Martha Graham Cracker Shines in New Portrait Series

Painter Jenny Laden captures one of Philly's favorite drag acts in watercolor.

"a mouth like yours," 2013

Philly drag queen Martha Graham Cracker is the subject of a stunning new portrait series by NYC/Philly painter Jenny Laden. There are 11 images in all, each capturing MGC where we love her best — behind a mic and glammed up in feathery accents and a variety of wigs. 

Laden says she saw Martha perform earlier this year and knew the tall, hairy queen would be a perfect subject for her work, which she describes as dealing with femininity, beauty, glamour and sexuality. “I loved her hairiness, and her character — so dirty and sweet and hilarious, but really, really smart too.” But most importantly, Laden says, she found in Martha a way to re-connect with her father, a gay man who died of AIDS in 1996.

“He instilled in me a love of music —Sondheim, opera, Barbra, Judy, Ella — and I just love to be around the sort of humor and song that Martha conveys.” Plus she says, the drag queen’s statuesque, masculine frame rekindles a fond memory of her father: When he came out to her when she was 13. “He assured me that his decision to come out did not mean he was going to be … ‘running down Spruce Street wearing a red taffeta dress.’ Needless to say, this image has stayed with me. I loved the idea of my Dad — a six-foot-four, Ralph Lauren-blazer-wearing lawyer who hardly ever wore sneakers — in a dress.”

"crazy," 2013

The paintings run in the 9- to 16-inch range and are mostly watercolor on paper — a medium she says conveys Martha’s vivacity and one-of-a-kind stage presence. “There’s something about Martha that distinguishes her from a lot of drag queens. She  has a kindness and self-possession about her [that made me feel] instantly at ease. While some queens are simply [about] worship/attention/shock, Martha has this way of granting respect to her audience while kicking ass as a singer and performer. I guess I wanted to find a way to relay that in a still image, and to sort of be with it in my work.”

The paintings are for sale via Laden’s website. They’re kind of pricy — in the $1,000 range — but the artist says she plans to make prints and possibly even posters that she’ll sell at upcoming shows.

See also: Find out when Martha’s performing next in G Philly‘s roundup of summer adventure trips in August.

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