I painted this huge mural of Drag Queen Valentina on the back of my art studio warehouse in East Los Angeles – Low Road City. It’s still to date one of my biggest murals. I wrote in my previous Miss Vanjie mural post about this strange and wonderful warehouse and the project to paint it’s alley. I was stoked to get to paint something this big and have creative freedom. I chose Valentina because she’s from East LA, Mexican-American and represents Latinx culture in her drag, and this neighbourhood in particular is very Mexican. Directly in front of the mural is a parking lot that I discovered on holidays is used for giant traditional community parties. One day I stumbled on one with various costumes, mariachi bands and food stalls. Every so often I’d be in my studio painting and hear Latinx music coming through the walls, so I’d take a break and take a wander around the party.
This mural was painted during a particularly busy time. NYC World Pride mural project, OutFest LA LGBT Centre mural, Enigma Beverly Hills live painting, Oaklash drag festival, Serenity Gathering live painting, Art Battle SF, vending at DragCon and art trips to SF and Mexico, all happening in June-July. There wasn’t much money for paint supplies for this mural nor time so I kept the design very minimal, which suited what I had been doing stylistically at the time anyway. Shout-out to Boxcar Vida for all her help in making this mural happen, and showing me the best Ceviche taco trucks in LA.
Some time after I remember seeing this come up on a popular post on Reddit. A lot of the comments were very rude/critical about it looking like various different queens. It was pretty upsetting at the time, considering the huge effort and investment it takes to organize and paint murals this big, and relatedly how rare queer drag murals are, and yet these hardcore reddit drag fans didn’t have any appreciation for that. Very few ‘Wow I haven’t seen this before, that’s huge’ and many negative joyless comments. I generally don’t read comments off of my own posts anymore because there is always this perfectionist negative skew. I think random criticism can be beneficial if it’s to do with morals and ethics, but otherwise it’s not helpful or useful. When I want stylistic or technical improvement I’ll get it from someone who actually knows about the various factors involved in a particular project. There are a lot of practical reasons why things end up looking the way they do, none of which a reddit commenter knows. Overall this moment and others like it have been positive experiences because they’ve contributed to counteract my people pleasing and perfectionist conditioning, and instead find a more freeing and understanding mindset. There will always be someone who is negative and unhappy, you can never please everyone, so why bother people pleasing and diminishing yourself for others validation. Just do what you want and believe in. It’s also taught me to be much more compassionate and understanding of others and to look out for my own negative/critical bias. I believe we are all just doing our best, and unless it’s a moral/ethical issue, I don’t see the need to drag others down. I’d rather celebrate achievement than criticize imperfection.
I painted this mural of Miss Vanjie in 2019 on the front of my warehouse art studio in East LA – Low Road City. I had just moved to LA and as I’ve written about in previous queer mural blogs I knew no one, had no art contacts, rented this cheap studio and slept in my car for the first six months. I didn’t want the studio to know I was living in my car so I would drive around the corner and park on the nearby street each day haha. After a while I got more comfortable to leave it parked outside and even sleep in the studio sometimes. I still don’t know if they knew or not…
I stumbled on this studio online. At the time I was up in San Francisco also looking for art studios there, and finding this one in LA was a big factor in moving there instead of SF. I also liked the energy and enthusiasm of LA, everyone wanting to ‘make it’.
Whilst signing the rental contract I mentioned being a mural painter and by chance they were currently painting the whole alley. A graffiti writer called Boxcar Vida was organising it. She made a weekend paint festival for us all to paint at the same time, which in her words minimised the chances of gang trouble. Other painters there included VyalOne and Eric Skotnes, both huge names in street art, so I was fan girling and surprised – it was a dirty industrial alley in a lesser known part of LA after all, the area legit gave me post-apocalyptic vibes. After I wondered if that’s cus Hollywood art directors were inspired by their surroundings to create their post-apocalyptic scenes, which influenced my perception, or cus it actually just looks post-apocalyptic with it’s wide dusty streets, cracked trash-ridden pavements and minimal pedestrians. Or both perhaps.
The Vanjie mural is next to the front door, flanked on the other side by a Latina woman, and I usually parked in front of them. Walking inside each day I thought of them as the art Latinx Chinese lion door guardians, looking out for us and protecting the door from strange passersby (of which there were many). Stylistically I was still trying to replicate my small-scale spray paintings as a mural, so trying to paint large drips and energetic marks.
