Brian “Soigne” Wilson has opened his first solo exhibit at the Dollhaus II gallery, until July 4.
The gallery, at 23 Cottage Street, is open Thursday through Sunday, 1 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.xdollhausx.com or call 201-360-0894.
The Dollhaus, started in Williamsburg by Emma Louise, was well attended for six years until rent increases and gentrification kicked the artists out. The gallery was forced to travel to parts unknown, reopening as Dollhaus II in Bayonne.
Now Dollhaus is spotlighting outsider artists like Soigne (pronounced SWAN-YE), providing a platform for LGBTQ+ artists and artists of color.
Soigne told the Bayonne Community News that he started creating art as a kid.
“When I was a child, I did a drawing of my best friend eating grapes,” Soigne said. “It was an almost realistic drawing. I showed it to my mother who was like ‘Oh my God, you’re so talented!’ And that’s when I started taking art classes in school.”
Growing up in Ohio, Soigne pursued art in high school, studying musical theater, acting and visual arts at the Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts. There, he decided to embrace both performance and visual art.
“When I started art school, I decided to start doing performance art: the marriage of visual art, dance, costumery, and music writing and singing,” Soigne said.
He dabbled in sculpture and graphic design. The latter would come in handy for art exhibits. He helps design and create the flyers for his openings, and recently designed the logo for the Bushwick’s Bushwig drag festival.
During this time, he decided on a name. He was hand painting t-shirts to make money and needed a name for the business. He picked up a French dictionary, which opened to the word soigne, which means “fashionable and well taken care of.”
Soigne thought that was perfect, and named his company that. Later, it would become his stage name.
Soigne said that he was first inspired by sideshow posters and carnival banners.
“The first time I got inspired by art was I was at a carnival,” Soigne said. “There was this sideshow poster for Big Bertha. It was a huge banner of this really fat woman. Next to her was this long-necked girl, a white woman with what looked like Marilyn Monroe’s face with a long neck. Then there was also the woman who had the head of a woman and two bodies coming from her head. Forty something years later, I’m still inspired by that idea of the fantastically odd, strange, and bizarre.”
One example of this is a painting of his featuring two New York City club kids as a spider with two heads. Drag queens, interesting people, and his husband Brad are big influences on his art and frequently appear in his pieces.
“I’ve done many portraits of my husband. Kind of like Gala inspired Salvador Dali, Brad inspires me the same way,” Soigne said. “He’s a loving angel that came into my life, and we’ve been together for 17 years.”
Soigne was inspired to create the Fantazzical Beings when he was in a dark place in his life.
“I started drawing those at a point when I was really depressed, and I was living in my parents’ basement. At 21, I had dropped out of school. At one point I had tried to commit suicide. One day, I was in the basement, and I couldn’t get up. I heard this little giggle. I thought it was a drunk rat. Then this little character climbed up on my chest with one little eye.”
Soigne’s vision of the creepy yet kooky being named Cyclopi became pivotal in his art.
“He is to me what Mickey Mouse is to Walt Disney, or Spiderman is to Stan Lee,” Soigne said.
Soigne created thousands of similar characters, filling up over 30 sketchbooks with hundreds of pages of the whimsical beings, usually happy, dancing, and or strange.
“I usually draw some really weird abstract shape, and then I give it eyes or teeth,” Soigne said. “There’s just thousands at this point, and I just really, really love them.”
Collaborating with Dollhaus
This is not Soigne’s first time collaborating with Emma Louise. He had worked with Louise before the first Dollhaus gallery was established. Their projects included “The Heaven and Hell Show,” “The Asylum for the Deranged,” and “The Terrible Toy Fair.” In Bayonne, Soigne was part of the group exhibit titled “F*cked Up Disney” at Dollhaus II.
“Emma Louise has been like a sister to me. She really is a wonderful impresario,” Soigne said. “She gives a platform for people who step outside the norm. A lot of the work is almost punk and strange yet beautiful, pop surrealist.”
That’s why his art compliments the gallery.
“My exhibit is like a funhouse, and sometimes you might see something creepy in there,” Soigne said.
Soigne’s background as a club kid also shows in his work. He moved from Ohio to New York City in 1993, and became part of the Disco 2000 club kid party monster scene.
“I hung out with the club kids in the ’90s,” Soigne said. “I took a lot of pictures, and when you take pictures in clubs, there’s always a black background, so I decided to incorporate that into my work.”
Some outfits and costumes that he has worn throughout the years in nightclubs from New York to Japan adorn the exhibit. The garments are displayed on “cylones,” or cyclops clones of Soigne present throughout the exhibit.
Embracing the local scene
Soigne has hung his work at bustling art hubs around the world and was happy to bring his art to Bayonne.
“I want to show my work to anybody that’s willing,” Soigne said. “I’m not geographically prejudice. People are people everywhere you go. There’s cool people in Bayonne, there’s cool people everywhere. I think my artwork appeals to everyone.”
Soigne’s grand opening in Bayonne featured performer Iggy Berlin, dressed as one of the Fantazzical Beings. Berlin sashayed around the gallery and the sidewalk, greeting attendees. Other club kids were on hand.
Cupcakes and beverages were served. Most of the paintings are for sale. A small television displayed video of Soigne’s performances in New York City.
“What I found fascinating about Bayonne is that I met gay people, I met Black people, white people, short people, ugly people, pretty people.” Soigne said. “That’s what I’ve liked about my experience of showing in Bayonne.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.