As William Carlos Williams explains in his plotless, mind shattering The Great American Novel, all art is sprung from Imagination and even the most outrageous art returns us to sanity. He saw art in gin soaked jazz, Russian revolutions and even blatant plagiarism. Art, to Williams, was an illumination…a burst of creative energy….an escape from a humdrum American life and into a world of, “splendor and grotesqueness, beauty and infinite depth.”

 

What follows is a collection of St. Louis artists and entertainers we think embody the passion, flamboyance and richness that kindles the human soul. Their art forms are varied and distinct but they’re all luminaries.

 

On August 30th, we invite you to experience them for yourself as Vital VOICE presents “Encore!”, an interactive arts and performance event featuring our 2011 Luminaries at Copia Urban Winery. Continue reading for details.

 

 

CHARLES HOUSKA, PAINTER

 

“Who knows why you get into it,” Charles Houska says about an art career. “I always knew I wanted to paint and that I loved color but I thought the only way I’d ever make money was in advertising.”

 

Luckily for St. Louis, art won out over ads. Houska’s bold and colorful popart and sculptures have given St. Louis something to smile about. “There is a lot of depressing art but mine is the exact opposite.”

 

What’s your favorite color?

My artwork is bright and colorful but my favorite color is navy blue.

 

When do you feel joy?

I’m truly happy when I am creating and painting. It is my life.

 

What is your favorite piece or work of art?

I can appreciate other mediums but I really only relate to pop art. I love everything Jeff Koons does and of course Andy Warhol. If I had to pick one piece, I would say Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can. My own personal favorite commission are the sculptures I did for St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

 

Who or what is your current muse?

My two bull terriers, Roxy and Izzy. I just watch them and they give my characters animation and expression.

 

Cher or Madonna?

Madonna of course.

 

What is your standard breakfast?

Mostly just cereal and coffee.

 

Have you ever experienced a moment of transcendence?

I don’t know if I have a specific time but often an artist will have a creative block and you’re faced with a blank canvas. People think you can just keep painting but it’s not a factory job. When I would have a creative block I would think, “Oh my god, my career is over!” but I’ve been painting for 25 years and I’ve realized that the creativity always comes back. I just sit back and let it happen while I see the pieces coming

 

 

A.J. THOUVENOT, FASHION

 

Fashion Designer, Project Runway standout. Transforming how people view themselves one creation at a time.

 

In the soundtrack to your life, what song plays during the opening sequence?

Missy Elliot – This is 4 My People

 

Who do you want to be?

Someone who inspires others to look outside of themselves, and outside of what they have accepted as social norms.

 

What’s your favorite color?

Pink. No other color gets quite the reaction that pink gets.

 

Who or what is your current muse?

Paris Hilton has always been a muse of mine. She’s such a comic modern archetype. I’m inspired a lot by popular culture. My more exuberant work is a tongue in cheek nod to tabloids and sensationalism.

 

Gaga or Britney?

Katy Perry

 

Favorite WTF Moment?

Mariah Carey’s breakdown on MTV’s TRL back in 2001. She talked about rainbows, butterflies and ice cream. It was the only time I ever liked Mariah Carey.

 

What do you love the most about St. Louis?

I love how supportive the community is here. I feel like the people cheering me on the most are right here in St. Louis. That certainly wasn’t what I expected when I started putting my work out there.

 

 

JACOB MARSHALL GARRETT, DANCER

 

Don’t tell Jacob Marshall Garrett that you don’t know how to dance.

 

“It drives me crazy when people say they can‘t dance!” he says in between sips of an iced mocha. “Like the people in the clubs who stand off to the side and in the corners, I just want to tell them to at least move a hip! You got to have something in there.”

 

Anyone can dance but few can do what Garrett does on a daily basis as a first artist ballerino for the St. Louis Ballet.

 

“Ballet is unnatural,” he jokes. “The human body is not designed to do what ballet requires.”