This warehouse studio frequently surprised me, like it did with the street art festival. One day I saw a giant monster followed by Vander Van Odd, filming an episode of Dragula. One of the S3 Ghouls was ‘killed’ outside my front door. Other renters in the warehouse included Doja Cat’s photography, scene builder and mixers, but they didn’t know each other and just happened to all independently be there. The yard where I spray painted was often rented out on weekends for huge raves, so I would show up expecting to paint but end up sneaking in the back door to go dance at random parties.
One of the first things I did when I moved to LA in 2019 was paint this mural of LA drag legend Mayhem Miller at Venice Beach, on the free graffiti street art area near the skate park and just off the boardwalk (famous from films like Lords of Dogtown). I’d never painted on a beach before, such a beautiful setting. I also painted Trixie Mattel’s pink eyes on a trashcan and a quick piece of Raja before the sun set and it got too dark. Multiple LA Ru Paul’s drag race drag queens taking over the usually straight graffiti park hehe.
Mayhem saw the painting, shared it online, and recommended it to Hank & Henry, the beauty YouTuber, to use as the packaging image for their lipstick collaboration. I went to her 90’s night at The Abbey in WeHo and introduced myself, she was so nice and invited me and my friend into the VIP along with Pandora Boxx and Mariah. I hadn’t met many of the internationally famous queens in person at this point so I was fan girling my little gay heart out.
Later on Mayhem was a guest on my visual podcast ‘Painterview’, where I talk to my subjects about their lives, creativity and mental health whilst painting their portrait. She was super open about mental health issues like depression, it was a really insightful and inspiring conversation. See my IGTV at Instagram @DavidPuckArtist for the full episode, or search ‘Painterview’ on podcast platforms. Select clips posted also on my Instagram along with the finished painting.
The lipstick collaboration with Hank & Henry was one of my first paid gigs in LA, and it coming so quickly really helped me believe that I could support myself from art. I had moved to LA with not much savings, only knowing 1 person and with zero art contacts. I rented a cheap paint studio in East LA and slept in my car for the first 6 months. I had only sold a few paintings in Europe before this, but I moved to LA determined to make a living from art. I worked non-stop doing as many projects as I could find, and creating my own like painting Mayhem at Venice Beach, and thankfully almost straightaway I was managing to get at least 1 decent paid gig a month, enough to break even (not a small task considering LA prices, rent, and needing a car for murals). Although burnout eventually came on hard, in the long term this experience really encouraged me to go for the things I want, to follow my intuition, trust that it will work out and not be afraid. I moved to NYC this Summer similarly not knowing many people, but hit the ground running and hoped for the best. Hank & Henry had said they wanted many more commissions also, but they never materialized, which taught me another lesson that often projects will fall through and that’s okay, there will be more. They had a booth at DragCon LA that year so we got to meet and I saw the lipstick on sale! I had an artist table selling prints and it was my first time at DragCon so it was nice to have this there also. Hey Qween TV also shared the mural to promote Mayhem’s interview with them, which eventually led to me working with them to paint portraits of their guests for their intros. I had been watching Hey Qween for years online so this was a fun project.
So overall the message of this mural to me was to be bold and go for the things you want and believe in, and you never know what it might lead to. I’ve learnt that art careers aren’t usually one big viral break, but rather many stepping stones over a long period of time, scattering seeds every which way and trusting that some will grow.
Timelapse video painting process of this mural is on my Instagram @DavidPuckArtist
This mural based on Monet X-Change – drag legend – is in the lobby of the Avery Schreiber Theatre in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.
My last post of the Ru Paul mural talked about how I came to these walls,and the creative freedom that allowed me to paint drag queens on them.
In short this is the theatre where I had been doing improv classes for the previous couple months, before corona lockdown, and the coach is active in the local theatres and council.
The pattern is taken from Victorian fabrics. I love florals and anything that reads as old lady wallpaper or sofa patterns. Aesthetically I love the ornate intricacy, and conceptually that they evoke nature, feminine energy, historical gravitas, and old ladies.
Originally I had a different colour palette in mind, but this was right towards the end of me living in LA, so I was trying to use up all the remaining paint I had accrued over the last year and a half. But like often happens, I was glad for the restrictions as it led to doing something different. I think of the overall design as like a human flower vase. The entire piece is latex house paint, without any spray. I’ve been trying to limit my use of spray paint anyway for environmental and health reasons, plus this lobby is indoor with very limited ventilation. I had recently started using paint flower, which I also use for acrylic pour paintings, to thin out the paint enough to make the transparent highlights and shadows on the face. Previously I had thought on this scale only transparent cans could do it. The one thing I miss from spray paint is the vibrancy, but I’m sure if I sprung for nicer latex paints I could still achieve that. Due to lockdown, no one was around the theatre, so again like in the Whitmore-Lindley I could amuse myself by pretending to put on plays that no one showed up to (much like the actual plays I’ve been in).
