We at The Ethel Mermaids love a good recommendation. People who’ve hung out with us or hung out on our facebook page get a pretty good idea of our sensibilities. So when Mermate Jussi recommended artist Wayne Hollowell to me, Corinna Mermaid, we knew that our message had solidly permeated our devoted Ethelites. We haven’t been this excited about an artist in a very long time. I immediately invited Wayne to become an Honorary Mermaid by featuring him here on Mermania. We like to support, profile and chat with kindred spirits. Wayne is certainly that. But also, so much more. His art depicts those we love but in such a way as to truly tap into the Ethel Mermaids’ ethos: camp, queer, New Kitsch from old kitsch and a celebration of the spirit of the Diva and high-gay icon. With his new show ‘Drama Queen’ opening on the 26th June in New York’s Michael Mut Gallery, the timing could not be more perfect to share with The World of Ethel the work and the amazing artist who is Wayne Hollowell.
Describe your journey to becoming an artist?
I grew up in rural North Carolina the only son of a preacher and a teacher (I had 3 sisters). I was BLESSED to have parents who did not question my obsession with Streisand at age six! I cannot remember a time when I was not drawing. I also was lucky to find a best friend in 6th grade named Zane who shared my Hollywood obsessions! We spent hours pouring over the latest movie magazines, obsessing over CHARLIE’S ANGELS and wearing out Donna Summer albums! My mom and dad sacrificed so much to send me to North Carolina School of the Arts in the 11th and 12th grade where I had the greatest teacher Clyde Fowler (he is quite a legend). He introduced me to Warhol and even better John Waters. Again, my mom and dad somehow found a way to send me to Atlanta college of Art and while I cannot say I learned that much from the teachers there I did learn a lot from my friends (including RuPaul who lived near the school).
You made some amazing art films with Rupaul – how did that working relationship come about?
I had kind of lost interest in painting and was thinking I wanted to be a director. I cast RuPaul in several video movies which we would premiere at the local clubs. He was so fun and great to work with and was just full of pop culture knowledge. We really worked our butts off making those movies and it was just so much fun! Ru was always a star! We made “Mahogany 2” and I did this epic called “Comes the Blood” about a girl born with the head of a hog in turn of the century GA who is in love with her gorgeous brother. It was totally inspired by “The Color Purple” but I am sure Ms. Alice Walker would not have been amused. I went to NYU film school for one year but I just really could not afford it. I spent 14 years in NYC just sowing my wild oats, waiting tables, working in a leather bar, a hotel – you name it! All the while, feeling so frustrated that I was not doing what I was meant to do, which was to be an artist. It took a while to get to the point (I’m in my mid-40s) where I finally gave in and just said “this is IT… you are going to do this… do what you were BORN to do” (years of OPRAH finally sunk in to my brain). So now I live in Virginia, very dull and I cannot wait for the weekends when I can open my pinot grigio, put on my Max Steiner soundtracks and paint my Hollywood idols and the characters that have haunted and fascinated me since childhood.
In the statement for your new show, Drama Queen, you twin camp with tragedy in relation to the women you depict. This really spoke to me: I’ve long been fascinated by how the tragic diva is intrinsic in gay iconology. It’s part of what draws us to them but it’s still hard to put a finger on why they fascinate. For The Ethel Mermaids bad art is about camp, kitsch and queer. It’s also about a true joy and love for the subjects. It’s affectionate as well as being sometimes humorous. When I think about the queerness of bad art it’s the queering, a queer subversion. And the subjects were usually queerly subversive in themselves. Does that make sense to you in terms of your art, your interest in these stars and characters, and what attracts you to these subjects?
I think I am the living proof that we are BORN gay and I do believe we share a special love and appreciation for art, camp, tragic divas, beauty and fun that is almost universal.
I remember the first time I saw “A Streetcar Named Desire” when I was 11 on the late movie! Even though I didn’t totally understand it I was quoting Blanche, absolutely obsessed with her (the trampy teacher seducing her students in a run down motel). My friend Zane was equally obsessed and we set out to see everything with Tennessee Williams’ name attached to it. I don’t know what it is that attracts us to these characters and the actresses that bring them to life but I know it is something a lot of gays respond to. I have facebook friends in Brazil that are obsessed with Joan Crawford.
