Joan Becker paints local icon at Rockhouse Art Gallery

Open for only a year, the Rockhouse Art Gallery bills itself as “more than a gallery” and proved it last Saturday. The gallery hosted artist Joan Becker, a Philadelphia native, painting live. Her subject? Beloved local drag queen Inga from Aqua. The atmosphere was jovial and fun as bystanders watched Becker, with charcoal and gouache, create a unique and colorful portrait of Inga.

Inga’s dress was a splash of comic book design complete with a pompom headband as garnish. Becker’s deft ability quickly captured the fun-loving essence of Inga, and may be the start to a series of Drag Queen paintings, she said.

Inga joked, “I was promised lunch” when asked why she would sit for a portrait, not one to take it all too seriously.

Becker attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2003 and her usual style consists of watercolor or gouache portraits and still lifes with a quirky, colorful flair. The style seems fitting to capture the most vibrant personalities in town.

“I always wanted to paint a drag queen. So I walked into The Rockhouse Gallery, proposed my idea and handed them my card,” said Becker, a frequent visitor to the Keys. The gallery, which is known to host a weekly mind reader on Fridays, enjoys having unusual events in the “Bahama Village Arts District,” according to Mark Schreiber.

The Rockhouse Art Gallery is an eclectic mix of modern handcrafted furniture and art. (It’s an official retailer of Pacific Green Furniture, handcrafted furniture from Fiji made from palmwood.)

“We are trying to be really engaged with the community,” said gallery owner Eric Dickstein. “We wanted a gallery where people could really absorb the art while in a beautiful, sensory setting.” Dickstein encourages people to sit on the furniture and enjoy the art while attending the unconventional event the gallery staff dreams up.

The Rockhouse Art Gallery itself is unconventional. It’s located inside a renovated old Methodist Church circa 1900 in Key West’s Bahama Village on Julia Street. Dickstein spent more than a year working on the redevelopment of the building and wants the community to enjoy it as a gathering place for art and events. Case in point: Dickstein has plans to revive Captain Outrageous’ art bike program, where “Conch Cruisers” are transformed by artists into one-of-a-kind bicycles. Inga’s portrait will be for sale once completed.

Fun fact: Inga’s dog has never seen her in drag.

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