A neighborhood embroidery workshop may not be the first idea that comes to mind when brainstorming your next art venture, unless you are Atlanta-based stitch guru, “manbroiderer” extraordinaire and, most recently, community-based art adventurer Aubrey Longley-Cook.
His exhibition “Serving Face” — drag lingo for striking one’s best diva pose — is a delight, presenting community efforts of art-making (a tough category, let’s face it) at its absolute best. Mounted by Barbara Archer Gallery at the Erikson Clock Building, it closes January 18.
Presenting the work of the 35 attendees of Longley-Cook’s group project, “RuPaul Cross-Stitch Animation Workshop,” along with several of the artist’s own pieces, the show paid colorfully stitched homage to some of Atlanta’s most talented queens. Subverting predictable assumptions of gender and the traditionally feminine medium, the project created a fresh platform for queer art.
With Longley-Cook’s animation workshop, hosted by WonderRoot, the artist literally put drag in the hands of the participating public, requiring each participant to stitch a preselected image of RuPaul, the national icon who got her start in Atlanta, from her popular 1992 music video “Supermodel (You Better Work).”
“Ru is more than a muse. She’s a role model and a mother in many ways for the drag community. She is deserving of a portrait of this scale,” Longley-Cook told Huffington Post.
After a month of weekly workshops that included guest drag performances and the serving of homemade cupcakes, participants spent subsequent months in what some described as a seemingly endless but worthwhile needlework endeavor (each cross-stitch required a whopping 12,800 stitches).
The results are enchanting and varied in overall affect, depending on the color palette chosen by each artist. Channeling RuPaul’s magnetic exuberance, compositions range from high-spirited to strangely horrific, at times depicting her signature diva grin as humorously dark and disconcerting, an ostensible (albeit perhaps accidental) play on the occasional fearful perception of the masculine in makeup. Generally, those moments were few amid a largely celebratory depiction.
Equally fantastic are Longley-Cook’s inclusion of the backs of the cross-stitched pieces, made visible in the culminating animation project that portrays the 35 cross-stitched RuPaul portraits in stop-motion video. The backs function as the painterly inversion of the images, and offer a glimpse into the painstaking process.
Longley-Cook’s own stitches spotlighted a handful of Atlanta’s most popular queens, all of whom performed on opening night: Lavonia Elberton, Cayenne Rouge, Xee Xee Bow Dong, Brigitte Bidet and Ella/saurus/Rex.
“It’s exciting to see all these queens incorporate performance art into drag [and] bring performance art to a bar,” says the artist, who has long been interested in documenting the subculture here. “Out of the bar and into the gallery.”
Longley-Cook’s gorgeous, nine-frame, cross-stitched series and animation of drag performer Lavonia Elberton “serving face” is a quirky, outrageous, labor-intensive tribute to the performer, but the medium is, in fact, the message in this delicately sewn portrait of idiosyncratically eye-shadowed and mustached queen.
A 21st-century channeling of Andy Warhol’s original visual discourse on popular American culture, Longley-Cook’s show places drag in the lineage of pop iconography with fresh, thoughtful perspective. A portion of this exhibition will travel to New York to be part of the group show “Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community” at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (January 17–March 16).
Other participating artists in the RuPaul Cross-Stitch Animation Workshop include Ashley Anderson, Paul Bazen, Kimberly Binns, Jess Bernhart, Katherine Bernhart, Rachel Burnstein, Clay Butterworth, Shay Buckley, Kaitlin Commiskey, Olisa Corcoran, Lauren Cunningham, Jared Dawson, Kate Doubler, Sarah Durning, Jane Garver, Maggie Ginestra, Sally Hansell, Brooke Hatfield, Tricia Hersey-Patrick, Andre Keichian, Taryn Kelly, Christina León, Adrienne Lowe, Romy Aura Maloon, Lauren McDonald, Amy Salley, Steve Sauer, Chris Seely, Nathan Sharratt, Nathaniel Smith, Christa Tinsley Spaht, Hester Starnes, Mike Stasny, Drew Watts and Elizabeth Yates.