A Night of Glitter: ‘Tragic Glamour’ at Pop International
Nostalgia never looked so loud. For one night only, on Wednesday, July 11, SoHo’s Pop International Galleries exhibited Tragic Glamour: A Photo Exploration of Queen of the Night. Originally appearing in Hong Kong’s WestEast Magazine, this club scene themed photo series of nine images was produced by WestEast fashion director and famed American celebrity stylist, Derek Warburton in collaboration with childhood friend, and emerging photography talent, Christopher Logan. The two had previously received notice from the release of their highly publicized Kris Humphries photo shoot at New York’s Night Hotel this past April. Much like the outfits it featured, this pictorial tribute was multi-layered.
Consisting of a variety of interrelated historical references and inspired by the personal histories of all those involved, Tragic Glamour is not as trivial as the spandex and fake eyelashes let on. Wearing an oversized turban of twisted, tasseled crème fabric, a black and red checkered suit jacket and matching shorts, and gladiator sandals, Warburton, also known as Derek Fabulous, embodies the concept that informs his artistic vision. And before I could even ask my first question, he lamented that “people aren’t art anymore.”
This seems to be the tragedy behind Tragic Glamour. For those who weren’t of age during New York’s infamous club scene era of the late ’80s to early ’90s, and even for many who were, it may be hard to understand Warburton’s loss — a life of fashion based on a style that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Born and raised in New Hampshire, Warburton developed his keen fashion sense through attending New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. He co-founded Miami-based fashion industry bookings firm Atomic Funk, and his subsequent repertoire — consisting of celebrities, fashion houses, and magazines — was significantly brought to bear on crafting Tragic Glamour. Warburton’s enthusiasm for this apparent passion project is bittersweet. “We live in a throwaway culture, where last night just becomes like any other night,” he says. Gone are the days when dressing yourself was an event in and of itself. Warburton emphatically concludes, “Glitter is dead.”
Logan, who just moved to New York a year ago from Miami, was excited to revive the club scene aesthetic — momentarily, at least — that he’d been a part of during its peak while attending The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and later graduating with a degree in photography. The work represents “old New York,” as Logan knew it. Manifestly urban, the photo shoot took place outside Logan’s own Bushwick studio apartment, as the visible chain-link fences, pinewood chicken wire cages, graffiti, and abandoned rooftops would indicate. Logan further elaborated on the photos’ visual language by using a chemical staining process to effectively dirty the images’ bright colors and bold geometries. The result is simultaneously a throwback to the Club Kid heyday and a neo-pop iteration of a categorically fringe cross-dressing population. Although, Logan’s photographic objective is not so much of a nuanced commentary as it is of a genteel southern hospitality of his native Virginia, “I just want people to smile when they look at them,” he says.
The photographs’ hyper-saturated hues and eclectic combination of vintage and designer fabrics reflect Logan’s predilection for European aesthetics, which developed during his post-graduate years living and working in Milan. Logan’s work is most often described as cinematic — fresh, captivating, and always with a sense of wonder — and accordingly, Richie Rich and Ross Higgins’ white-powdered faces are reminiscent of Venetian masquerade masks and geisha doll makeup that prove to be a spectacle in and of themselves, effectively editorial, more than artistic. Tragic Glamour is the ultimate combination of Logan’s photographic concentrations on fashion, portraiture, and “edgy lifestyle.”
Rich describes the pictures of himself and on again/off again model boyfriend Higgins — flaunting designer threads, florescent wigs, and feather boas — as “an urban firework.” Higgins is originally from Bloomington, Indiana and met Rich through his sister at a restaurant, and though less known, Logan felt it was important to include him in the exhibit because of the exuberant energy he and Rich emit when together. Donning so-called “trash can sheik” and “bag lady couture,” Richie’s Club Kid persona, on which his celebutante status — a portmanteau of the words celebrity and debutante — is based, is displayed in full effect. The Tragic Glamour images vividly reflect Rich’s personal directive to “create theatrical fashion to inspire”– a sentiment which also seems to be the driving force behind his and Higgins’ new fashion line, Pop Luxe, which first debuted last winter. Rich is committed to four simple words — laughter, glitter, smiles, and fun — to recreate life as the party he once was a part of, and as he triumphantly exclaimed, “It’s not dead yet, we’re still making it!”
In one such image, which for all intents and purposes Rich seems to be “making it,” he’s standing on a sidewalk in fuchsia pumps — head back, eyes shut, mouth open — anchored by a wooden panel faded in a mixed wash of teal, turquoise, and purple. White ripples of wood grain peek through the cool backdrop sporadically, mirroring the tie-dye pattern of Rich’s magenta leggings. In bright yellow paint, the word “LOVE” appears vertically along the left side of Rich, with a tight cluster of three seagull silhouettes of the same color on his right. His white short-sleeved cardigan is paired with a draping sheet-like skirt, which appears to have been stained by the wooden block Rich is holding in his hand, colored in the same sunshine yellow. It’s a balanced composition, coupling together complementary colors.
A more dynamic shot has Rich and Higgins acrobatically posing within the wooden frames of a pair of nondescript wire-grid cages. A city-scape with the bottom edge of a billboard, the rear of a SUV, a parking sign, and the wall of a building surround them from the periphery. The cool color scheme predominating Rich’s semi-wrapped outfit of indiscernible layers and loose fabric, and electric sky blue sunglasses is a stark contrast in relation to Higgins’ color-blocked ensemble of orange pants, a black long-sleeve shirt, a cheetah vest, and his own hot pink solar protectant eyewear. However, both are wearing authentic Roxy roller skates, as homage to Chelsea’s historic Roxy NYC roller disco club of the early ’80s. Higgins seems to be hanging from one arm, as he extends one leg above the other in a tensile balance. While Rich juts his torso outward, balancing his legs askew along the thin pine wood ledge.
The exhibition proved to be a personal project for all involved, including Pop’s own Bruce Negron, who organized the show in a month, and started working at the gallery no more than three months ago. For Negron, the photos are a vivid representation of a “colorful and fun time that was all about expressing who you are,” as he fondly recalled working at the Roxy as a VIP door guard. Negron added that given Rich’s following, the show also served as a way to engage the gay community, as a venue “on the pulse of what’s happening.” Pop International Galleries owner and founder Jeff Jaffee was thrilled to feature such a fitting exhibit as Tragic Glamour, as Pop specializes in Urban Art and art and photography derived from, or influenced by, popular culture. Since opening its doors in 1997, Pop has come to fill a much needed niche in New York, as it is the only street level gallery in the SoHo neighborhood with this particular focus. The diversity and volume of Pop’s inventory makes it a great springboard for novice collectors, while serving more seasoned and experienced collectors.
Without much surprise, that evening, its two floors were packed by veteran Club Kids, protégés, and otherwise, pop art enthusiasts. Logan’s prints pushed beyond the traditional boundary of acceptable-sized art, measuring 48″ x 60″ and 30″ x 40″ with prices ranging from $1,500 unframed to $3,200 framed. And as it is a Pop International Galleries policy for any show’s opening night, a portion of the proceeds benefitted a charity; in this case, Bailey House, which provides housing and support services to homeless men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS in New York City. During the course of the event, cranberry and pink lemonade vodka mixed drinks were made available, as fruity and colorful as a majority of those in attendance. It was a glamorous night, full of laughter, art talks, and a glimpse into yesteryear’s fashion and club scene through blown-up images that offer a sense of New York’s edge, still awaiting a comeback from those who first created it.