Ralph Pucci L.A. exhibits “Art People: The Pageant Portraits,” a new fine-art series by Matthew Rolston

Each year in Laguna Beach, California, participants in the “Pageant of the Masters” arts festival are costumed to look like key figures from famous works of art and take the stage to enact those masterpieces. It’s a slightly surreal event that draws crowds from around the world, as well as Southern California locals who make the much-cherished fest a family tradition. Matthew Rolston is among the Californians who grew up attending the “Pageant of the Masters,” and it not only made a powerful impression on him in his childhood—it also inspired his latest fine-art photo series, “Art People: The Pageant Portraits.” And last night, the project made its public debut in a private event at the Los Angeles showroom of Ralph Pucci International, a company that is legendary for its luxury furniture, lighting, and avant-garde mannequins.

 

Installation view, “Art People: The Pageant Portraits,” at Ralph Pucci L.A.

 

“The Pageant is best known for its famed tableaux vivants presentations of art masterpieces, which Rolston began documenting on editorial assignment for The Wall Street Journal in 2015. Rolston gained privileged access to the pageant’s performers, spending several weeks photographing them in a makeshift studio set up backstage during the run of the show,” explains the press release. “In their Pageant costumes and makeup, dressed as figures taken from works by Da Vinci, Fragonard, Frishmuth, Matisse, Rivera, Hockney, and many more, these performers posed for their portraits away from the painted sets and theatrical lighting of the Pageant, drawing attention to their unique human characteristics. Each photograph is activated through a deep sense of intimacy with the subject, utilizing painterly lighting and featuring Rolston’s mastery of color harmonies—all hallmarks of his practice, one that interrogates the nature of the subject and the space of photography to propagate overlapping narratives of both truth and fantasy.”

 

Installation view, “Art People: The Pageant Portraits,” at Ralph Pucci L.A.

 

Monumental in scale, the works in the exhibition include individual portraits, diptychs, and elaborate groupings of participants juxtaposed against images of the Pageant’s makeup templates, which are used to model the performers’ final appearance. “Throughout the series,” notes the press release, “each subject willingly yields their own subjectivity to the artifice of the image and the photographic qualities of light, hue, and contrast that register the works with a distinct emotional poignancy.”

 

Installation view, “Art People: The Pageant Portraits,” at Ralph Pucci L.A.

 

“‘Art People’ considers a subject that I’ve long admired,” says Rolston. “And when I say ‘long,’ I mean since I was 6 or 7 years old. I began attending the Festival of Arts’ Pageant of the Masters with my family as a young child, and being exposed to the theatricality and magic of that stage was one of the formative experiences of my life, and helped create the ambitions that have fueled my career.”

“Art People: The Pageant Portraits” will be the subject of a documentary film, and Rolston has expressed interest in a monograph should the right publisher come along. To learn more about the exhibition at Ralph Pucci L.A., and to read Rolston’s essay about the project, please click here.

 

Installation view, “Art People: The Pageant Portraits,” at Ralph Pucci L.A.

 

 

 

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