Guise: Narrative Portraits by David Ayllon is a drag spectacular event taking place February 3–March 10, 2018 at Po’P Gallery in Baldwin, New York. The portraits showcase a variety of queens, including Sasha Velour, Bob the Drag Queen, Alaska, Peaches Christ, and Trixie Mattel. Opening night also featured performances by local queens Jiggly Caliente and Pissi Myles.
Drag might not be everyone's first choice of subject when it comes to portrait photography. Drag is a medium of movement, a living entity full of light and the subsequent shadows. Trying to capture the essence of drag in a still image is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Candid photos are one thing—you can capture a glimpse of the energy and love in that moment. Portraits are a different affair. They're scripted stories, meant to tell a more clearly defined tale.
Queer Latinx photog and superhero aficionado David Ayllon is the artist behind the effort. His work has won awards and appearing in national magazines, and it's clear that this isn't his first rodeo. This collection of portraits is his attempt to give these larger-than-life personas of drag queens a symbolic playground to run free in, to explore and create art that exists one moment at a time.
Trixie Mattel is the 1990s fashion doll we've always wanted. Her portrait shows her lying on a bed of toys from bygone eras: Troll dolls, Smurf plushies, View-master reels, and probably a Furby, if we search long enough. There are quite a few differences between Trixie and her surroundings in this portrait, but there is one key distinction: she's much closer to being a household name than anything else pictured with her.
Chicago queen Shea Couleé is known for her polished and poised looks. Knowing that, her portrait is almost surreal, almost antithetical to the queen we know from television. The glamour of her face is rivaled by her unclothed form. The calm and almost tranquil tone of blue is rivaled by the slight look of affront in her eyes. In an otherwise monochrome picture, she is the stand out, the star, and the personality.
Pissi Myles is one of the queens whom we don't know from RuPaul's Drag Race. Without knowing as much about her as we do some of the others, this portrait still has a good heaping of personality. Maybe she had a rough night. Maybe coloring outside the lines is social commentary, portraying individuality or even originality in the face of tradition. Maybe, just maybe, it's Maybelline.
Sasha Velour, Brooklyn's own and winner of RuPaul's Drag Race season 9, is a queen that often reminds us that drag is a visual spectrum. In her portrait, her signature looks are paired with what one could call funeral attire. This could allude to the way that Sasha, as an artist and performer, is breaking the mold and shaking up what we've come to know as drag.
An exhibit like this has a lot of potential. These sample images show how much variety and range it includes: queens we don't know from television and different sides to queens we already know. Maybe we won't all agree on the stories the portraits tell us, but we can agree that those stories deserve a space to be manifested.
Guise runs February 3–March 10, 2018 at Po'P Gallery
822 Merrick Road
Baldwin, NY 11510
Call (516) 548-7110 for hours