The artist explains why her work is so graphic—but in her eyes, not remotely erotic.
When did you first get explicit—or, since you seem to speak about things more casually—depict a dick in your work?
I was just thinking about this, because I was going through my old shit at my parents’ house in Pittsburgh. I went to undergrad there [at Carnegie Mellon], and that’s when my work began getting super graphic. It's actually calmed down quite a bit. I think it's very interesting to see how it has evolved and why, knowing my shit and my baggage. It started out graphic because it was a way to take back my sexuality. Like a lot of women, I feel like it was used against me from an early age. Initially, my way of taking control of it was to make really loud and aggressive work that almost scared the audience, and to use my sexuality to push people away and protect myself.
Since it’s taken a more graphic turn, how has your work been received?
Men love it—but we know from research that they love looking at other dicks [laughs]. And it’s resonated with a huge portion of women, but they’ve had a harder time with it, especially early on. I think it’s fair to say that dicks don't always have a positive association for a lot of women. A large point of these series was to take back that power of this thing that's often used to intimidate women, and hyper-focus on it from my perspective. You know, I don't think of those paintings as erotic in any way.
Really? I think that would surprise some people.
I don't think of any of my work as erotic. I see it as conceptual. It's about using nudity as a vehicle that I, as a woman, want to take back, but without sexualizing women further. So why wouldn’t I use male nudity to talk about heterosexual female sexuality or power? I feel like that's what's used to oppress us.
Tell me about your Moon Also Rises series, which is recent and a bit less explicit.
It started in 2021, right as the city was opening back up. I wanted to recalibrate and approach painting a little bit more as a meditative practice for myself—basically, stop painting so many dicks [laughs]. I was like, I cannot look at another one, even though I like it conceptually. I was thinking about all the things that I wanted to paint and that I found meditative, like color and nature, and ideas that I'm interested in, like masculinity and representation of male bodies in art. To combine the two, I started thinking about man's relationship to land and how it’s shaped the gendering of nature. I think the feminization of nature—you know, “Mother Nature” and the alignment of the female form with nature—has led to its exploitation. And I think that because men don’t see themselves represented in nature, they feel more entitled to take and abuse it. The climate disaster is looming, and the people up top with the most resources are still mostly cis men who are using those resources to fund space trips instead of focusing on fixing the planet that we’re on.
There’s also a clear reference in the title of your extension of that series: I'd Rather Sink Than Call Brad for Help.
Yes, it's a riff on Roy Lichtenstein’s work Drowning Girl (and I mean, I would have preferred Woman). Here, I'm moving more towards focusing on the element of water as one of the most critical resources threatened by climate change. It’s crucial to our survival, but also harbors the potential for a lot of destruction—floods, drought, etc. This series shows a dissolution of oversized men by means of water, so they're either sinking, evaporating, or melting. I wanted to skew the colors and the compositions further in this series to show the destruction, and humanize the landscape as well. Aligning the male form with nature as opposed to the female, hoping that it also exposes them as vulnerable and under attack. I've noticed that this sort of depiction of a male form is easier for everybody to look at—and If being less graphic helps people have a conversation, I can work with that. I'm happy that I’ve found a vehicle in which I can get the message I'm interested in to reach a few more people.
Do you think your work will continue to head in this direction?
I think I made my point with the phalluses. One of the things I was thinking about is, why aren't men making this introspective work? I feel like a lot of male artists approach art a lot more selfishly and maybe for women, just doing whatever the fuck we want is the ultimate winning. I feel like the social responsibility to always make statements and conceptual work and push things forward—and I do, and I think that's great, and I'm going to keep doing it—but also, I have to enjoy the process. I don't have to give that up for anybody—I can just paint for me. I think that a lot of artists get into art because it's a meditative practice. Doing technical work is meditative, and I think that's a large way that creative people process trauma. Obviously looking at photos of a dick isn’t helping me process anything at this point [laughs]. So yeah I'm curious to see where it goes. I feel like my work right now has helped me just get back to enjoying painting and some technical aspects of it.
It seems like a new stage for you—like when you made a conscious decision to stop depicting female figures.
I feel like women are so often minimized to our bodies, and especially in art. The line between taking back control and representation and further objectification is super thin, and I think a lot of artists are not able to walk it successfully. I’m just sick of seeing a female nude. In the case of the cunnilingus series, 90 percent of the paintings were a male’s face. The 10 percent of a woman’s crotch was just to show that they were going down on a woman—and even then, people were still discussing the women's bodies in those paintings, so I was like, alright, even that's too much. I cannot personally contribute to bringing any more attention to women's bodies and appearances. I think that as long as there’s a woman on the canvas, someone's gonna discuss her appearance and her body, and I'm just not interested in that. I want to saturate the world with images of other things—and specifically men's bodies. Because I want to confront the root of the problem, and I don't think I could do that with the female nude, you know?
How much do you think about gender outside of a binary?
Well, the binary is the problem, right? We have such limited and narrow definitions of masculinity and femininity. I'm mostly talking about cis men right now, but I refer to them as a male form, not necessarily men.
What do you think your work would look like if you didn’t feel the need to tackle gender?
What would my life look like? I feel like so much of my personality has been shaped by these really shitty, difficult experiences that I have no fucking clue what I would be without them. Though, I'm moving further away from them—and I think it’s cool that you can tell through my work that I’ve processed a lot of that stuff.