Darren Evans is on a mission to make the world a more glamorous place. Or should I say a more “divine” one? In his new exhibit at London’s Horse Hospital, the Vauxhall-based make-up artist and photographer pays tribute to legendary drag monster Divine, transforming his friends and acquaintances in the freak diva’s image in a series of fifty portraits. The wildly varied models in “Everyone is Divine!” include Divines of all genders, ages and races, from luminaries of London’s LGBTQ burlesque subculture (including Lavinia Co-op, Rubyyy Jones and Mzz Kimberley) to Marc Almond – to a ten-year old boy! Considering 2018 represents the thirtieth anniversary of Divine’s death, the exhibit couldn’t be timelier. Over coffee we discussed what motivated Evans to pay homage to John Waters’ 300-pound leading lady of choice and the erstwhile Filthiest Person Alive.
What does Divine represent to you?
Icon. Hero. I first saw Divine when I was 17 in Australia in a small town. I went to a gig and she was getting harassed by all these awful straight men and I think seeing how she handled them, and her size – I was blown-away by how strong and confident she was. And then through her I discovered John Waters and all that kind of stuff. And I do hair and make-up for a living, so obviously her look was so extreme.
What prompted you to do this exhibit?
This exhibit is like having fun with it, plus it’s showcasing my mates. I know a lot of cabaret performers who do a lot of drag. When I’m not doing commercials and films, I spend a lot of time at The Vauxhall Tavern. I live just behind it. I know a lot of the performers there and some are a bit skint, so I help them out with make-up and wigs. Showcasing my mates in the style of someone I admire. The people I’ve photographed as her are all different ages and genders. That’s what I really love about this project. The show is called Everyone is Divine, with her as the common thing but it doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 80 or fat or skinny, whether you’re a performer or non-performer. Once you put that mask on you could be anyone or anything or any gender. This kind of drag is a non-binary leveler in a weird way.
What was your criteria for the models you photographed as Divine?
As diverse as possible, really. A lot of people asked me whenever I was doing the project and I was like, Yeah! There was no real criteria, to be honest. The more diverse the better. My ten-year old godson rang up and said, “I’ve spoken to my mom and dad and they’ve said I can be that lady”. I said, “What lady?” He was like, “Divine”. I said, “You don’t even know who Divine is!” And he said, “She’s an icon.” So, I said, “OK – you’re in it!”
So people mainly approached you. Did anyone need persuading to drag-up as Divine?
The people who weren’t performers needed a bit of persuading. It was interesting with people who weren’t performers and were a little bit nervous. They were really rewarding shoots, because they kind of looked at themselves in a way they’d never seen themselves before. Particularly people who’d never done drag before. This realisation there is another side to you. I tend to like making people look as beautiful as possible. Some people wanted to go down this really trashy, messy Divine [look], maybe bring some food … I kind of haven’t gone for that. That’s not really my aesthetic. I wanted to get a balance where it’s not too trashy and not too fashion.
Do you have a favourite Divine look?
My favourite Divine film is Female Trouble. She starts as the young girl Dawn Davenport and goes through all these different phases, doesn’t she, until she’s trashed at the end with acid on her face! There’s a lot of different looks. That’s kind of my favourite. When I first started this project, I threw everything at it and put people in a lot of big wigs and costumes. As I started going on, I realised that wasn’t so important once I got the people in the make-up. A lot of people are just topless. The photos are all cropped from about the waist up. Some are a little bit tighter. I thought I was complicating it. There’s already so much going on with the make-up. There are some wigs. A lot of people are bald, or I just slicked their hair back. You need a lot of eyebrow area to do Divine!
Did anyone volunteer to shave their hairline back and eyebrows off?
One! I’m pretty good at blocking eyebrows out, but one guy already had really short hair and he shaved his hairline back for me, which was great!
What do you think Divine’s impact is on modern drag?
That’s interesting. With modern drag you probably think of RuPaul’s Drag Race or something like that, which is very clean and not quite as punk. Divine was such a punk, she was such a rebel. I think for the young cabaret scene in London, they all love Divine. I think she has her place.
Darren Evans’ exhibit “Everyone is Divine!” is at The Horse Hospital from 30 June – 14 July 2018.