He may be no spring chicken, but artist Richard James - who started doing drag aged 69 - still loves feathers
Richard James has always kept himself very active, even now, at 82 years of age. Over the years, he’s volunteered for the ALSO Foundation and JOY Melbourne 94.9, he’s co-founded the support group Vintage Men, created his own senior drag persona, the Baroness of Balaclava, has been to Mardi Gras and Pride March and now co-convenes an art and literature appreciation group for older people.
He’s also an artist, and his paintings are featuring in a new exhibition held by the Port Phillip Housing Association, A Vision of Substance. But art is something he started only recently. “It was about the same time I started doing drag, about 13 years ago,” he explains. “I always thought I was creative; when I first moved into this apartment around that time, I made the curtains and the kitchen bench. The walls were bare, and I thought, ‘if I can make curtains and dresses, why can’t try painting?’ So I started expressing myself in paint.”
James’ limited mobility has meant he’s re-evaluated his lifestyle, so there’ll only be one new painting to go alongside his previous works. He is glad to be a part of the Association and the exhibition. “It’s very gay-positive, there’s no discrimination at all, and I am very happy with the accommodation and lifestyle here. Social isolation is just as damaging to your health as any diseases are, so I applaud the Housing Association for providing this opportunity for all the tenants to interact with each other and have an opportunity to develop or show their art.”
While he might be pretty much done with painting for now, but with his sound mind and sharp wit, James is still keeping active – he’s just a bit slower these days. “I don’t know what I’m going to be asked to do next. I keep doing things like this, I do a little bit of voluntary work for the City of Port Phillip. And I read a lot, both gay and straight literature.”
Inspiration for us all.
A Vision of Substance showcases the artistic talents of community housing residents as part of Social Inclusion Week. Over 40 works by 18 artists will be on exhibition.