Often compared to the New York scene of the 1980s, central to the city’s current success is Cha Cha Boudoir – the hugely influential monthly club night. Its reputation is built not only on innovative performance but also a strong, iconic visual style. Glenn Jones aka Wretched Ginger Boy, the artist behind the club’s artwork has become known an important chronicler of the scene and is about to launch his debut solo exhibition.
Richard Glen: I know you are a graphic designer by profession but where did the interest in chronicling the Manchester alt-drag scene begin?
Glenn Jones: I was a freelance illustrator and there was a period of time where I was working on a lot of projects that were top secret and weren’t to be released for several months.
I needed a little project for myself just to go straight into my portfolio and I didn’t have to worry about waiting six months to release it to the public. At the time Rupaul’s Drag Race was massive and I was very into it. I had the idea of drawing all the winners in one piece of artwork – in a ‘Disney Princess’ homage style.
I thought it would be cool to do and quite relevant in pop culture relevant – so if I then posted it on Facebook and Twitter I might get a few likes.
I’m guessing you got more than that?
The day I posted it was the day Bianca Del Rio won the show and she was the last one I did so I posted it up and that was literally the start of my art career. It was mental. It went from 25 followers to 250 followers in five hours.
Had you had an interest in the drag scene before or did it all come from Rupaul’s Drag Race?
It all started with the show. Everyone has preconceptions of what drag is. I did. But that show opened my eyes. There were certain characters I could relate to. I’m an artist, they are artists. Things they’d gone through like bullying, I could relate to that.
So it was as much the human stories that drew you in?
Yes, very much so. And it’s because then you realise it’s an art form and this is how they express their art. I gravitated towards that.
I only intended to do one drag piece but it got such a big response that I was thinking “there’s something in this”
So from that first piece, how did chronicling the Manchester scene come about?
People started talking about my work. When the drag race people were over I would go and see them and give them a canvas, which was cool because they got to know me.
Michelle Visage from the show was hosting an event a couple of years ago and it was a night when she was judging queens on stage.
From the Manchester scene, Cheddar Gorgeous, Anna Phylactic and Grace Oni Smith were performing lip synchs. I thought for a long time the US queens were a lot more advanced than the UK. So the night I saw Manchester’s finest perform was amazing because I realised the talent we have here.
And this was about the time when the drag scene in Manchester exploded and started getting attention and a lot of press – and especially the club night you do the artwork for.
Cha Cha Boudoir is very much the driving force. It’s always been a bit alternative, very dark and theatrical based.
The actual place for me within the gay scene is a home for everybody. When you look at the people that go there, it’s no one type of person. You’ve got twinks, bears, lesbians, trans and they all just mingle and they’re all friends there to watch these amazing dark performances.
And now you are known for chronicling the performers of this scene. Do you feel a responsibility? Especially as it sounds as if many have become friends.
Yes, I would never want to do them a disservice.
I do feel my work is a part of it now. With Cha Cha I’m there to represent the brand and it’s got to be quality. The team who run it put so much work into every show. Each one takes months and I have to match that level of input.
So you constantly have to raise your game?
I’m like that anyway as an artist and I always want to do better than I’ve done.
The drag queens in Manchester scene are my muses and they always think outside the box, which makes me think outside the box.
I did notice that you seem to have a very varied range of styles in your work?
I’m quite a chameleon. I worked for Hallmark Cards for twelve years and you work on every type of card there can be. They push you to go beyond your normal boundaries.
When I see a style I need to break it down to figure out how they did it because it’s a way of proving I’ve got the skills to do it.
So tell me a little bit about you exhibition.
It’s pretty much a retrospective. It’s a mix of Cha Cha posters and individual portraits of some of the queens. And there is work in there than I have always wanted to display together.
I had to really whittle it down to my best and I wanted to make sure I represented different queens and make sure there is a nice mix and feature as many as I could.
I’m hoping this is the first of many.
So are we – thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to Obscured, Glenn.
First turned-on to the amazing imagery of Krys Fox when a social media buddy started sharing images with Johann D’Nale during the photographer’s last UK tour in 2013. Shortly after this Johann found the amazing Hallowe’en photos Krys created – and continued to enjoy them as the project continued. Having met Krys on a recent trip to NYC Johann thought he would be the ideal interviewee for this time of year…
Johann D’Nale: What got you started with your Hallowe’en extravaganza?