 

Garret, who is originally from Rogers, Arkansas, says he always loved to dance but never considered it as a career. He was more interested in gymnastics, piano lessons and pulling out his childhood mattress into the living room to jump and dance to Michael Jackson videos. Formal dance and ballet training came later at the age of 19 when enrolled in a local musical theater program that needed some male dancers.

 

“I thought they would just put us in the background somewhere since all I could do was play the piano but I ended up in every dance and I started loving it.”

 

From there Garrett enrolled at the Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy where he got fast and harsh lessons in dance life.

 

“It was hell. First of all, I didn’t know anything about ballet or what the terms meant. I was just thrown in and the instructors would use me as an example of what NOT to do. There were days I wanted to cry but I never felt like giving up. It was tricky but it made me a stronger dancer.”

 

Garrett continued his studies in New York City and eventually got his first company position in Colorado with the Colorado Ballet. In 2007, he joined the St. Louis Ballet where he says ballet is not a career, it is a lifestyle.

 

“Dance is an evolution and the best thing about it is that you are always pushing and looking for ways to make it better. I was thinking to myself the other day about the feeling of perfect physical balance. It is an addictive feeling when you do a jump or make a turn and your body instantly knows it is right. It may only happen one time a year but when you hit that perfect pirouette on stage it’s breathtaking.”

 

 

ALEXIS PRINCIPLE, FEMALE ILLUSIONIST

 

Alexis Principle is one of the few legendary girls left in the St. Louis drag world who remembers the packed show bars of Faces and Upside.

 

“Now we used to ENTERTAIN!” she says. “We’d take beers off tables and shake them to get the crowd wet, take off our wigs and the audience loved it!,” she says.

 

Alexis started her drag career in 1986 in the back dressing room of Faces where she watched and learned.

 

“I would carry the girls’ bags and sit back and watch them do their make up,” she says. “I didn’t want to annoy any of them with questions so I would just be quiet and watch and learn. No body held my hand.”

 

Along the way she has not only become a multi-title winner (Miss Gay Missouri America 1998, Former Miss Missouri Continental, and current reigning Miss Arizona USA Classic) but has also transformed her body for her art.

 

“I altered my body to put life back into my art form,” she says. “It is more convincing when you take it to that next level… it gives more realness.”

 

When do you feel joy?

When I am with my family: My mom, my sister, my nieces and nephews. They love me to death but when I came out it was different. I was abused and I ran away from home at 17. They couldn’t accept me but I came back at 25. Now they respect me and will come to my shows and pageants to support me.

 

Favorite WTF Moment?

When I saw a queen on stage and her back was full of hair! I’m not going to say her name but this was a couple months ago at Novak’s. Her back was so full of hair she looked like a werewolf and she had the NERVE to wear a halter dress! Looking like a big old, burly bitch with hair all on her arms.

 

Who would you crown as a St. Louis drag icon?

Dieta Pepsi, Vicki Vincent, Petrina Marie, Zsa Zsa Principle, Beverly Hills…. those were the girls I used

to hang around. There were the divas! It was a different breed back then. We invested from head to toe and even if you didn’t look like a real woman you were still put together. Girls now got no nails, no padding, they playing with our art form, with my profession and I hate it.

 

When is the best time for a drag queen to pull off her wig in a show?

I save that for the cookie cutter booger queens. I am a real woman now. If I really want to get a crowd going then maybe my titty will pop out. The crowd goes crazy!

 

 

SAMMICH THE TRAMP, PUNK ROCK HOBO

 

Sammich The Tramp, the brainchild of Kyla Webb, is a wandering hobo and lovable scamp.

 

Sammy came to St. Louis by way of Chicago where she graduated from Columbia College with a theater degree in 2006. She was one of the founding members’ of a critically acclaimed touring company called Silent Theatre which specialized in adapting silent films for the stage as a full on theatrical black and white experience.

