10 (or so) questions with...Ethan Mundt, a.k.a. Utica Queen
The St. Charles High School grad/RuPaul’s “Drag Race” contestant/Rochester Art Center featured artist
Rochester Magazine: Your first impression of my style. Be honest.
Ethan Mundt: Your style?
RM: Ouch. That’s not a good start for me.
EM: No! It’s classic. You have a classic button-up, good denim jean. Yeah, I like that classic style.
RM: That seems like you’re just being kind. I’ve heard that you do a killer impersonation of a Canada goose.
EM [doing goose impression]: Ooeugh! How do you know that?
RM: I can’t give up my sources. So you’re living in Chicago now, but Rochester seems like a fitting place for your first art show.
EM: Definitely. I grew up in Utica, Minnesota, which is where I got my stage name from, and I spent most of my time there in Utica, St. Charles, along Highway 14. Also, I was in an acting troupe in the Rochester Civic Theatre, Otherwise Actors. It’s where I grew up. It’s a place where it all started. So I feel like this show, “Homecoming Queen” [a display of the elaborate dresses Ethan handcrafts], is a compilation of all the work that I’ve created beyond my little confines of my small town.
RM: You grew up in a farming community of 200-some people. And you’ve clearly tried to hold onto those roots.
EM: I wanted to pay homage to the beautiful little town that raised me. I got some of my best morals for living from this little place. I grew up in a very Christian household where it was all about finding the spirit and giving thanks. And I never let go of that because it gave me something to hope for and look forward to and never really feel alone. ... So joining the gay community and the drag community, there’s not a lot of individuals that share that same sentiment. Either they’ve been wronged by the church or they’ve completely given it up. But I knew I wanted to hold on to that because it really gave me a purpose when I was growing up. And even my name, Utica, I wanted to keep these memories and this upbringing as special as I could.
RM: One of my cheesy psych quizzes. I’ll tell you what the answers mean afterwards: Your favorite animal and three words or phrases to describe it?
EM: Okay, so my favorite animal is an octopus. Because they’re very smart. They’re very adaptable and they’re gorgeous.
RM: Your favorite color and three words or phrases to describe it?
EM: I’m a big fan of a burnt orange. I love fall and love that autumnal vibe, and it makes people feel cozy.
RM: You’re in a white room all alone, no windows or doors. Give me three ways you feel.
EM: I feel imaginative. I feel like I can take a breath. And I’d say I feel a little lonely.
RM: Finally, your favorite body of water and three adjectives to describe that.
EM: My favorite body of water is probably a pond outside the pasture at home. It’s secluded, but it’s home.
RM: OK. So the animal is supposed to represent how you feel about yourself. You said “smart, adaptable, gorgeous.”
EM: Oh my goodness! That’s right on!
RM: The color—you said “makes people feel cozy”— is supposed to represent how you think others perceive you.
EM: Wow. These are good.
RM: The white room is supposed to represent your feelings on death. You said “imaginative, lonely, and can take a breath.”
EM: Can take a breath! Wow!
RM: And your favorite body of water, you said you feel “secluded and home.” That’s supposed to represent your feelings on your current love life.
EM: I will be thinking about these for a while.
RM: You describe yourself as “the wavy inflatable arm tube queen.” Is that how you see yourself when you’re performing?
EM: I think so. I’m not really much of a dancer, but I know that I always have a wonderful time. And even though I’m flailing around, you still come back to the car dealership.
RM: Right. So can you make a living as a higher-tier drag queen performer?
EM: Yeah, I can. I get paid pretty well as a visual artist and as a performer. I now have the honor of being able to travel all around the country, and now it’s been extending to the world. I just got back from the UK, which was phenomenal. I can’t even believe that my work has gotten to the level where people want it even over the sea. It’s amazing. I would love to use this exhibition as a gateway to have this show travel and to just keep on making wearable art. I feel like it’s my calling and I finally found it, and I want to keep on going with it.
RM: Wow, very cool. How often do you go back to Utica?
EM: Very often. I’m staying at the farm now while we’re putting the show together. I love my parents dearly, and they’re very close to me. I try to visit as much as I can.
RM: You’re known for your hugs?
EM: Yes. I’m a very warm person.
RM: I’ve been told I’m terrible.
EM: You know how some people give you a side hug? It’s like giving half of yourself. Give a whole hug, both arms. I give people what I would want in a hug.
RM: OK. I’ll try that.
EM: Giving a hug is a little snippet of your personality. If you give them half, you’re only going to get half. I like to give as much as I can in just that little moment.
RM: That’s indicative of your life philosophy, I’m guessing.
EM: Yeah, I feel like, giving people all of you is really important. And I try to do that with everything, even with just that little moment of affection.