fine art with the world of drag. I have never been more excited about a current reigning queen. A designer, artist, and fashionista New York queen. I didn't think we could do better than Bob, but here she is: http://sashavelour.com/
One of my friends from NY came for a visit a few weeks ago - the amazing Ro Fino. She had been to London a bunch of times to visit but we never did the tourist stuff (that you actually have to pay for)- but we both love Amy Winehouse, Stevie Nicks, and any type of folk magic so naturally I took her to see the Raven's at the Tower of London. Not only did we get to see the Ravens but we made a special connection with one. Munin walked right up to both of us, dug a hole, and hide one of his mice in the ground. He continued to hang - obviously acknowledging that we were his type of humans. Transfixed by the dark beauty in this creature we stood there speechless (we actually held a conversation with it like it could understand us- which I am convinced it did! and proceeded to fail in catching the best insta story of all time).
Raven was the first queen on Drag Race that I fell in love with. There was something about her that was vunerable, and yet she would not. take. shit. from. any body. Some people called her bitchy. People call me bitchy. Some people think Ravens are dark creepy creatures - I think that they are pretty rad and have an energy that is of another world. Basically Raven is, and always will be - my #1 favorite drag queen.
There was something about her appearance on the show in 2008 that hit a soft spot in me. She defined that point era - but was also timeless. The millennium was in full swing, and yet we hadn't hit the global apocalypse. We were past JT and Britney's denim, but hadn't yet discovered the jumpsuit. She spoke to the woman in all of us that lived for a trip to Claire's, a stop at Macy's to browse, a visit to Wet Seal to find things that looked like they were from Macy's, and didn't mind rounding out the day at the mall with Hot Topic - but she also served timeless elegance.
Raven displayed an effortless feminism that I grew up coveting in other women, but only could find reflected back in myself through a glamazon such as her. There was a darkness in her that I have often battled, but she embraced that side of herself in a way that was endearing and made it a classic beauty.
Additionally, I think it is very important to mention that the definition of her nose contour was ridiculously ahead of its time. In my humble opinion she should sue the Kardashians. Praise her.
Note: Not long after I met Munin the Raven, my grandfather passed away. A week after to be exact. It is said in Icelandic folklore, that Munin is a shamanic messenger.
When I was in middle school my parents blocked VH1 and MTV from our television channels. I would sneak up to my room where we kept one of our older TV's, and figured out how to watch the channels that were blocked from our cable. Pop Up Video, The RuPaul Show, and Real World were my absolute favorites. It was probably the most rebellious thing I had ever done up to that point.
I should mention I was also being teased quite a bit during this time period. I went to a Catholic grade school, and was one of the few girls who chose to wear Dickie uniform pants in the winter instead of skirts - (we lived in Buffalo! The bus stop was cold! I still don't understand why it was such a big deal?!) This combined with the fact that I was one of those scholar athletes who never got into trouble, and cut my hair extremely short in the 4th grade made me a target.
Even back then, I knew then that I would be an artist - but didn't understand in what capacity. What I did know, was that I loved feeling like I had a secret relationship with characters that I was discovering on those forbidden TV shows. Finally, I saw characters reflecting something back at me that I recognized in myself.
I remember distinctly watching a Duran Duran Pop Up video for their song Rio. I was in awe of all the storylines, and the thought that went into creating the band members beautiful technicolored day dreams. Pop Up video allowed the audience to hear the stories behind the artists' vision. They were making their own worlds to live in, the same way I yearned to bring my daydreams to life.
RuPaul also started to captivate me at this time. I was the tallest girl in my class, and there was not a day that went by I didn't hear something negative about it from the other kids. Little did I know how much this beautiful radiant human being would become a beacon of hope for my self-doubt. I didn't know what a drag queen was, but I knew he was beautiful to me.
I did a few studies of David Bowie last summer after he passed. This was a continuation of my magazine cover content series, but also meant to be a healing process. I just started drawing in hopes of finding an answer to why I felt compelled to spend time with his memory. This makes more sense to me now than it did then.
