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The Eyes Have It

by Steve Desroches

Top Image: Joan Crawford by Justin Vivian Bond

Justin Vivian Bond once heard a story about Joan Crawford. In 1956, Crawford, who at that time was 51 years old and had been in Hollywood for over 30 years, winning an Academy Award with three additional nominations, was filming Autumn Leaves, an intense film noir. The director, Robert Aldrich asked her if she could “cry on cue” to which Crawford replied, “Out of which eye?” Or so legend says.

True or not, it’s a deliciously ferocious response to being underestimated. The question of “which eye” haunted Bond’s mind, evolving through to “witch eye.” Like most of us, being under lockdown throughout the spring, Bond had a lot of time to think. The multi-faceted, multi-talented artist is perhaps best known as one of the top neo-cabaret performers of the day. But when the pandemic hit, 33 scheduled shows at New York’s Joe’s Pub evaporated, leaving Bond in their home near Hudson contemplating what’s next in this mad, mad, mad world. With the state of affairs, it did feel all there as to do was cry. But from which eye? Rather than retreat into despair, it was time to conjure a little witchcraft.

Throughout history, eye-shaped talismen and amulets were crafted to ward off evil. And that’s exactly what is needed now. With bullies and thugs running rough shod in the White House and beyond, the traditionally vulnerable need that protection more than ever, says Bond. That’s when they began to paint the eyes of those who came before, those in queer and camp history who inspired Bond as a teenager to pursue an authentic life in every way. The paintings will be on view in an exhibition at AMP Gallery in Provincetown beginning August 28.

“It’s really a nice meditation for me,” says Bond. “Particularly now, it feels like a good thing to do; to focus on the eyes of a person who was a role model to the world or those who were known for defending other people.”

Gloria Steinem by Justin Vivian Bond

Throughout the pandemic quarantine Bond did a “deep dive” into YouTube, which, beyond the adorable cat videos, is an archive of breathtaking scope. On one of their delightful trips down the rabbit hole on YouTube Bond found an old episode of The Dick Cavett Show in which Truman Capote gives a “beautiful defense” of Tennessee Williams, whose latest work was then being savaged by critics. Bond found a queer person defending another queer person to be quite moving and incorporated that emotion into each work depicting people who have inspired them. Nina Simone. Marsha P. Johnson. Judy Collins. Gloria Steinem. James Baldwin. Tilda Swinton. Essex Hemphill. Patti Smith. These eyes stare back with grace and the challenge to remember to never give up, even in the face of overwhelming odds.

Weaving these inspirations into their own life, Bond has created one of the most fascinating and varied careers in the arts to date, by in part being uniquely oneself with a caring commitment to having a life in the spotlight that spreads the flame of inspiration liberally. Bond is one part of the dynamic duo Kiki and Herb, a drag cabaret act developed with Kenny Mellman in New York. Bond also continues to have a successful solo career performing both in the U.S. and Canada, but also throughout Europe. Collaborations with John Cameron Mitchell, Jake Shears, and Rufus Wainwright deepen the musical roots for Bond as a performer. Most everything Bond creates has a shimmer, a definitive specter that lives within. A bland corporate thinker tries to replicate it by staying on brand, but what Bond has is called vision, something far more valuable and interesting. Glamour is after all resistance, a concept that is the final line of a poem written by Mellman years ago. Weaponizing glitter is an effective tool in nurturing yourself not just as an artist, but also yourself in a world all too eager to turn you into something else; a world that underestimates you for what the masses either don’t like or don’t understand.

“I feel I was taught to doubt myself as a queer person, as a trans person,” says Bond. “When I was studying theater at Adelphi University I was told I was in danger of being thrown out if I didn’t butch up. You know who else went there, Clinton Leupp, also known as Coco Peru. And other than Jonathan Larson, we’re probably the most famous graduates from that school. Imagine that. You might have to say it was a drag academy.”

Tennessee Williams by Justin Vivian Bond

At this point Bond’s work carries a heavier gravitas, even that which is comedic, as liberation runs throughout always. In times of crisis that currency trades at a higher value. With the natural crisis of a virus compounded by the fiendishness of the Trump administration popping off replicant right-wing wannabes around the globe as if a Republican gremlin got wet, it can feel that these are as desperate times as they are perilous. However, each eye starting back in this show faced some daunting prospect of a dark future, and in turn stared it down and changed the course of history. Glamor isn’t just resistance, it’s irresistible and disarming. When you’re underestimated, your opponents never see you coming.

“This isn’t my first pandemic rodeo,” says Bond. “There’s so much hurt and grief that never goes away, but you still find ways to move on. I just want people to live in beauty without causing any damage. Sometimes you do have to reinvent the wheel, but I just want the wheel to work efficiently and not run anyone over.”

Mx Justin Vivian Bond’s 69 Witch Eyes is on exhibition at AMP (Art Market Provincetown) 432 Commercial St., starting Friday, August 28 and will remain up indefinitely. The show runs concurrently with Liz Collins’ Taking Stock. An opening reception is to take place for both shows that evening from 6 to 9 p.m. Only four people allowed in the gallery at a time and masks are required. For more information call 646.298.9258 or visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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