The Duo Behind SF's 'Drag Tornadoes'

Jun 10 at 9am

As San Francisco changes, the city's innovators, artists, weirdos, revolutionaries, and radical thinkers are at risk of being pushed out. For years there have been individuals that I’ve seen around town who captured my imagination. This project, Drawn From the City, became an excuse to find out about their lives through interviews, documenting the cultural life-blood of the city.

David: “Being responsible for your own good time is very San Francisco.”

Michael: “We’ve managed to create something dynamic. We don’t have a big message, we just aren’t fucking gone.”

Occupations: 

Michael: I’m a photographer but I use the term visual artist because I’ve done everything – puppets, writing, and community work with the AIDS quit. I’m a jack-of-all-trades. 

David: I started out as a painter but I’m really a visual artist as well. Business was always the drag I could not do.

What is your style inspiration? 

Michael: I like visual eccentricity. 

David: We love the oddball, but it’s a dying breed.

Who is your favorite designer? 

David: Mrs. Vera (our collective drag persona) is named after the designer Vera from the '60s and '70s who always had great prints and a big color palate.

How would you describe your style? 

Michael: I don’t dress in traditional drag, I like to be more masculine.  

David: If the thought occurs to me it’s worth doing. 

Michael: We kinda look like we stepped out of a circus.

How did Mrs. Vera originate? 

Michael: The isolation that comes with any disease, shrinks your world; I was just kinda trying to make my world a little more of my world. 

David: When I met you [Michael], you were supposed to be gone shortly, the prognosis was not good for a lot of people. 

Michael: One Tuesday I said to David, ‘Lets take pictures and dress up’ because it reminded me of the people that I knew. I call it sensory restoration. The concept of Mrs. Vera is that she is wearing the things that all these people [who died] had. That’s why she is wearing so much stuff, she’s like a drag tornado. A lot of art about AIDS is dark, I don’t want to be remembered like that.

What is your favorite neighborhood? 

Both: Golden Gate Park, it’s our favorite place to take pictures.

On Pride parades: 

Michael: I like the Pride parades because it’s a tribute to the people who are no longer here. 

David: It was defiant in that time [during the height of the AIDS epidemic] to dress up and pretend to be happy and having a good time. 

Michael: And we had a good time. We had 60 people in the parade with us this past year; we started 20 years ago with only five.

About Verashpere: 

Michael: It’s such a departure from drag. David makes these incredible costumes out of recycled materials. People think that the Pride parade is boring, but why don’t you make the parade a little better? It’s challenging – there is no space to make a float in the city, so we sort of wear our float.

On the current rental hikes and evictions: 

Michael: I don’t feel like a victim but we lost our art studio; we had it for a good 12 years and then they wanted twice as much money. I’m not bitter about it but we couldn’t afford it anymore. 

David: Now anyone can get evicted anywhere at any time, even people with real jobs. Oakland is a city that is hard to see any change in, so in a way San Francisco’s loss is Oakland’s gain. 

Check back next Tuesday for more Drawn from the City.

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