My mom tried to make me play junior high football but NO WAY was I having that, lol. Child I was in my room listening to Barbra belt the love theme from “Eyes of Laura Mars” over and over and drawing pictures of Faye Dunaway!
You’re an incredible, accomplished artist. Would you align your recent work in any way to the Bad Art work that the Mermaids do?
Wow! Thanks so much! I try to capture the sadness that draws me to these characters and also the camp which I love. I spend so much time alone painting but I LOVE every minute of it. I am the worst at drawing and each painting has about 15 versions underneath the final image. My sister Mary is a genius and always can tell me what is off about my drawings. I really could not do these without her. She gives me so many wonderful suggestions (the stars on the Little Edie painting were her idea). It’s just part of my process to consult with her, draw, re-draw until somehow I get the image Ok. I’m always amazed that I get it to look like who I am trying to paint. It’s always a struggle to get the eyes even, the nose correct, I am just a mess with proportions and I cannot draw ears and hands lol. I love the work you guys are doing. I think there is such a sense of fun and freedom and celebration in it! I hope my work conveys those same qualities! I think we both share a sincere love of our subject matter and so glad we are keeping these great ladies and characters alive through our art!
If you could have one of your subjects (alive, dead, character, your choice) sit for you in real life, who would you choose and in what setting?
I would choose Truman Capote! I just love him! I think he had such a wit and would have just been hilarious! I love he had martinis for breakfast and was such a gossip! The second subject would be a young Marlon Brando and I would do an extensive collection of nudes! Although Crawford is my favorite subject/muse, I think she would have intimidated me!
I’m relatively new to any kind of art scene and so far The Mermaids is it for me. Is there a gay/queer art scene either in your community, the US and/or online?)
I have found several wonderful artists on facebook who work in similar subject matter. Rocky Helminski and Mark Ritchfield are fantastic artists and a lot of their work celebrates the idols of old Hollywood. I don’t think it’s really “pop” art, I would say it’s kind of “pop” expressionism as I think our work has more feeling and emotion than “pop”, which tends to be kind of cold. I have been so amazed at the response to my work and it seems people really do enjoy the fun, the pathos, everything I am trying to put in it!
My first NYC show is 26-30 June at Michael Mut Gallery so my fingers are crossed! I’m so thankful to Michael Mut as well. I went and met him about my show and he was just so cool. He showcases a great roster of artists (George Towne is following me with a one man show) so I am humbled and so excited to be showing there! There are lots of great gay artists I have connected with just on facebook. The Leslie Lohman museum is a great resource and gallery!
What’s next for Mr Hollowell?
I am doing two new series at the moment. The first is called “the GAY SAINTS” and is a series of portraits of great gay men and women who truly changed our world. From Harvey Milk to Bayard Rustin to Capote and Nureyev. I have around 12 done to date and I am planning on the series being about 50 portraits. I want it to be our collective KISS OUR ASSES to the DC monsters like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Boehner all our “leaders” who fight so hard to DENY gay men and women basic human rights (although they sure do not mind taking our tax money to fund their wars). I also want it to be a series that young gay teenagers can see and be filled with PRIDE and inspiration!
The second series I am working on is called “LONESOME COWBOYS” (a nod to Warhol’s film) but it’s a collection of homoerotic cowboy paintings of some of Hollywood’s tragic cowboys and of course the camp figures. Joe Buck, Jack Twist, Montgomery Clift in “Red River” and of course, Joan Crawford (my favorite cowboy) in “Johnny Guitar”.
I also want to do more figure work. The artists that truly inspire me are Rocky Helminski, McDermott and McGough, Warhol and Alice Neel. My dream is to just be able to paint full time and I am working hard to make that happen.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I am so thankful to be an artist. I am thankful for the friends, teachers and my amazing mother who pushed and encouraged me. It’s not the easiest path but I am so thankful it is mine. I just look forward to making more art! As OPRAH said on her last show “To God be the Glory”! I LOVE Oprah as you can tell lol.