The best part of this mural was that quite a few friends came around to say hi! Queer artists @AlexDSalyer, @StevieLovesYou, @Jennlmnop, Max and @DivaDogLA. I like that painting doesn’t take a lot of concentration when the design is already decided, so I can talk with people. That was part of the inspiration for my visual podcast Painterview also.
As much as I criticise certain aspects of LA, one thing I did love was many of the people, and I was lucky to have met so many talented and lovely queer artists whilst living there. Unfortunately its hard to see each other cus the city is a mass of spread out freeways but anyway I digress.
The timelapse videos I make for the process of the murals, I’ve been trying to include audio overlay from the subject of the painting themselves (the next best thing when they are not a guest on Painterview!). So later I listened to a lot of different episodes of Sibling Rivalry and The X-Change Rate, which was a pleasure. I listen to both often anyway, but recently I’ve been trying to lower my media intake so there is a lot that I had missed. I settled on a clip of Monet talking about what Defund The Police actually means, and the reasons why its appropriate in America. For example, their police budgets are so high and disproportionate compared to other countries. LA the police budget makes up for over 50% of the entire government spending in the city… And this is cus of things like military grade equipment for domestic use, a culture of armed police being sent out for minor disputes even between young children at school, and unnecessary spending like regular helicopter patrols over poorer neighbourhoods in LA (no suspects, just like how a policeman would casually walk around the city, but instead dollar and gas guzzling helicopters).
I painted this mural during the first corona virus lockdown whilst living in Los Angeles. Thankfully murals are quite an easy thing to social distance whilst doing, especially in LA where everything is so spread out there is zero foot traffic.
The wall is round the back of the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre in North Hollywood, Los Angeles.
I got the space from my improv coach Paul @TheRealStoriale – check out their comedy videos on TikTok @GossipBoyTV (and yes Paul I admit that TikTok is not just 13 year olds anymore).
Paul is involved in local council in NoHo and was running free improv classes, which I went to for a couple months. I LOVE improv, I had been going to watch it at UCB for a long time irl and online – it tickles me in a way other comedy like standup usually doesn’t. It was so fun having a go myself, and taught me a lot about tapping into childlike playfulness and imagination, about letting go of fear of failure and imaginary restrictions, and just having silly fun. Its not something I naturally excel at or have much experience in, so its also enlivening to throw myself outside my comfort zone.
So cus of his local council involvement Paul had access to a lot of walls in NoHo that wanted murals, so it was a lucky coincidence for us to meet. I already did one at the improv theatre Avery-Shreiber, and this Ru Paul mural was the next one. Its an example of how you never know where opportunities will come from, even from seemingly unrelated adventures – so I think as an artist its so important to put yourself out there, to live life, and to be bold with showing people your artwork. I could have easily come and left class without ever asking Paul about his life and non-improv activities, or I could’ve been too shy to put myself forward to paint the walls. Again its not something that comes naturally to me, I’ve had to work towards that point. I didn’t paint murals for months on end early on because I was too afraid to knock on doors and ask to paint them. I think with art its easy to have this mentality that if your work is good, the opportunities will come to you – like you put it on instagram, and everything should follow. But in my experience thats really not the case, and a sustainable art career growth is about continuing to put yourself out there every day, to knock on the doors and to make your own opportunities. Even now when I feel more established, if I stop knocking on doors the opportunities stop too. Artists are creative after all, so apply that creativity to making opportunity as much as to the artwork itself. This early fear for me definitely came from lack of confidence and experience – for most people you slowly lower the fear and gain experience/confidence over many years, but if you face the fear head on, you will save a lot of time by just doing it now. I think there’s also a fear that the work isn’t good enough, so the fact that opportunities aren’t falling in your lap or the possible rejection from putting yourself out there will confirm the fear that it isn’t good enough. And this again is a fear that can be faced head on, rather than used to stall oneself for no benefit. I mentioned in my last post how features in publications do not necessarily come from merit, but other forces like paid ads. And this is relevant to this opportunity discussion too. Not just walls come from knocking on doors, but also features in magazines, interviews on podcasts, collaborations with other artists. Some of these come to me, but the majority I have knocked on the door myself, and once the door opens, no one else knows that, they just see the open door and the result. So if you want to be on someone’s podcast, message them and ask to be on it! Its really that simple.
