When I was in middle school my parents blocked VH1 and MTV from our television channels. I would sneak up to my room where we kept one of our older TV's, and figured out how to watch the channels that were blocked from our cable. Pop Up Video, The RuPaul Show, and Real World were my absolute favorites. It was probably the most rebellious thing I had ever done up to that point.
I should mention I was also being teased quite a bit during this time period. I went to a Catholic grade school, and was one of the few girls who chose to wear Dickie uniform pants in the winter instead of skirts - (we lived in Buffalo! The bus stop was cold! I still don't understand why it was such a big deal?!) This combined with the fact that I was one of those scholar athletes who never got into trouble, and cut my hair extremely short in the 4th grade made me a target.
Even back then, I knew then that I would be an artist - but didn't understand in what capacity. What I did know, was that I loved feeling like I had a secret relationship with characters that I was discovering on those forbidden TV shows. Finally, I saw characters reflecting something back at me that I recognized in myself.
I remember distinctly watching a Duran Duran Pop Up video for their song Rio. I was in awe of all the storylines, and the thought that went into creating the band members beautiful technicolored day dreams. Pop Up video allowed the audience to hear the stories behind the artists' vision. They were making their own worlds to live in, the same way I yearned to bring my daydreams to life.
RuPaul also started to captivate me at this time. I was the tallest girl in my class, and there was not a day that went by I didn't hear something negative about it from the other kids. Little did I know how much this beautiful radiant human being would become a beacon of hope for my self-doubt. I didn't know what a drag queen was, but I knew he was beautiful to me.
I did a few studies of David Bowie last summer after he passed. This was a continuation of my magazine cover content series, but also meant to be a healing process. I just started drawing in hopes of finding an answer to why I felt compelled to spend time with his memory. This makes more sense to me now than it did then.
For so many, he was the first artist to become a mainstream gender-bending, pan sexual superstar. "David Bowie may have been the world's first transgender ally - before we had words like 'transgender' and 'ally' in our vocabulary." Like other gems of the 80's/90's (George Michael, Boy George, Madonna), Bowie was one of few to represent anyone who cared to be themselves, regardless of the mainstream opinion. He did so not just publicly, but successfully.
At a time when so many are persecuted for being different, I felt like revisiting his spirit was essential to keep me sane. RuPaul talked about his death on his podcast stating: "He represented so much of my philosophy as an outsider, I felt like the boy who felt earth - and he represented that." Michelle Visage continued, stating so eloquently that: "The thing about Bowie is he was, and will always be a work of art because he did not care what anyone thought about him, what anybody thought about his music. He did what he had to do - but it wasn't so far out that people couldn't hone in on it... People got it. And not only did they get it - it motivated people."
Like so many of my generation - I will think of him first as he played Jareth, the Goblin King in the 1986 cult class Labyrinth. It was a collaboration of 3 particularly profound artists: George Lucas, Jim Henson, and David Bowie. Together, they created a world that represented so many things I was feeling as a child. It was like watching an even more fucked version of Alice in Wonderland, and I was drawn to it. I was just as confused then, as I am now about how the good and evil spirits of the adult world worked. This struggle is a constant thread in my own work, and just about any other work that I adore. I am still trying to comprehend how easily people seem to shape shift, morphing from a sweet innocent childhood play pal into an evil creature. Equally how something or someone perceived to be a monster, is often the sweetest softest heart in the world.
Bryony Gordon says it best when she compares Jareth to her own anxiety monster in Mad Girl. David Bowie may have meant many things to many people, but for me - he will always represent the Goblin King of my own head. The beauty of the battle between good and evil within ourselves, and an icon of finding comfort in my own anxiety and depression.
For the past 3 years, I have been fascinated with magazine covers. The content that makes it to cover, and the intent behind that message.
Terry Richardson's aesthetic had always made me feel uncomfortable. As a huge Lady Gaga fan, I tried to ignore the fact that his images perpetuated the American Apparel type of "sexy" - one that is too close to child porn for its own good. Gaga herself has been a huge advocate for victims of sexual abuse and objectification. I refused to believe that she would collaborate so intimately with an artist that could hurt the group she championed. I realize now, that type of thinking is precisely part of the issue, and I now feel guilt for buying the book that they produced together. How could someone who I admired so much for representing sexual freedom collaborate not only with Terry Richardson, but also R.Kelly - both men known for being accused of preying on women and stealing the very same sexual freedom?
Then in 2014, the allegations from Anna de Gaizo broke - a former model for Richardson released her statement of being pressured unwillingly into sexual acts while on set for a shoot with him. In June of 2014 New York Magazine chose to put Richardson on the cover and ask the question - "is Terry Richardson an artist or Predator?" The article continues to praise Terry for his accomplishments, and painting the picture of the photographer as a victim of the media claiming he was a "vilified" man.
Callie Beusman from Jezebel says it best: "The question here shouldn't be whether Richardson is an artist or a predator. It should be why, when so many women have come forward with allegations, are we still treating this question like it matters?"
You may ask yourself why I would do a study of a mag cover that perpetuates this predator's criminality. The short answer is yes - this is very hypocritical. The long answer is harder to explain. First and foremost, this piece is just in my sketchbook and meant for my own personal collection. I have no plan to sell it, or even suggest it should hang on a wall in an exhibition promoting a man who has made a living preying on young women in the name of fashion. As I was creating this image, I anticipated the dark feelings I had towards what this man represents would come out. Instead it became something that was bright and vibrant in look and feel. This piece made me question my own belief systems, and face ownership of my part of the problem (which was precisely my intent).
This leads us to a bigger question - why the human brain is attached so fondly to things that harm it.... For all the negative reviews of Lena's Dunham's type of feminism, she approaches this question in one of the most skillful ways that I have yet to witness in her season 6 episode of Girls titled "American Bitch." The answer is not this simple, but Emily Nussbaum for the New Yorker isn't wrong when she proposes: "It’s a trap laid by a narcissist for another narcissist. Who among us can say we wouldn’t ever fall for one of those?"