This project took root in 2011 while doing research for my show After Caravaggio. Although I was mostly interested at the time in Caravaggio’s portrayals of the sacred and profane in everyday life, I was also drawn to court portraits by Velasquez and Rubens, regal visions of glamour, opulence, and power. This group of portraits of performers from the burlesque and drag communities is my take on the swagger portrait.
Drawing inspiration from both 17th century royal portraiture and 19th century society portraits, I invited performers to my studio to pose in the costumes of their stage personae. Working collaboratively in the studio with these veteran performers expanded my vision. Elyse Elaine injected her persona’s attitude of Betty Boop-style cheesecake into her version of the royal portrait. Dollya inbued hers with comedy and an unkempt, morning-after take on drag glamour. Kitty von Quim performs in the burlesque world, but modeled her costuming after drag icon Divine. Both burlesque and drag share an ancestor in vaudeville, and both worlds are based on a camped-up, exaggerated vision of femininity. Both burlesque and drag performers take on larger-than life, sexed-up, glammed-up high femme stage personas. In enormous wigs and skyhigh stilettos, they challenge their audiences by presenting the feminine as a position of great power.
I have joked for years that I think of my works in glitter as “oil paintings in drag”. Much of my past work with portraiture has been in pursuit of creating figures who I think can embody the visual impact of glitter. I can’t think of a more apt personification of glitter than these performers, in all their glitz and hauteur.