Anyway back to the actual focus of this blog post, the mural.
So I had creative freedom from the theatre to do whatever I liked, which is always good. I had a few different ideas for combining drag with corona virus messaging, which I did most of during my last weeks in LA. Corona had taken over the world and everyone’s constant thoughts, and the BLM protests hadn’t happened yet (they started in the middle of me painting this mural), and I had just been doing the corona project with Art Share LA, painting the wooden boards on closed down businesses, to beautify space during corona and make it look less apocalyptic. LA always looks apocalyptic to me, but whether thats the city itself or that Hollywood movie makers often take inspiration from their back doors, so my Hollywood-influenced conception of apocalypse is essentially LA. Similar thing happened when I finally went to Beverly Hills – I expected so much lavishness, due to countless movies constantly using it as the benchmark for luxury – and it was so banal. Sure there were fancy stores like in every airport, but that was it. Whoever is the brand manager for LA I want them working for me. I think this plays into the common idea that LA, and Hollywood especially, is an illusion more so than an actual place. Damn I digressed again…
So, this mural is Ru Paul Charles – host of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, with the slogan ‘Rona, Sashay Away’. Rona being internet slang for Corona Virus, and Sashay Away being Ru’s famous line to eliminate and send home a contestant from the tv show. Simple, but it made me laugh 🙂 I love the personification of inanimate objects (which is essentially my drag, I dress up as cigarettes and loafs of bread). So treating Corona Virus like a person just makes me chuckle. And of course, we all want to send her home, rather than her keeping us at home like she has been. The whole experience worldwide of corona has been so miserable and awful for everyone’s collective mental health, that I really wanted whatever content I put out about it to be something that is uplifting and inspiring. I saw so many murals from other artists just writing ‘Stay Home’ or ‘If you’re reading this, go home’, which I personally can’t stand. We all are being told all the time to stay home, we already know we are supposed to be home. Art can be so much more than just a negative public service announcement. And the people who aren’t listening to actual announcements and huge social pressure aren’t going to be convinced by your art. So all you’re doing is retelling a public what they already know, without adding anything positive or interesting to the space. Plus on top of that I find it incredibly hypocritical for an artist to spend however many hours/days on the street outside painting ‘Stay Home’, when they are clearly not themselves at home but are out on the street painting. Why should the rules not apply to you too then? It leaves such a bad taste in my mouth. So I still wanted to engage with corona as a topic, since its so all encompassing in everyones lives, but rather do something that I felt would be inspiring and joyful, whilst still retaining the need for us to take corona seriously as something harmful. I was inspired by a series in the UK by cancer charities that basically said ‘Fuck Cancer’, and had people talking about cancer as a person, like we are going to fight it physically. Cancer is an asshole. And that’s how I feel about Miss Rona – her drag is bad and she should sashay away already.
The honeycomb background is the same as on the judging panel on the show. Originally it was also pink, which I liked better, but Paul thought she was bald cus the wig colour and background pinks were too similar – so we changed it to this yellow for higher contrast. Other than that it was a really simple and easy process. My friend and fellow queer street artist @DivaDogLA came over to help me take silly interactive photos, pretending to be her necklace and earring. There were also many failed attempts to video me jumping and kicking her mouth so it looked like I was being spat out of her mouth haha.
Queer artist friend @JerelCardona also came by to chat and help me finish painting.
The face design is much simpler than I often do, just plain blue instead of multi-coloured and different textures. I had spent so long doing abstract portraits that around this time I started to get interested in more natural shapes and colours. I still painted him blue cus i was using the paint that I had left over from other projects, and natural skin tones have to be perfect and actually include lots of different ssubtle colours and layers which would’ve required buying a lot of new paint. So painting unnatural tones like blue is actually a lot easier than natural ones, to me.
