The current art exhibition at Q Center’s Aaron Hall Gallery, “Queer & Allied Artists Spring Showcase” features the work of Amanda Russel, Anthony Hudson, Chris Haberman, Chuck E. Bloom, Frankie Olivo, Mark Woolley and Tim Ferrell.
Please join us for the closing reception on Sunday June 9th from 3 – 6 PM, at which Atole and PSU Time Arts Club members Tim Ferrell and Manny Reyes will be doing a live performance.
In curating the work for this show I was really drawn to Amanda Russel’s gouaches of local drag artists because she is re-claiming a medium lumped in with grandma watercolors through the subject matter of drag via DIY sticker trading. Ever since Jinkx Monsoon won RuPaul’s Drag Race it seems like the whole world is dying to know how exactly the Pacific Northwest Drag Community got so fierce.
I recently had the unique opportunity to interview Amanda about this and more. Here is what happened:
How long have you been working on this body of work and how did this project gain so much momentum?
I’ve been working on this project (the drag sticker project) since about September of 2012. It came about very organically; I have wanted to do a more realized body of portrait work featuring drag performers since my teenage years. I’ve gotten to know lots of them and grew to really become an appreciator for the art form and the work that goes into it. Since I know so many performers I put out feelers, via social media, asking if any drag performers would be willing to have portraits painted of them that I would turn into stickers. I started with my portrait of Jinkx Monsoon, who I’ve been good friends with for about ten years now (we met at SMYRC.) I thought that she would be a good first portrait because I’ve drawn her a lot before and she’s recognized around Portland so I knew if I painted her and put the pictures online people might get excited about the project.
How did you decide to do the sticker portion of the project?
Everybody loves stickers. I wanted to reach people at a very interactive and human level with these pictures. I also want the whole world to know the amazing people that I know, so the handwritten signature portion was my way of putting their personal touch on the sticker part of the portrait. It’s like.. part trading card, part fine art, part print, part autographed picture, part promotion for both my website (it’s printed in very faded letters up the sides of the stickers) as well as for the performers, many of whom are trying to get their name out there.
What was it like the moment that you found out Jinkx won RuPaul’s Drag Race? Where were you at?
So insane! I was at CC’s (CC Slaughters’s) watching it live. I was so happy I cried. Then I went to the 9:00 showing at Boxxes, re-watched him win, and cried again. I’m just so overwhelmingly happy for Jinkx. She deserves all the success in the world.
“Social Practice” seems to be a real buzzword lately. Where do you see yourself as an “artist” vs. a “collaborator” in the work?
I see myself as a collaborator in that the performers are actually quite involved in figuring out the reference photos to use. I try to use either reference photos that the performers have taken of themselves, or snapshots friends have taken. I’ve tried to steer clear of photoshoot pictures or professionally done portraits. I’ve used quite a few self-portraits taken on cell phones (Jackie and Sabel’s reference photos were from cell pictures). Once I have painted the 6×8 painting I scan them in and trace the signature of the performer in photoshop, then overlay it with the image, so it ends up as a sort of autographed portrait — that’s the other part of the process that is definitely a collaboration. Once the autograph is layered over the painting scan, I add my website in a low-contrast color off to the side so it doesn’t become the focus of the overall product. My intent that with the stickers (which are 3×4″), was that the image catches the eye and then once curiosity is piqued, the viewer might investigate the website that they notice at a second glance.
Stickers are something we all traded as kids and we can also put them anywhere. They’re the analog version of a viral internet picture. If you put enough stickers into a community people will have seen them at least somewhere and begin to recognize them. The act of trading stickers, sharing them, putting on things — these are the social practice aspects I can see in this project.
I see myself as the artist in this work in the paintings. Portraits are my favorite thing in the world to paint. My style of painting the human body and face, which is very expressive and colorful, works well in capturing someone’s personality and their likeness. The other ‘fine art’ aspect of this project is that I would really like these painting to hang in a gallery setting as a set when I’ve painted at least 15 of them.
Where would you like to see this project go in a year’s time?
In a year i’d hope to have at least 15 of these paintings finished, and hanging in a gallery, prints made, and stickers made. When they are displayed I want as many of the portrait subjects to attend the opening as possible!
Do you think society’s impression of “drag” is changing?
I think that “mainstream” society (i.e., the general heterosexual population who might not have been exposed to drag much) are becoming more familiar with drag — especially with how wildly popular drag race has gotten. It’s gotten to be less of a fringe thing and more of an accepted form of entertainment. Within the LGBTQ&Q Community and the people who perform drag I definitely think it’s evolving. I think there are way more different kinds of drag now than the more traditional, pageant and showgirl styles that a lot of the mainstream probably still pictures when they hear “drag”. Performers are dancing, singing live, acting, getting cameos in shows, going on tours. I think there are more and more arenas than ever for drag to show itself.
In working within the drag community how do you discover how people identify and what pronouns to use in speaking? Does that ever get confusing?
Pronouns aren’t something I’ve had trouble understanding because I’ve been involved for a long time with spaces (especially SMYRC) where everyone’s pronouns are respected and everyone is made aware of the importance of doing so. I met trans teens there and learned that if I was ever unsure about which pronoun someone preferred, to politely ask. With drag I’ve found that it’s a little more wishy-washy. Generally, when someone is in drag, I refer to them as the name and pronoun that they are choosing to display and perform. I also do this when referring to their drag persona. When referring to the actual person behind the persona, I use their regular preferred pronouns.
Has this project helped you get any other gigs? What other kinds of things have you been up to in your freelance illustration career?
It has opened the door to several commissions, yes! I just finished illustrating a children’s book about bunnies that will be turned into an android app and i’m working on designing t-shirts for my friend’s band.
Do most of the cool queens around here know who you are and about your project now? & How can they find out more about it?
A lot of them do, yeah! Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised when I talk to someone and they’ve seen my stuff on facebook or a friend has a sticker. People can find out more about it from me directly or my facebook art page HERE. I also have an overview of the project on my etsy page, which is where you can buy the stickers online HERE.
How did you become involved with SMYRC? Do you think you would be doing any of this if you didn’t have that experience?
Oh man, i don’t know where i’d be without SMYRC. I met so many amazing people there. I became involved with SMYRC after I came out to my parents at age 14. I was lucky enough to have wonderfully supportive parents but grew up in West Linn, which isn’t the greatest place to be the gay kid at school. When I told them my mom looked up resources and found SMYRC. I went a few times and then by the time I was 15 or 16 and came out of my shell a bit I was going every week. They have open mic nights once a month and a lot of the acts were drag performers just starting out and testing the waters. It’s a very friendly environment and a great way to start out not just drag, but a variety of things. Sometimes people would just get onstage and vent.
For more information about Amanda Russel’s work please follow the following links:
Queer Voices is a virtual space within QBlog where all kinds of lived experiences, ideas, and dreams from the LGBTQ and Allied community are featured. This space is all of ours. We aim for diversity in the thoughts, opinions, and subject matter expressed through the Queer Voices program. You may not agree with everything you read, but our hope is to provide a platform for the diversity of our community to thrive and interact. The views expressed here are those of the author.
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