Krys Fox: The ’31 Days’ series officially began in 2012, as a cure for post-exhibition depression. I had just returned from an exhibition in the UK and it had taken so much outta me that I felt sad, and needed a big project to work on. The idea of recreating horror scenes had originated a few years before during the whole Sarah Palin election scare. A good friend of mine, the actor Guillermo Diaz, wanted to shoot a collaboration with me where we wrote all of Palin’s fucked-up slogans on his body and then we hung taxidermy and a shower curtain and did a black and white Psycho shoot of Diaz wearing her glasses holding a butcher knife. That actually started me thinking what a cool idea it would be to shoot ALL of my favorite horror movies with a twist. I was just scared of how difficult and expensive it would be. Finally in 2012, the seed resurfaced and I just jumped into the project head first.
Can you further explain the concept behind it?
I love horror and sci-fi films so much, but the genre is a pretty ‘straight’ world. So, the original concept was to recreate favorite scenes of scary movies; but switching the genders of all the characters. Letting the boys play the archetypes of the virgin, the whore and so on and then letting women take on the roles of psychos, killers and those in power. I try my best to shoot with pretty much no budget and rely greatly on donations of props, locations and stuff like that. Over the years it has changed and now I cast gender-blind, but there is always a queer element to the images.
The main goal was to create at least 31 different movie stills and post one-a-day on all my social media platforms with a little blog/story behind why it was chosen or telling some behind the screams (sic) stories about it’s production. It was like a present to people out there like me. Weirdos who didn’t feel represented by genre they love so much.
I think this is your fifth year – how do you keep up the enthusiasm and where does the inspiration come from?
This is the fourth year, but the films to homage for year five are already chosen and being story-boarded!
I honestly love creating these images so much… it’s fun for me and my models and for the fans out there. Other horror enthusiasts – they feed me their excitement and it keeps me going. These marathons of shooting are really hard and they wipe me out. I have five images left to shoot this year (out of 42 in total), and then I’m taking a month long nap.
The inspiration is the films. I have a sort of master list of all the movies I’d like to shoot, there are hundreds of titles, and then I re-watch them and sort of go through the list figuring out what I CAN shoot, what I’d LIKE to shoot, and what needs more money or more time.. And go from there.
The series keeps growing cause it KILLS me when I want to shoot a certain film, but can’t for one reason or another. I store that idea in my mind and stew on it over the year until I figure it out. Several films didn’t make the first year which were some of my favorites, and it bugged me so much, we did year two (2013) just to include them – like ‘The Thing’, ‘Jaws’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.
Next year is already being worked out because of the same problem. Certain movies are so hard to conceptualize, since a moving image and a still image require different pieces of the same puzzle. I’ve got a lot of the big monster movies (‘Godzilla’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Cloverfield’, ‘King Kong’) left to shoot and we are gonna plan a monster week next year just for them!
How has your approach to the different years varied?
Each year has been slightly different for sure. Year one was the killer. It was basically produced in real time. I shot 33 film tributes in 26 days. Little things like losing a model would be huge ordeals. I’d have to recast something – shooting the next day and then shoot, edit and post it within hours. Many days the image for the day went up minutes before midnight.
I tried to keep ahead of schedule and shoot multiple movies in a day, but due to the differences in the films chosen, that too was hard. Going from a 1930’s set film to something from the 80’s requires a brain shift and completely different lighting and camera techniques.
In Year one also, the weather went from hot summery weather to freezing in a day. So things like ‘Jaws’, where I shot in the actual location (the ocean), were forced to wait a year. The biggest issue in year one was Hurricane Sandy. She hit a few days before Hallowe’en – I remember shooting my last three images the day of the hurricane. I’d shot ‘The Shining’, then went to a different location and shot inserts for ‘Halloween’ and a ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ shoot. By the time I finished, trains and buses were shut down and I walked across Brooklyn to get home. It was scary but it was COMPLETE.
Year two (2013) I started shooting in the summer. I even shot a few overseas on my second UK tour (‘Misery’, ‘An American Werewolf in London’); but that year I got sick for a while, then started working two day jobs to compensate for what my UK trip cost. Time became a problem. Again it ended up being a real time scenario where I shot as much as I could on days off and the series was completed with a day or two grace period.
2014 is the year that wasn’t – it only consists of six images. Life happened.