I had access to the theatre inside with aircon, water and a bathroom – which was a lifesaver. So often the mural locations don’t have any amenities, and there might not be anything public nearby either. Murals use so many big and heavy materials that its very impractical to pack things up every time you need to leave for these things, but then without anyone else around they’re vulnerable to being stolen. So many times I’ve been effectively stuck at a wall far far beyond what is comfortable. How people expect me to paint 10+ hours per day for multiple days at a site without using the bathroom I have no idea, I’m sure they just don’t think about it so now I’ve learnt to bring it up beforehand. “Yes I’ll paint a mural there, but only if you have a toilet.” lol. Also running up and down ladders, throwing your arms around, carrying heavy things in the sun, especially somewhere as hot as LA, is physically exhausting. As you can see in the video I have this pop up gazebo cus many projects have no shade, so without it I’d be overheating fast. A muralist at a festival I painted at once described mural painting as the extreme sports of art for these reasons, and I agree! Except perhaps some performance artists I’ve seen who will literally destroy their own bodies for a performance.
This theatre had some furniture on the stage so I made myself laugh by sitting there to eat my lunch, imagining that I was performing an Andy Warhol-esque play to an audience of ghosts.
A radio by the backdoor was kept on playing loudly all day and night, because they said it stopped burglars. The year before they had someone break in through their roof. I climbed up there to sort out some hanging wires and saw where he’d gotten in. Also running around rooftops is fun.
A large black wire was hanging across the wall when I arrived. The theatre thought it electric as it came from the electricity pylon across the alley. So I started off trying to paint around the wire without touching it, as even touching the outside black insulation for electricity wires can transmit enough to kill you. Obviously that wasn’t gunna work, and I wasn’t getting killed, not even for Ru Paul. So I called up LA Works and to all of our surprise they had someone come out that same day! They nicely explained that it was just a communications wire so was safe, and showed me how to know which from the pylon is electric. But nevertheless that you should always call them rather than try to deal with it yourself, cus if you’re wrong, ya know, death.
Funnily this wasn’t the first time that I was in an ambigiously dangerous position with electricity cables. Painting the 50ft Valentina mural at Low Road City, Los Angeles, required going above electricity lines, which again the owners didn’t know were safe or not, so that time I made the design as simple as possible up top and stayed far away from them on the lift. Painting at Wide Open Walls in Sacramento, my walls were the street-facing side of an electricity power plants insulation walls – super thick walls designed to stop the huge amounts of electricity inside from jumping across the air. Big signs on my wall said ‘Danger: Death’ and don’t come near. Not only was I painting on this wall, but I had to paint right up to the top of it, meaning that I was peaking my head and equipment over the top of the wall that stops the electricity from jumping across at you and killing you, whilst I was standing on a huge metal lift (i.e. a massive conductor). I had a safety consultation with the power plant who told me to make sure I didn’t stick myself or anything like paint poles above the wall for this reason. I was painting there for 10 days and kind of forgot about it after the first couple, but reflecting back on it, that was dodgy af. The murals came out great though and spoiler alert I didn’t die.
Well done you’ve reached the end of another incredibly long mural story! Isn’t it amazing how many tangents can occur from such a simple thing as a painting on a wall.
Have a cookie!
I was invited to come to New York and paint a mural for World Pride mural project, coinciding with the Stonewall 50th Anniversary, they planned to paint 50 queer themed murals across the city. This is an account of the design, meaning and process of making the mural, as well as the trip to NYC and all that surrounded it. Let me know if you actually make it to the end cus you deserve a cookie.
I knew immediately I wanted my mural to focus on poc trans visibility. It is a constant conversation in the queer community to raise up and protect poc trans voices, particularly around Pride, when much corporate publicising of Pride focuses on white male voices and vulnerable minorities within our own community are forgotten (ironically, considering that is what we say the hetero-majority do to us….). As a white male-presenting person myself, its not always the easiest space to navigate sensitively and appropriately, but I just try and keep myself open to learning and involve other people as much as possible so that they are agents in their own representation. I’ve recently started my video series, ‘Painterview’, where I live paint and interview subjects, and this idea came from wanting to give the subjects space and platform to share their own narrative in their own voice, rather than just be shown through my painting lens.
I was invited last minute so I had like 1 week from being asked to fly out and start painting. Not uncommon with murals and creative projects in general, but stressful for a recovering perfectionist nonetheless. I’m glad that I was available, since within a few weeks I had also been on a mural trip to Mexico, vended DragCon LA and done my biggest mural to date 50ftx60ft. Busy times. How anyone holds down a job whilst trying to crack the mural/art world is beyond me. Once I had another mural festival in Texas ask me to come out with 1 day notice, I love spontaneity but for work there are limits. Anyway so I decided straight away on black trans NYC drag artist @Peppermint247 . Peppermint is a prominent and loved figure in the queer community, a black trans trailblazer in entertainment, and a strong yet compassionate activist. So she seemed a perfect fit and symbol. For a week I frantically tried to contact her team to get her on board, not knowing whether I’d be able to reach them (famous figures and their teams are constantly bombarded by messages and requests). eventually making contact through a journalist friend @OnTheSpotEva (thanks love!). I shared the design with Peppermints’ team and they were 100% on board. The project paid a small amount, so in-keeping with the message of the mural and my own feelings about Pride and vulnerable minorities, I decided to donate my payment to Princess Janae Place – a charity in NYC that focuses on queer poc trans homelessness. At the time I was a new artist, still living below the USA poverty line, but I felt so strongly about the principle that it seemed the right thing to do.