For so many, he was the first artist to become a mainstream gender-bending, pan sexual superstar. "David Bowie may have been the world's first transgender ally - before we had words like 'transgender' and 'ally' in our vocabulary." Like other gems of the 80's/90's (George Michael, Boy George, Madonna), Bowie was one of few to represent anyone who cared to be themselves, regardless of the mainstream opinion. He did so not just publicly, but successfully.
At a time when so many are persecuted for being different, I felt like revisiting his spirit was essential to keep me sane. RuPaul talked about his death on his podcast stating: "He represented so much of my philosophy as an outsider, I felt like the boy who felt earth - and he represented that." Michelle Visage continued, stating so eloquently that: "The thing about Bowie is he was, and will always be a work of art because he did not care what anyone thought about him, what anybody thought about his music. He did what he had to do - but it wasn't so far out that people couldn't hone in on it... People got it. And not only did they get it - it motivated people."
Like so many of my generation - I will think of him first as he played Jareth, the Goblin King in the 1986 cult class Labyrinth. It was a collaboration of 3 particularly profound artists: George Lucas, Jim Henson, and David Bowie. Together, they created a world that represented so many things I was feeling as a child. It was like watching an even more fucked version of Alice in Wonderland, and I was drawn to it. I was just as confused then, as I am now about how the good and evil spirits of the adult world worked. This struggle is a constant thread in my own work, and just about any other work that I adore. I am still trying to comprehend how easily people seem to shape shift, morphing from a sweet innocent childhood play pal into an evil creature. Equally how something or someone perceived to be a monster, is often the sweetest softest heart in the world.
Bryony Gordon says it best when she compares Jareth to her own anxiety monster in Mad Girl. David Bowie may have meant many things to many people, but for me - he will always represent the Goblin King of my own head. The beauty of the battle between good and evil within ourselves, and an icon of finding comfort in my own anxiety and depression.
For the past 3 years, I have been fascinated with magazine covers. The content that makes it to cover, and the intent behind that message.
Terry Richardson's aesthetic had always made me feel uncomfortable. As a huge Lady Gaga fan, I tried to ignore the fact that his images perpetuated the American Apparel type of "sexy" - one that is too close to child porn for its own good. Gaga herself has been a huge advocate for victims of sexual abuse and objectification. I refused to believe that she would collaborate so intimately with an artist that could hurt the group she championed. I realize now, that type of thinking is precisely part of the issue, and I now feel guilt for buying the book that they produced together. How could someone who I admired so much for representing sexual freedom collaborate not only with Terry Richardson, but also R.Kelly - both men known for being accused of preying on women and stealing the very same sexual freedom?
Then in 2014, the allegations from Anna de Gaizo broke - a former model for Richardson released her statement of being pressured unwillingly into sexual acts while on set for a shoot with him. In June of 2014 New York Magazine chose to put Richardson on the cover and ask the question - "is Terry Richardson an artist or Predator?" The article continues to praise Terry for his accomplishments, and painting the picture of the photographer as a victim of the media claiming he was a "vilified" man.
Callie Beusman from Jezebel says it best: "The question here shouldn't be whether Richardson is an artist or a predator. It should be why, when so many women have come forward with allegations, are we still treating this question like it matters?"
You may ask yourself why I would do a study of a mag cover that perpetuates this predator's criminality. The short answer is yes - this is very hypocritical. The long answer is harder to explain. First and foremost, this piece is just in my sketchbook and meant for my own personal collection. I have no plan to sell it, or even suggest it should hang on a wall in an exhibition promoting a man who has made a living preying on young women in the name of fashion. As I was creating this image, I anticipated the dark feelings I had towards what this man represents would come out. Instead it became something that was bright and vibrant in look and feel. This piece made me question my own belief systems, and face ownership of my part of the problem (which was precisely my intent).
This leads us to a bigger question - why the human brain is attached so fondly to things that harm it.... For all the negative reviews of Lena's Dunham's type of feminism, she approaches this question in one of the most skillful ways that I have yet to witness in her season 6 episode of Girls titled "American Bitch." The answer is not this simple, but Emily Nussbaum for the New Yorker isn't wrong when she proposes: "It’s a trap laid by a narcissist for another narcissist. Who among us can say we wouldn’t ever fall for one of those?"