 

Landing in St. Louis just over a year ago, the artist has managed to make quite a mark with her unique brand of silent slapstick vaudevillian comedy. After teaming up with burlesque star and producer Lola van Ella and VanElla Productions, Sammy began creating and directing shows, including the beloved and ever popular Beggar’s Carnivale.

 

“With a vaudeville show you’re giving an audience a variety of things that they don’t get to see everyday, feats of incredible talent,” said Webb. “People get to have an experience, it’s something that they can’t download. Vaudeville is for the working class. Audiences love to be surprised. Give them a roller coaster of spectacle, add live music, and don’t give them anytime to get bored. It’s f*ing magic.”

 

Sammy also assisted in the production of The Show-Me Burlesque Festival and is a part of many of VanElla Productions’ shows and events. The artist is well traveled and has received many accolades in Burlesque circles. She is particularly passionate about vaudevillian stage spectacles, silent films, live music and Charlie Chaplin and hopes to bring back the art and nuance of these passions to a modern audience, and to give them a show they never realized they needed so badly.

 

 

KYELA JACKSON, POET

 

Kayela Jackson pulls out a blue paper back dictionary and three spiral notebooks from her purse. She flips through worn and wrinkled pages looking for one of her many pencil etched poems. The pages in the notebooks are full with words, three sentence stanzas and quotes from Ghandi and Maya Angelou.

 

“I save everything I write,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll write down little sentences or jot down different words I find in the dictionary.”

 

Jackson is a 28-year-old poet who orates on the trials and realities of love, loss and hope as she sees it unfold on South City streets. She began writing and performing spoken-word poetry in 2002 after taking a public speaking class at Harris Stowe University where she wrote her first poem titled Blessings. The piece addressed her journey from teen mom to college student band a passionate reception from her professor and classmates inspired her to dive deeper into the world of poetry.

 

“Poetry changed me,” she says. “Your thinking has to change in order for your writing to change so I found my writing was tearing down the walls in my life that restricted me. I used to be really angry but in writing I saw the real me…the self-love in me.”

 

Her evolution spawned a confident and sexy alter-ego that commands your attention when she takes the stage.

 

“My alter-ego is a mixture of Cruella de Vil and Lil’ Kim! I’ve always had a very powerful voice and for a long time I didn’t realize what it was for or why I spoke so loud but now I think poetry is the reason. Now I can scream, I can yell, I can sing through my poetry and tell people how I really feel.”

 

Jackson hates mediocrity and like the line in one of her poems she is, “imperfectly striving for perfection.”

 

“I want my poetry to bend and warp and gravitate past my color, my sexuality so when I get up and perform that is when I bring it and you are going to feel it. People are going through hard times and they know about rappers and musicians but they don‘t hear about poets. I want people to be open to poets because poetry is significant…it consists of people‘s lives and it’s a story. Poetry is vital.”

 

DEANNA CHAFIN, ARTIST

 

Deanna Chafin began creating modern abstract art in 1997. She started with watercolors, moving on to fluid acrylics and then heavy bodied paints.

 

With each concept and painting she creates, a new medium is imagined. Whether it’s a traditional media or found objects, Chafin explores and creates informal abstracts almost exclusively.

 

The St. Louis native gathers inspiration from the world around her, feelings and emotions she encounters on a day-to-day basis and from her passions and interests.

 

A long-time admirer of abstract expressionist painters, such as Pollock, Gorky and Rothko, Chafin has developed her own style by creating vivid, large-scale works that attract discerning buyers the world over.

 

Chafin has sold her paintings to collectors in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Galleries and shows vie for her work. Chafin’s paintings have been published in art books, magazines and a collective of art  publications over the years. She regularly displays her work in the St. Louis area amongst galleries and businesses —and her work hangs in galleries in neighboring states.

 

Chafin lives with her husband and son. Her interests include music, social justice, reproductive justice, fashion and encouraging young artists to use their own passion to create works of art. After spending nearly 20 years as an educator working with children and families with special needs, Chafin now devotes her time to the studio creating new pieces. She is very civic-minded and volunteers for several non-profit organizations. Chafin holds a B.A. from Webster University.