Painting the actual mural was pretty smooth. Shoutout to assistant @Miishab super nice and a great artist herself. The ornamentation and texture of the wall was really stark and varied, but instead of working with/around it due to time restrictions I decided to just paint over it and at least keep the main details flat, and it doesn’t obstruct the image too much in the end. At this point in my mural style I was trying to capture the same essence of my small spray paint canvas paintings – the chaotic abstracted shapes and textures, honed in by the sharp facial feature details. It never really worked to my satisfaction, as with murals you can’t really create chaos, its so large that everything has to be manually applied and so at least to my eyes feels too controlled. Its also effected by the optics of distance and how that effects how we view images. Even fire extinguishers or drip cannons have limitations. If I had continued down this path I’m sure I could have found a way to create the illusion of chaos on a large scale, and I had some ideas brewing, but since then I’ve changed direction anyway in my style. So aesthetically like all my pieces I see this as a stepping stone towards a the next one, and I appreciate it more for Peppermint, the statement and context, rather than the aesthetic. I wanted to uplift and shine the beauty of trans-ness, through the commonly used phrase and hashtag Trans Is Beautiful, but then also show the strength and defiance through ‘Resist the Cistem’. To me this duality is what Pride is – a beautiful fun celebration of queerness, but also a political protest stemmed from a human rights riot. Much trans representation in media is about ‘passing’ and being palateable to hetero-normative audiences, and for trans women about traditional femininity, so including the less traditionally ‘pretty’ expression also was to celebrate trans-ness not just for this heteronormative idea of beauty, but for any and all image or emotion. You are valid and beautiful whether or not you align with traditional ideas of beauty. And the teeth bared expression itself reminds me of a strong lioness, it inspires me. So the left is to uplift and the right to inspire. I’m not sure if other people read into this level of reflection and meaning to my paintings, but there’s a lot of thought behind them, perhaps too much as I can easily get analysis paralysis towards my own work and ideas.
During the painting of the project it became apparent that many of the artists, including the most publicised like the feature in the New York Times, were not queer identifying and many didn’t particularly adapt their work to be queer representative. This was very disappointing to me, especially considering the issues of Pride being straight-washed in general, this seemed to play straight into it. Especially the New York Times coverage and who they chose to include, which seemed to go on Instagram followers and New York reputation rather than queer visibility and messaging. I met the New York Times photographer at my site whilst she was photographing a non-queer artist next to me. She spent hours photographing him and his piece, and didn’t take a single photo of my piece of Peppermint next to it. This hit me hard in the moment to see a piece about poc trans being ignored, which was the exact point of doing the mural in the first place. I talked to her about it and she said her editor tells her who to photograph, and I talked to the festival organisers who said they wanted it to be included and were surprised also that it was not. I tried to contact the editors to see if it could be included but to no avail. I was sad for the message of the piece not being seen, for non-queer artists being platformed instead of queer ones, and also of course for myself and my ego. Its often hard to disentangle different emotions like this, some more justified than others, and made me reflect a lot on ego and myself. Many activists I know speak as much for their own ego as they do for their cause, which often leads to unintentionally harmful consequences, so I think its important for us all to constantly check ourselves in this regard. I think its impossible to remove one’s own ego entirely, so their is always going to be a grey area. But in my opinion the less it’s about you as an individual the better, so I try to separate myself, and healing my own trauma around being ignored/neglected has helped a lot in me being able to do that. Since this project I’ve learnt a lot more about the unfortunate business-driven nature of publications, and as my career has grown I’m not so desperate for every opportunity or disappointed when I miss them. Desperation is such an unhelpful trait and it keeps many artists exploited for even their whole careers, since its so hard to get to a point where you feel stable enough to act in any other way. Being OK with saying No to an opportunity is the only way to hold your ground. They had the tough ask to recruit 50 muralists capable of creating large scale quality work many of which needed to be from New York. There are many queer muralists, but most do not make it obvious in their work, perhaps to remain more universaly palateable and saleable. (Its been a huge