Tell me about your background. What was your initial route into painting?
As a child I kept sketchbooks and spent a lot of time documenting my day-to-day. Everything I kept went into my journal: things like ticket stubs, polaroids, or keepsakes, which I would pick up from streets or subway cars. This process of recording and keeping my own archive of ephemera has carried itself into my recent practice.
I attended Hampshire College, where I learnt to be self-disciplined and focused in multiple areas and not just stick to one particular subject matter. Painting is intersectional and a touchstone for so many points of discussion, and I really came to discover this through my undergraduate experience.
After college, I started to make zines, I was living in a rural place with a small community of artists. I wanted to reach out to people from places further afield and exchanging zines enabled me to do this.
After my college years, I found that I wanted to write so I tried my hand in combining illustration and prose. I think zines became a focal point for me, because they seemed easily accessible and affordable. Zine making is still a part of my practice, but right now I am focusing on painting.
There is a carnal element to your work, specifically in the way the forms are positioned against each other, is this intentional?
Sometimes the figures seem to be in communication, other times they are at odds with each other. This is intentional although I am not able to see all the actions occurring in the piece until after it is complete. Therefore my own process can be conscious or unconscious with the contextual realisation preceding or proceeding the work itself.
You convey the complexities of gender well. The figures are full-bodied and curvaceous, suggesting femininity, yet their anatomies could belong to either gender and their faces are androgynous. Is there a message to be found in this blurring of genders?
I think there is an overall message that I would like to perpetuate, which is that love goes beyond gender. Obscuring the identities of my subjects is intended to emphasise the fact that it isn't important to know who they are. It speaks to the idea of transgression, the idea of an enigma or unstructured identity. I like making the viewer uncertain of who or what they are looking at but nonetheless creating a sense of compassion and warmth through these obscured figures.
Your art seems to subvert the traditional genre of the nude in photography and painting, what motivated you to do this?
Conceptually, I am tired of seeing the same approaches when subverting the stereotypes of bodily forms that are implanted in our minds as beautiful or sexy. I am curious to see new efforts to explore nudity that aren’t so literal. I like the idea of turning the traditional into something that is vibrant and new.
Which contemporary artists and/or movements are your biggest inspirations?
I am continually inspired by art that is found in the margins. I recently went to the Carol Rama: Antibodies show at the New Museum in New York. I found her aesthetic language akin to my own. The show is the largest presentation of Carol Rama’s work to date. Her drawings simultaneously embody a grotesqueness and delicateness. Also my friend Caroline Schub who has recently published a book of photographs with Discipline press. Caroline’s photographs are often staged self-portraits and still lives, which speak to her experience of living with chronic illness. I love Caroline’s work because there is an intimacy and sacredness to her images. They capture the most peculiar and secret moments. I am drawn most to work that explores the inner workings of a person; there is something that is so alluring about seeing into someone’s mind.
Interview and words by Bex Shorunke and all artwork by Emma Kohlmann