Risque Business: Hail to the Queens


Terri Vanessa Coleman at the Connection. PHOTO BY JOEY HARRISON

No time to write a proper intro this morning. Here’s my latest story, in the June issue of  Louisville Magazine, about the drag queens of the Connection nightclub and the businessmen behind this growing entertainment — well, maybe not an empire, but at least a sub-empire. You can also read it here. Joey Harrison shot the above photo, but photos in the story are by Mickie Winters.

It’s midnight, Saturday, April 5, at the Connection nightclub on South Floyd Street downtown, and Terri Vanessa Coleman is singing. Her muffled voice comes through the walls from her dressing room. It means she is in some kind of a bother, a ferment that’s been building since the first show at 10:30 p.m.Another performer says Terri Vanessa bumped her out of the way during the opening production number, leaving her to flounce onstage unescorted. Then Terri Vanessa had angry words about who-knows-what with the guy who cues the music, and now he’s upset. And she’s been singing ever since. That’s never a good sign.

She doesn’t want to talk about it. “Not now!” she says, poking her head from her dressing room door and waving a long pink fingernail. “This is just not a good time, honey. Maybe Thursday.”

In a dressing room at the other end of the narrow blue hall, Mokha Montrese shivers, a small white towel draped over her shoulders. Apart from a G-string and tape over her nipples, she wears only jewel-red lipstick, her No. 301 false eyelashes and gold jewelry. Her wig is off, her own hair crushed into a tight cap. She cannot get warm, but she does not get dressed. Next door, Cezanne Blincoe is nearly ready for the next set, her makeup perfect, her dress picked out. She moves like a woman with all the time in the world.

Mokha shouts to Cezanne through the wall. “Cezanne, I really need to go home.”

Cezanne walks in, taking in the scene.

“I’m feeling worse as it goes on,” Mokha gasps. “I really need to go. I feel so weak. And I’m so f–cking cold.”

“Put some clothes on,” Cezanne offers. Instead, Mokha puts her head down and closes her eyes, each breath coming with a tiny catch.

At the other end of the hall, Hurricane Summers and Franco de la Rosa can still hear Terri Vanessa’s indistinct warble through the wall. They look at each other, and Franco, aka the  Puerto Rican Papi, goes back to sizing up his physique. He’s the male lead in the drag show, LaBoy LeFemme, escorting the girls through production numbers. They tower over him in their impossible heels. … READ THE REST OF THE STORY

Trash Magnetism

Photo: Patrick Donley

There’s a sinuous appeal to the
of found
created by
Louisville artist Patrick Donley, now showing on the first floor of Zephyr Gallery, 610 E. Market St.

At the heart of each compact sculpture is a form reminiscent of branches only visible in winter — softly contoured  wood scraps or crescent shape furniture pieces, almost braided with other oddly complementary and beautiful trash:  a pink ball, a chevron of wavy fiberglass roofing, curling copper tubing, a purple hoop, a chair leg.

“A lot of time in my abstract work, I set up rules about how light falls, or the relationship between forms,” Donley says. “In this work, I decided the only perimeter was scale – scale and verticality. I wanted them to be intimate and still maintain a sense of twisting, rhythmic flow within the pieces.”

Although Donley is a painter, he ventured into sculpture after a one-year hiatus from art to record an album with the band Jakeleg about 10 years ago.   He wrote songs and played bass. After that sabbatical, returning to canvas felt strange.

“I was actually a little frightened,” he says. It was jarring to move from performance to paint. “Flat, two-dimensional painting didn’t make sense to me.“It was a little minor terror, actually, sort of ‘Oh my god, I don’t feel like I can paint anymore.’ ”

There was something more comfortable about wrestling big pieces into place. “Physically interacting with the forms, cutting things out, using tools – that really changed everything.”

The results were abstract sculptures with an industrial feel, sometimes colorful, full of energy and occasionally clamoring for attention. By contrast, the new sculptures are whispered conversations.