issue for me that I am so up front about my work and self being queer, often missing out on work because of it. Which is another reason why I felt so disappointed that a rare queer mural project was less queer than I would have wanted it). When I was helping LA Pride locate muralists, I myself had to message painters I knew just to clarify if they identified as queer or not cus even I wasn’t sure. Dusty Rebel @QueerStreetArt is making a documentary about Queer Street Art and has spent years researching and compiling queer identifying street artists. So its not an easy task to do. And I’m sure there are countless forces that I’m unaware of that determine who is chosen for projects. Its very easy to be critical of others when we are not in their shoes, and I’ve never organised a mural festival so I have no idea the challenges and sacrifices that must be made. A big lesson about ‘how the world works’ I learnt early on is that many magazine features are actually paid for by the artist, rather than based on merit and interest. Vogue approached me to be one of their top pick artists, if only I pay $500. So essentially money, advertising and sales is a constant influence in the world, even when people pretend its not. Is Matthew Ma-whatshisname really People’s sexiest man alive, or does he just have a new calvin klein ad coming out soon… This is not to say that money necessarily played a role in the lineup, but just that I am aware of my own ignorance and I trust that the organisers did the best that they could with what they were given, just like I try to do also.
Some of the artists in the NYC project do identify strongly as allies – such as with queer family members – and usually this was reflected in their work being more visible and representative. And a decent percentage of the other artists were overtly queer identifying like me, @JillyBallistic (whose work was painted over the next day…), and Justin Russo (who was included in the NY Times article, you can see me and my painting slivered next to it haha).
It is also possible to argue that one doesn’t need to be of a demographic in order to make art to represent them. I myself was painting Peppermint, and we don’t have gender, race or nationality in common. But we do identify both as members of the queer community, and I involved her in the process and got her consent for the image. So relatedly, the non queer muralists in the lineup could have done collaborations with queer-identifying artists – on the design and/or mural process. Many artists, particularly queer, are put off doing murals because of the public nature, the vulnerability, and the many mental/physical/financial challenges of creating them – so this project could have been an opportunity for the ‘allies’ to support queer artists to overcome those obstacles. And the fact that didn’t occur with this project did inspire me to suggest it to LA Pride during their consultation with me about creating a similar mural project (which didn’t happen cus of corona anyway.) Again I’m not the perfect example of appropriate representation, but we all just try our best and accept criticism when we get it. I once had a poc trans woman cry at my gallery show and express so much gratitude to me for creating a space in which she felt seen and accepted, but then later we also had a discussion about whether my work was appropriation and exploitative, and the steps I could take to counteract that – such as by supporting poc trans artists to be in the gallery show with me, leveraging my privilege to not just represent them but for them to be able to represent themselves. Whilst it was hard in some ways to hear this at the time and part of me wanted to reject it and defend my sense of morality – I actually hold that conversation very close to me and I am so glad we had it. Criticism does not need to be something to be afraid of or rejected – it can be helpful, helping us grow and giving us a perspective that we wouldn’t have otherwise known. Of course its important to balance it out with positivity and support, so that we don’t become too cynical and perfectionist. I believe that almost everything in life is about finding the appropriate balance between dualities. So even in the way that I am writing now, I have my criticisms of the queer representation in this mural project, but I also appreciate the work and positive elements, as well as being aware of what I don’t know, of what may not be possible at this moment in time.
This is my perspective now a year later, but at the time I was very conflicted and often upset and frustrated. So in the end I chose to just focus on doing what I knew I could do, by making my piece as loud and proud as I could – writing trans is beautiful and resist the cistem, even though I prefer to not usually use direct text, and by donating my personal payment. I am by no means a perfect queer community member, but I am learning everyday and I try my best to stick by my values, even when its hard or I could make countless reasons not to. What guides me often is that we are all just doing our best, and that no one is at their core from their own perception ‘evil’, but we all just do what we believe is right and is within our capabilities.
My favourite experience of the trip was meeting and spending time with @DustyRebel. I’d learnt of his documentary through a gay street artist EDES @bobbybrowndown in Copenhagen. Edes and I were both painting at Meeting of Styles Copenhagen, the organisers had put us both on the most visible wall facing Tivoli, as an ‘in your face’ move to the public – Edes painted giant cumming rainbow dicks, and I painted a romantic scene of two queer friends from Berlin (later someone tagged over it ‘Fuck Gays’, but I told myself they meant to write ‘I want to fuck gays’ and ran out of paint). Dusty invited me to stay with him and his partner in New York during the NYC World Pride project – I learned they have a near revolving door of queer street artists staying with them – the last two nights I moved to a hostel to make room for the next one! They have a beautiful basement apartment in Brooklyn, filled with small paintings by queer street artists Dusty had met, and a private jungle garden round back – a rare tranquil natural space for NYC. The streets were lined with trees and we walked around a large park nearby. I had been to NYC once before, but was drunk most of the time including the plane ride over, so couldn’t remember it very well, so I was surprised at how green and spacious it was. Dusty interviewed and shot me for his documentary, and I got to meet other queer street artists through him that were also in New York for projects – @DivaDogLA , @JillyBalistic, @SurianiArt, @HomoRiot. Suriani makes large drag wheatpastes and I had seen his work before online – Dusty, Suriani and I all watched the newest episode of Drag Race, and it felt such a beautiful moment of queer creative connection. I remember watching YouTuber’s when I was a teenager and wondering how all the prominent ones seemed to be friends – and this felt like the drag street art version of that! haha.
Later in LA, Homo Riot curated the Queer Streets exhibition at In Heroes We Trust Gallery, which featured all of these artists and even more who I now too count as friends like Jeremy Novy and Hugo Gyrl. So this Dusty and this NYC trip really kickstarted me connecting with other queer street artists, for which I’m so grateful.
I didn’t have a lot of time outside of painting, but I still got to explore New York a bit. I met up with an instagram artist friend Everdeen Jones for the first time irl, and we walked around the whole of Manhattan – from Times Square, to a psychic palm reader (I bought the $10 special so she whizzed thru it in about 20 seconds lol), to a rooftop bar where I pretended I was Meg Ryan, to an outdoor Pride concert. I wanted to see Mean Girls the musical but had left it too late to get tickets in time. Someday! I was new to living in LA at this point and I had just had a very weird experience where one of my first friends there somehow thought that we were dating, in spite of there never being anything close to romantic between us and me communicating very directly. And it turns out he had contacted Everdeen online about me, even though Everdeen and I had never met either… Very odd. For a good few months I worried about coming back to my studio / technically-home to find my paintings burned, or about who else they were contacting and saying who knows what about me. I’m still not sure how or why they knew who Everdeen was or contacted them, but thankfully it seems to have come to nothing. Everdeen and I talked about murals and he has since started painting queer murals himself! Another one for the team! Maybe by next World Pride we can have a 100% queer muralist roster.
I also met Vanessa Dub who had found me on Instagram and wanted to help me get more drag murals painted in New York (come through instagram with the irl socialness) and we went to an amazing drag show at The House Of Yes, which I was pretty sure I had just seen on an episode of High Maintenance – and ANNA MANOTRONIC from Scissor Sisters was the drag show judge! My teenage gay heart did a backflip. Flashbacks to me and my friends in London dancing around our living room in silly costumes to Lets Have a Kiki.
The site was just down the street from the famous queer and drag bar 3 Dollar Bill – which meant various queens like Miz Cracker, Meatball and Peppermint herself went to see the mural in the coming weeks. I went to meet the 3 Dollar Bill staff and would have followed up on another mural with them if I had returned to New York for Drag Con but alas I did not. Some day!
One day whilst painting up on the lift I happened to look down at the exact moment that a friend from university in England passed by. I always think I see people I know in crowds and it turns out to just be someone that looks ever so slightly vaguely like them. But this time it actually was him! And he was still living in England and only visiting for a short holiday and went to the next door bar on an unexpected whim, so the probability of this was so freakishly low. I love small world experiences like that.
The Bushwick Collective Block Party – a famous street art mini festival – was happening the same weekend coincidentally, so I went to go see people painting there and met some nice painters. One of them, @SurfaceOfBeauty , has since become a close painter friend of mine and a constant source of inspiration. In my life I have had a lot of social anxiety and shyness, so its a relatively new thing for me to go up and talk to random people in this way, so it gives me a lot of confidence to recognise the pay-off that happens when you put yourself out there and overcome your anxieties – the friendships that can be made and experiences to be had, the life to live. The security of saying ‘I’m painting at another festival too’ definitely helps, just like other securities of mutual friends or being at the same party. But I’m working towards feeling comfortable without these small securities, its an on-going process but I feel good about the progress I’ve made. Anyway I digress again.