I had a full time day job that demanded my soul. My husband also feel extremely ill and needed my care for most the month and I also had my first solo exhibition in Manhattan (for a different long running series called the Styx Series) at the beginning of October, which also took a lot of attention.
So this year I started shooting earlier and taking my time with the project. I also have added a more complex lighting scheme, we have way more fancy props and locations and actual props from some of the productions which has been amazing.
Can you choose the image you’re most proud of from each year for us – and tell us why?
That would be so hard. Different images stand out for different reasons. Some I’m just amazed that I pulled ’em off! Some are sentimental favorites – I like to cast my models in recurring roles, switching their characters around from year to year. Sort of like my own horror company of actors. In doing that, it becomes cool to see certain subjects grow up, and evolve – at this point, the series feels like a family project.
In year one, I’m proud of my ‘Frankenstein’ image of Joey Arias. It’s become my trademark image – and is by far the most popular; the likeness is uncanny. But I also love my ‘Cujo’ image from that year, cause it’s my husband and my chihuahua, Annie, and the shoot was hilarious. She’s a mean rescue dog but she loved the corn syrup blood so, getting her to look “scary” was next to impossible, and we just laughed the whole shoot.
I’m very proud of the realism of the Jaws shot from year two and that’s my favorite film, so it’s special.
From 2014 I’d say ‘IT’. It features my best friend and frequent collaborator, Wren Britton, who is a genius jewelry designer (Purevile) and it’s a creepy awesome shot.
This year, my favorite keeps changing. It’s kind of whatever I just shot. I get really nervous before all these shoots, so editing the images and seeing that they work makes me so proud. So far, I’m obsessed with the ‘Crimson Peak’ shot, and ‘the Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ shots (which, at the time of the interview, haven’t been posted to the world yet) but there are some real good ones left to shoot so, I think the finale will be my fave this year – as long as the shoot goes well… we’ll see!
Aside from them being a great promotion – do you do anything else with the images – are they on sale, for example?
Year one’s images were made into DVD covers for two exhibitions and sold as limited editions. They had the stories I had posted daily inside the jewel box, and were blood splattered and matted with vintage horror videocassette tape. A shot from each previous year has been chosen and is on display (and for sale) at an exhibition I’m part of in New Jersey at Gallery U. The exhibition is up now and is called Something Wicked This Way Comes. There are plans for a coffee table book and touring exhibition of the total series, but that can only happen when I finally stop making them – and I don’t know if I can!
There’s a weird intrigue between queer artists and the horror genre – what attracts you to it?
I’m not totally sure to be honest – and I’m actually kind of a horror snob. I find a really good scary movie to be so rare, but when I like one I love it. I tend to like psychological horror films and slasher films the best. I like being scared – it’s almost a turn on for me. I do not particularly like being grossed out. Gore doesn’t do it for me. Give me ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Halloween’ or ‘The Shining’ any day over the torture porn films.
I also find that my taste in horror changes as I do. Often I talk about that when I wrote about the movie I post. I shoot a lot of movies that I loved as a kid, then I re-watch it to brush up on the shoot and find it hasn’t aged well or isn’t good to me anymore. Or vice-versa. I used to hate Rosemary’s Baby as a kid, for example – I thought it was so boring. Now I watch it every year and love it more and more and more.
Obscured looks at how gay men change and adapt identity to suit their own needs, and environment – how does this apply to your own work?
I think my work is all about transformation – no matter what the series or concept. It always has been. I’ve been showing my work to the world since 1999 and that’s always been the through line. I paint people, put masks on them, ask them to take on a role. A good friend of mine, that actually first encouraged me to show my secret art to people, once said that I give people the ‘Krys Fox Effect’ – I bring people into my world and mind and try to show them what I see in them when I look at them. The photos are physical manifestations of my emotions and of the way I see the world and its inhabitants around me.
Hallowe’en is nearly upon us – which, I guess, means you’ll be moving on to something else – what can we anticipate from you in the future?
I have a new photo series that has a little seed growing – it’s based on the end result of one of my homages from Year Four. But it’s still germinating. Some pretty huge things have happened the last few weeks that are going to change a lot. I know that sounds vague.. Let’s just say, things are going to finally start moving – I have always wanted to make films, and it looks like that’s happening!!
Anything else you want to say to the Obscured readers?
Thanks for reading this!
And HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!
The following is a selected gallery of Hallowe’en images through the years: