You say in one of your interviews that basically all your paintings are self portraits. What is the relationship between observation after a model and the final painting (for example Mountain Man)? How much freedom do you give yourself?
There is the expression in art: paint or make what you know. I use myself as a diaristic model; even when the figures are not outrightly me, they represent a veiled self-portrait. I am always interested in the anti-hero, the underdog, the unlikely winner. I root for them and I see a lot of myself in them As a tween, I had bushy eyebrows and a faint mustache, and they almost always find their way into the cartoons; it’s like a little homage to the awkward shit that ultimately defined me. A lot of comedy works in that way too: making fun of yourself and telling the world your own shortcomings before anyone else can get to you first. I think the more you embrace the difficult things about yourself and your flaws, the more self aware and powerful you become. Ultimately, my work is absolutely about my emotional discomfort. Illustrating intimate scenes and scenarios of my life lets me reclaim power and ownership of those hard times and weird emotions. Humor is cathartic for me. Embracing the discomfort, flaws and oddity is a way to turn it into lightness. I think most people can identify with that, and hopefully, it makes other people relate and laugh at themselves (and me) through the work. I am endlessly fascinated by humans. The body is so potent as a vessel to convey all kinds of narratives and it is why I am a figurative artist. Having a model or source material is exceptionally important to me, as I need to see what things look like in space to articulate it. If I am aiming for naturalism or somewhere in-between that and cartooning, I need to really see how anatomy or a landscape or object looks in space. For a long time I would use myself as a model- I would balance the camera and run back and pose on a timer- mostly because I didn’t have anyone that would take naked pictures of me! It was a lot of work. I have my mother help a lot now. So in a lot of my work, my body is quite literally the body depicted. A lot of times I will convince someone to sit for me who looks a certain way or is a figure that I can’t achieve by sitting myself (definitely when I need to depict males) or that I need to embody something specifically. For instance, the image of the Mountain Man- he was a friend of mine who I directed him to laugh maniacally- I wanted it to be somewhere in between friendly and dangerous- elated or insane. He took direction well! A lot of times I will paint from sculptures and busts of figures – Helenistic and Italian sculptures help me convey the look of antiquity and canonical poses that I like when I just need an anatomical reference, and then from there I can exaggerate and take liberties with. When I am doing a more straightforward, naturalistic representation of myself or someone else, I stay pretty close to the source image; I like getting a source image that is exactly what I want so I can just execute it- so a lot of the time when I pose for a picture, I’m not changing much- but I usually make a Photoshopped version of what I want the final image to look like and I use it as a general base- sometimes parts of it change, but most of the time it is pretty true to the image and I’m just executing the image to my vision.
How do you get the pictorial narratives of your paintings? For Example Plan B of Easter?
Almost every time I get my inspiration and images from something that I have experienced, something that I want, something I need to communicate or have seen an image of something or someone and it is a catalyst for articulation. I am always paying attention, synthesizing, searching for source material and keeping my eye open. Everything is can be a jumping point. Most of it is an examination of a scenario that I am personally dealing with or find bittersweet, funny or distressing; I’m especially drawn to creating images or situations that I know others struggle with as well. A lot of it comes from being hyperaware and constantly searching and thinking about what I want to make, how I want to say it and how I want it to look. Plan B on Easter Morning was a self portrait- and is a pretty literal and straightforward representation of a moment- I took a Plan B pill on Easter Sunday in a pharmacy parking lot before Easter family dinner and was hyper aware of the feeling of being a “bad girl” on a religious and sacred holiday synonymous with a “good girl;” I am constantly struggling with this liminal idea of what being “good” and “bad” woman in both the personal sphere and socio-political context. I am pleasure seeking, and a lot of my work comes out of this search for indulgence and sometimes the abject messy parts of life that comes with decision-making. There are a lot of images like eating junk food, lack of coping skills, desires and depictions of anxiety that I make that are a diaristic reflection of what is going on in my life as a woman and an artist and navigating jobs, relationships, opportunities, - or lack there of, which ultimately I think everyone can identify with. I’m really interested in making images that many people can relate to or laugh at or give a moment of relief in the middle of how difficult day-to-day life can often be.
a) What do you think of D. Trump? Why was he winning?
Trump is the antithesis of everything that I believe in as a human. I think he is dangerous, mentally ill, a mysoginist and a despicable human being, to just scratch the surface. There are a myriad of reasons that Trump was elected, but I believe that a lot of the election is a direct result of poor white rural Americans feeling utterly and completely ignored by the national, state and local government for decades and decades, coupled by a crippling fear of the outside world that they don’t understand and have rarely been exposed to, except what they read on conservative outlets and other similar individuals. There is a very deep rooted anti-intellectualism in the rural- centered around the idea that “liberal outsiders,” the “coastal elite and people from the city will take away their rural rights or, most central to this thought- that they think they are stupid and incapable. These are exceptionally hard working, blue-collar people and they deeply deeply pride themselves on that, even though there are very few opportunities for advancement. The mere IDEA of others getting ahead easier (to them it is government assistance and immigrants taking their jobs away) is the center of this vitriol, whether there are facts and figures that say otherwise or not and it spirals outward to all minorities and situations. They are deeply MIS-informed, which I think is much different than being un-informed. There is such deep-rooted misogyny; the majority of the rural patriarchy will never accept a woman leading them, period- in the same breath, a black president. While I have seen kindness and beautiful things in rural America and in my hometown, but in many ways, this picture that people are seeing of rural white America is the America I have grown up with and that has always been here- Racism, misogynism, classism- all of this is nothing new- it’s just the underbelly that is now exposed for what it is. A lot of it has to do with exposure to those that are different. Growing up, I barely knew (or for that matter was ever even exposed to) people of color or a LBGTQ individual- so when the rural has to provide empathy for someone who are worlds away, who they have no understanding of except what they have been indoctrinated by conservative media to villainize those who are “other,” there is little room for understanding and unity. I believe that conservative rural voters responded to a candidate who said “I see you and your problems in rural America” as they feel as if they have been forgotten and the emphasis on larger cities. Republicans and conservatives played into all these cultural aspects of rural America and exploited these individuals and played to their fears, culture and demographic and I believe that has a lot to do with where we are now.
b) Do you think that his Election adds a new layer of interpretation to you paintings/sculptures?
I have more or less built a career around my diaristic experience living and growing up in rural Pennsylvania. Where at once I viewed the characters I made as cheeky, loveable and innocently sweet bumpkins, now has given way to a significantly more complicated and aggressive dynamic towards these people. I’ve been left feeling nihilistic and resentful and it now feels much more of an impossibility to render these images in bittersweet love and loathing; It seems the scale is tipped drastically one way. In a lot of ways I feel that it is my responsibility to articulate all the complicated dimesions of rural America, as I understand this place because I’ve been entrenched in it. Although I completely disagree with the ideologies of the majority of these people, this is a place that I love, and I have worked very hard to love, even when it has not loved me back, or given me reason to love it. In a lot of ways, I feel ashamed of rural America- yet as always, conflicted, as I understand better than most why these people feel the way they do. A lot of my family are conservatives and hardcore republicans. I don’t reject them for their beliefs- I still love them and have lots of fun with them- what else am I supposed to do? We carry on like normal, as I can’t change their ideology.
Ultimately, I want to make images that many people can relate to on some human element and find meaning and lightness and humor in a time in our lives when things are scary, frustrating and difficult to navigate. It has always been important that the dialogue of my rural identity is presented in my work. My Appalachian identity has given me and the lens it has given me to view the world. As my environment changes, and as I change, then the work changes. Because of the current political climate and living in such a conservative, rural environment, I am thinking a lot about minorities, outsiders and people who are “other” and how close or similar they are to individuals in rural America who are also considered outsiders in many ways by those in geographically “Blue” areas. I’ve been thinking about depicting “fantasy neighbors”- progressive rural individuals who still live in the country and have country identities and activities, but are tolerant and liberal. What would those people look like? I have been thinking about masculinity and how that plays a huge part in our socio-political climate and interpreting that to the masculinity of males in the rural and making images that kind of blur gender or sexuality- men wrestling nude, feminine mountain men etc. I made a depiction of a feminist mountain man out of longing for someone with like-minded ideals in my hometown.
I just plan on doing what I have always done as an artist- keep making work and keep investigating what it means to be a young American woman in this socio-political climate. The work that I have been setting out to make is at times subtle in commenting on American stereotypes and our political climate and at other turns, very subtle. I think as artists, our work should always be evolving in some way, so in most aspects, this is just part of the job.
4. How is life in rual Pensylvania? Do you see in your vicinity social misery like unemployment, drug abuse etc
Life in rural Pennsylvania, like many dying industrial and rural towns across America is very harsh and often grim. The county which I live in and grew up in, Clearfield County, is the fourth poorest county in all of Pennsylvania. I think rural America suffers in general from the same cyclical forces over and over. Economically impoverished areas provide very little room for upward mobility and few prospects for sustaining a family or even a meager life. As a result, young professionals who could contribute leave the area and people have no reason to relocate to an economically impoverished area in decline. Businesses cannot sustain themselves as their patrons do not have expendable income or livable wages. As a result, there is a general sense of hopelessness and depression which connects to a horrific and deepening heroin and drug epidemic. Even with all of this, rural Americans resist change and have a difficult time embracing it, resisting it at every turn. Rural America, like Clearfield Pennsylvania, suffers from poor education, lack of leadership, corruption, the lack of state and federal funding coupled with the psychology that America’s leaders have forgotten about them creates engrained depression over time. It is horrifically sad to see a once vibrant small town completely decay with no chance for rejuvenation and in an economic free fall; I deeply love my home and rural America as it gave me an idyllic upbringing. Growing up in the country gave me my identity and I have a great deal of pride for where and how I grew up, but is in such economic degeneration and unsustainability that it will certainly never recover. The worst part is that Clearfield Pennsylvania is just one small town across America that experiences such hardship and I believe that it will continue in decline. I’m not sure what the answer is and it really breaks my heart as I understand and know the rural, but don’t know how to help it claw it’s way out.
5. Where does the vitality, the self affirmative and defiant expression of your painted characters stem from: observation or imagination?
Some of the people I paint are almost straightforward depictions of people I know from town- local characters, inspired by family members, people I come across in real life, peppered with exaggerations. Some portraits are more naturalistic. Other characters take their cues from archetypes that I grew up watching and reading which really inspired me, like Green Acres, Hee Haw and others in the “rural revolution” in American television in the 50’s and 60’s and the comic books I grew up reading, especially Mad Magazine. A lot of the characters are formally appropriated from old-fashioned illustrations that surrounded me growing up- television, books and magazines were what I had at my disposal and I was voracious about studying all of them. A lot of that media dealt with the same archetypes, for instance, a beautiful, helpless and often stupid young maid, a grizzled, independent and strong older woman who maternally takes care of a town or people with tough love. I find myself making my own archetype versions of the mountain man, the witch, the good girl, the bad girl, a farmer, an artist, mostly because I want to embody aspects of those characters- I want to be the mountain man living off the grid. I want to be the mysterious loner woods witch! So it comes back to the work being a self- portrait. These are characters, yet also reminiscent for me of inhabitants of my rural town- they are tough individuals and survivors. They are making the best of hard times and are happy about it, usually as long as they have their like-minded crew or family. Rural people that I know are very loyal and hard working; I think I make characters who take care of business and they are powerful and confident, even in adversary. I like depicting strong characters and especially strong women.
The characters in my work also represent a kind of blissful ignorance. They are covered in acne, wrinkles, and blemishes, and yet they’re totally fine with looking so physically hideous; it’s of no consequence to them. Their confidence and contentment is the ultimate acceptance of self-love. They’re unaware in their bubble, unruly, wild and untamed. They live off the grid, free, unaffected by anyone or anything’s influence, and I’m very attracted to that concept.
Formally, I rely on source material to help me articulate things. I am very interested in and inspired by a classical and timeless pose, and often use Greek figurative sculpture as a starting point. Sometimes something strikes me as I am scrolling or creeping around on Instagram or Facebook. Some friends, acquaintances or strangers might be surprised to know how often I will use an image of them and repurpose it for a work!
6. The background of your paintings is always a beautiful, pristine nature. Why?
I grew up in the country and in the woods and currently live here, so the scenery that I paint is reflective of that. My family came from the deep rural countryside and it is a part of me. It is idyllic and beautiful here. My environment looks exactly like the rural places I paint; often I paint very specific places of my hometown. I often think of the backgrounds of my portraits as a theatrical backdrop that sets the tone of the portrait. I see these environments as a Valhalla or heaven; an escape from society.
Painting nature is important to me because I think it hangs in the liminal, which is a theme in my art work and navigating my life. I find myself situated liminally between the romanticism of the urban and the romanticism of the rural. I want my work to enact this dialectic between a defense and a critique of rural living, and everything that I make comes out of the bittersweet discomfort I feel as I navigate between these two zones. Nature can be stunningly beautiful and serene, but also sublime- complex, powerful and dangerous, often beyond human’s comprehension. It is unpredictable, impartial and the ultimate ruler and I think it is this primitiveness that is very interesting to me.
A lot of sportsmen have their own hunting camps that are a place where people retreat to and similarly, Hunting camp is often the first place that teenagers go to party. Camp is where you go to get drunk, have sex, shoot guns, smoke, fight and generally get rowdy deep in the woods. It’s a meeting place, a spot where you can retreat to relax or experience camaraderie or do whatever you want. In early American literature and folklore, the woods are symbolic as a place outside of society, ungoverned by social rules, standards and prying eyes. Often the characters retreat to the woods to do their bad behaviors or secret rituals far outside of city limits, and that rings true in my experience. The woods serve as this theatrical setting for most of my portraits where that type of mysticism and behavior is implied.