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Heroes with Bling: SF Drag Queens Immortalized in Mosaic by Michael Kruzich

On 26, Jun 2011 | 7 Comments | In Uncategorized | By man-admin

Miss Anita Cocktail 2010  28″ x 12″  Stone, smalti, vitreous glass

In the 50’s, when we were young and growing up in the Bay Area, on a rare Saturday night the Grown Ups would don their hats and gloves and head out for Date Night at Finnochio’s in San Francisco. The next morning, still reeking of cigarettes and Crown Royal, they’d fill us with stories of the incredible “female impersonators” they had seen the night before. “She was gorgeous!” they’d exclaim. “She filled up the room! Boy, could he-she I-don’t-know-what-to-call-him-her sing!” (Be sure to check out the video at the bottom of this post.)

Photo via

We have loved Drag Queens every since.  Glamorous cross-dressing combined with performance art is as ancient as, well, the Greeks and the Romans.

Which is just one of the things that makes “Heroes with Bling”, a group of contemporary mosaic portraits by Michael J. Kruzich on view through June 28th at the Market Street Gallery in San Francisco, a sensational body of work.

Holotta Tymes 2011  36″ x 36″  Stone, smalti, crystal jewels, glass beads  Photo:  Robert Carstensen
Kruzich, who is a professional ballet dancer with the San Francisco Opera, has lived in The City for 16 years.  From his Artist Statement:

. . . some of the brightest gems I have witnessed and appreciated in my days here have been the drag artists.  There is more to these ‘ladies’ that just what is to be seen on the surface.  Yes, they instantly elevate whatever situation they appear in; lightening the heart, exuding joy, displaying razor sharp wit and carrying themselves with a royal and unapologetic pride that challenges the staunchest conservative to disapprove.

 Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence SF, 2011  14″ x 28″  Stone, smalti and crystal rhinestones

Kruzich continues:

But, behind all that, many of them are the truest and most dedicated humanitarians you could ask for in any community; working tirelessly for charities, fundraising events and supporting local and worldwide causes.

First Lady, Donna Sachet, 2010  16″ x 20″  Stone, smalti and crystal rhinestones

And some of that drag takes REAL commitment!

Garza Peru, 2010  12″ x 16″ Stone, smalti and crystal rhinestones  Photo:  Never Navarro

We think that Kruzich’s commitment to capturing the spirit of his subjects in these mosaics is no less remarkable.

Working from photographs, Kruzich elevates the images by skillfully employing some of the most  exciting aspects of mosaics.  Ms. Anita Cocktail is brimming with joie de vivre with vibrant, colorful glass smalti plumage and a background andamento that literally “radiates” the energy she exudes.

It is no wonder Ms. Cocktail earned the People’s Choice award a this year’s Mosaic Arts International.  We can testify that she was definitely the life of that exhibition’s opening party.

In Holotta Times, Kruzich captures the quiet intensity and grace of a very different performer through careful color selection and smaller tesserae size.  This Queen’s persona may be softer than Ms. Cocktail’s, but she has no less energy – Kruzich’s use of a biff-bam-socko! outline is brilliant.

Kruzich used this framing technique, combined with specific andamento, in several portraits, all to great effect.  In Galilea, you know that someone in the audience is on the receiving end of something special.
 Galilea, 2011   14″ x 28″  Stone, smalti, crystal rhinestones.
Off-kilter and in black and white, Mamadora is instantly perceived as the wit and prankster that she is.
Mamadora, 2011  30″ x 30″  Stone, smalti and vitreous glass

You don’t need to read her bio to know, Juanita More is a Star.  The vibrancy of Kruzich’s mosaic nails her as an over-the-top performer who has been wowing audiences for years.  The LGBT community showed their appreciation of her charity work by making her Grand Marshall of the 2005 Gay Pride Parade.

 Juanita More  2011  47″ x 47″  Smalti, rhinestone

In Tita Aida, Kruzich uses marvelous millefiori, those miniature glass gems from Murano, Italy, as a background for the more “understated” elegance of this subject.  This is a capital L Lady.

Tita Aida 2011   22″ x 27″ Stone, smalti, millefiori and crystal rhinestones  Photo:   Danny Dan

Kruzich spent 18 months completing the set of 11 portraits.  To keep himself engaged with the project, he experimented with various techniques like the use of tinted thin set for the background in The Ethel Merman Experience.

The Ethel Merman Experience  2010  20″ x 26″  Stone, smalti, rhinestones, pearls and tinted thin set.
Our personal favorite from this body of work is Sylvester.
Sylvester  2011  31″ x 23″  Stone, smalti, turquoise, broken china & inset jewelry.
We thought this work exuded “soul” for more reasons than just the obvious halo.  Kruzich’s use of broken china in the floral scarf lends a softness that continues throughout the work into the coloring of the face, the delicate folds within the clothing and the structure of the hands.  It came as no surprise to learn that Sylvester was a well-loved performer and recording artist in the 70’s and 80’s with two hit dance singles and the moniker “Queen of the Discos.”  He died of complications from AIDS 1988.  There is something genuine, authentic and human in this portrait made of stone, glass, china, rhinestones, and plastic.  We like Sylvester very, very much.
Our congratulations to Mr. Kruzich for an extraordinary body of work.  We like it very, very much.
Enjoy –  Nancie
UPDATE December 2012:  Since this article was originally published, Mr. Kruzich has left the San Francisco Opera to pursue mosaics full time.  The artist also offers classes in classical mosaic methods in his studio.  Please see the link below for more information.
The Artist:  Michael J. Kruzich, MK Mosaics  (415) 312-8296
The Ladies:
The Movie:  San Francisco Night Club Party 1958


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  1. Anonymous

    Thank you..I like everything.

  2. Julie Richey

    In addition to this being a loving, creative and brilliant tribute to the people who live to entertain and make us happy, Michael has really pushed some boundaries of framing and pictoral planes. I love the varied use of shapes to frame each diva's personality in a different way. Break Out City!

  3. Anonymous

    I like the three dimensional effect of Juanita More.

  4. Nancie Mills Pipgras

    Grazie, Lillian. We do try! So happy you liked this one.

  5. Nancie Mills Pipgras

    Garza Peru is probably my second fave, Maureen. I love the juxtaposition of those very sharp cuts to recreate very soft fabrics. Lots of contained energy.

  6. sfmosaic

    great post Nancie – inspired writing to go with inspired mosaics, a magical combo one can always count here at MAN!!

  7. Maureen

    "Sylvester" is especially fine. I also like "Garza Peru". They all have so much personality. It's amazing the attitude and emotion that come through.

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