In between, he produced a series of paintings, his Floating or Falling series, highly influenced by his foray into sculpture. The acrylics on canvas

From the Floating Or Falling series by Patrick Donley

resemble luminous chalk drawings of abstract three-dimensional objects caught in an uncertain state.

The Zephyr show this month features another artist who makes creative use of found objects. The upstairs gallery features the work of Joel Pinkerton. (More about him in a day or two.)

Found objects are an expanding vocabulary in Louisville, with more people making memorable pieces from cast-offs. Over at Gallerie Hertz, 1253 S. Preston St., Brad Devlin has a remarkable found-objects show. And Caroline Waite’s assemblages of small objects at Carr + Waite Studios, 221 S. Hancock St., are always magical and never sentimental.

It’s the ultimate recycling, turning the city’s scheduled junk pickup days into a movable Christmas for this group of artists.

“Junk pickup is one of my favorite times of the year,” Donley says. He scours Germantown and the original Highlands with his dogs, looking for art-in-embryo disguised as a smashed coffee table.

That was the genesis of the current Zephyr show.

“It started with broken furniture,” he says. Then he found a smashed guitar.

Picasso guitar sculpture

“I took it apart even further, and I thought, I’m going to work with that.” Although only a few of the sculptures feature pieces from the guitar, all of the sculptures share something of the guitar’s rounded aesthetic. Seeing the guitar brought to mind the many ways Pablo Picasso deconstructed the guitar.

“I wasn’t thinking about creating a musical instrument. It’s more as a self-reference, more a self-portrait.”

He continues to play guitar, and he and Daphne Luster are in the studio recording her first album. He also recorded with Slackshop, a band he left only recently.

Once Donley takes newfound trash to his studio, he doesn’t plan, but instead sees how the objects fit together. “I might pull out one piece and lay it next to something else, and they kind of speak to each other. I try to bring together two, three key elements that seem to be in some sort of visual relationship. I have to respond to it.”

In past sculptures, he’s painted on the pieces or otherwise embellished them. For this show, he let them be.

“With this body of work, it’s pure and simple,” he says. “I wanted to sort of celebrate the objects. I wanted to preserve the relationship between me and the objects.”

The exhibit continues through March 26. Gallery hour 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment. (502) 585-5646.

The Incredible Lavon Williams

If you haven’t been down to the Cressman Center  at 100 East Main St., get there soon. We swung by today noticed they’re still showing the amazing work of Lavon Williams.

These hand-carved pieces brim with life.  Williams, a fifth-generation woodcarver, creates rent parties jammed with lively dancers, women in colorful, sexy garb, and revivals alive with the spirit. Each piece conveys a sense of story, perhaps  none more clearly than “Luke and the Preacher,” a relief carving of a pair of men making their way down a moon-lit avenue, a church in the distance, and the city’s buildings bending to engulf them.  Other times the story is just a suggestion, such as a carving of a girl in a golden-yellow dress, skipping rope.

Williams  depictions are full of pent-up energy.  He uses warm colors, as well as the tone of the wood, to highlight the sculptures. And he makes powerful use of exaggerated proportions — the woman mourner in “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” raises a gigantic hand to the heavens, large enough to shelter the mourners beneath.

Hands are often larger than faces, such as the hands of the bass player Mr. Johnson. And sometimes feet are gigantic, as in the woman dancing in The Gambling House.  Faces are part suggestion and part detail, but the emotions on them are always plain, whether poignant, joyous or raucous.

“You want to try to be as expressive as possible and as explosive as possible,” Williams told Kentucky Educational Television for a story a few years ago. “You’re looking for a fantastic movement or a fantastic shape that comes in the piece.”

I first saw Williams’ work at the Kentucky Folk Art Center at Morehead State University.  We acted like giddy kids when we ran into him in the museum parking lot. I didn’t have the presence of mind to take notes. He was really charming and down-to-earth. He’s a big guy. I didn’t know it at the time, but in basketball-mad Kentucky, he’s probably more famous for his role in the 1978 University of Kentucky national basketball championship.

Cressman Gallery Hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m . to 6 p.m; Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; the first Friday of the month, 11:00 am-9:00 p.m.