 

“My art brought me to the LGBT community several years ago when I was asked to participate in the EFA PAWS event,” Chafin explained. “That fundraiser introduced me to the most wonderful friends anyone could ask for. They showed me how truly amazing and giving this family is. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”

 

 

PAPER DOLLS, DARK POP BAND

 

Featuring Jenn (main songwriter, piano); Cathie (cellist—sometimes ornamental and other times similar to a lead guitar line); Brad (badass rhythm section on bass); and Sarah (who supplies playful and dynamic beats on drums.) They all sing.

 

In the soundtrack to your life what song plays during the opening sequence?

Sarah: Stars by Hum. Cathie: Bittersweet Symphony by the Verve. Jenn: Portions for Foxes by Rilo Kiley. Brad: You F***ed Up by Ween.

 

When do you feel joy?

Sarah: I feel joy when I am rocking out, at the beach, or snuggling my kitties. Cathie: When I am playing music, and when spending time with friends. Jenn: When I can play piano and jump at the same time.

 

Favorite WTF moment?

Sarah: Waking up to an earthquake in San Francisco. It was kind of fun. Brad: When I found out Maggie shot Mr. Burns.

 

What is your standard breakfast?

Cathie and Sarah: Coffee and cigarettes. Brad: Cap’n Crunch Berries cereal.

 

Have you ever experienced a moment of transcendence?

Cathie: I ain’t know what big words like that is. Jenn: Probably the time I walked on water. That was neat.

 

What do you love the most about St. Louis?

Sarah: Love the small town feel with the benefits of city life. Cathie: Obvious answer – pork steak.

 

 

JIMMY NO SHOW, DISC JOCKEY

 

DJ No Show just wants to make you happy.

 

“I know it sounds cheesy but I think there is power in music and it can totally set the tone for your day,” he says while scrolling through more than 4000 different songs in his massive iTunes library.

 

“You may be having a bad night but when that song you love comes on you totally forget everything and get lost in the music. That’s the T!”

 

What album changed your life?

Kanye West’s Graduation. I love how he blurs the lines of music genres and lyrically the songs were spot on in terms of my life at the time. When I listen to the album it takes me back to how I was feeling when I first heard it, especially the track Everything I Am.

 

Who do you want to be?

My first instinct is to say a Power Ranger! But I’d like to be Clive Davis. He’s someone I aspire to be. He runs a huge record label and he can still find new, fresh talent and knows what’s relevant. But not exactly Clive…my own version: JIMMY NO SHOW!

 

Lil’ Kim or Nikki Minaj?

Nikki Minaj.

 

Favorite WTF moment?

When I came out to my friend Tara. She’s like my sister and she was one of the very last people I told. She called me out on it one night while we were driving home. She stopped the car and asked me who my boyfriend was at the time. I didn’t know how she knew his name and it was a total WTF moment! But she was totally awesome about it and I’m glad she did it. She’ll never let me live it down!

 

Do you have Bieber fever?

Ummm….No but I do like some of his songs.

 

What were you doing at 13?

I was in between grade school and junior high and I saw The Spice Girls in my first concert. It was August 2nd 1998 at Riverport. It was around the same time I got into music and I signed up for one of those Columbia House deals. I got 13 CDs in the mail and they were all really gay: Ace of Base, Spice Girls, Aqua, the Space Jam Soundtrack.

 

What do you miss the mostabout the 90’s?

Oh Geeze! The Spice Girls 100% . But they did make a comeback. It was like the 90’s came back and gave you a hug.

 

What do you love the most about St. Louis?

I love everything about St. Louis! But I definitely love the Cardinals. I intend to marry Skip Schumaker.

 

WRITTEN BY: COLIN MURPHY – SENIOR WRITER & JOSHUA BARTON – STAFF WRITER