Easily my most emotional painting to date, I feel like it swallowed me whole. This 36x36 oil on canvas was an emotionally exhausting piece to finish. I feel like I have so much to say about this painting. I don’t really know where to begin. So, I suppose I’ll start at the beginning.
October 7, 2016: the Washington Post releases the Billy Bush tapes of Donald Trump. If you somehow don’t know what I’m talking about or haven’t listened, I highly recommend you do here.
I distinctly remember hearing this for the first time. I was sick to my stomach. An instant nausea and fear hit me. There is something singular about being exposed to this predatorial behavior. But what I remember feeling instantly after that stomach ache, is relief. My first actual thought was “Well, thank God that’s over.” I never in a million years thought that the GOP or the republicans I knew personally could ever overlook that behavior, those words, from a presidential candidate. One by one, they stood and said how inappropriate that was, how they have daughters. I was waiting for them to ask him to step down, to remove himself from the election. I was waiting for the resounding “No. This has gone too far.” After all, senators, representatives, and local officials have crashed and burned for less. Then the rhetoric turned to “it’s just locker room talk”. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. People were excusing this! Do people really believe that this is normal? Boys will be boys? Really?
At the end of the day, all the outrage and disappointment was all talk. His supporters didn’t care. I feel like that was the beginning of this stupor of disbelief that I’ve been living in. Daily, what I see on the news and what people will explain away feels unreal. It seems like a joke. I keep finding myself asking “Is this real?” I think that state of disbelief began on that day in 2016.
Then, they elected him. Did people think this was normal behavior? Is it normal to touch women the way you want without their consent? Do people believe that a man can respect a woman AND talk about her that way? Because you can’t. You can’t objectify someone like that and not believe that they are less than you. You can’t say those things and do those things without believing that she belongs to you, that you are owed her body. For the first time, I was afraid of the men on my neighborhood street. I was afraid to be alone with a man I didn’t know. Fear set in. I found myself jumpy, waiting for the attack or unwanted advance to come. For the first time in my life, I felt like prey. I looked over my shoulder, waiting for someone - who heard this, elected him, and normalized this predatorial, sexual assault behavior – to attack me, to grab me by the pussy, just because he could.
That feeling - feeling helpless, surrounded, and unsure of the world I live in and the people I know - that is what this painting is about.
Typically, I reach a point when painting that I think a work is done. At this point, I “live with it” and see if I think it needs any tinkering. This just means I set it up in my house in a place I will see it regularly. When I was living with “Grab her by the Pus*y” I felt like it was looming. That it was imposing. Once I was sure it was finished, I actually put it somewhere I wouldn’t see it for a while as it dried.
This collection, Voices of Vulnerability: A Chronicle of Casual Misogyny, is all about telling stories. Women who have dared to be vulnerable, to be beautiful, in spite of what they have encountered, It’s taking something dark, something truly ugly, and shining a light on it. It’s showing the beauty of the women who have endured, who have survived. This painting is no different. I think some people will think nothing of this topic. They may say I’m being dramatic. It may seem inconsequential compared to rape. But we cannot deny that the national conservatives endorsing this man, and therefore his behavior, contributes to the culture of rape our society has. If the people who supposedly stand for family values and Christian world views have said this kind of language is not just acceptable, but that it belongs in the highest office of our nation, then what message does that send to men? That thought terrifies me. So, yes, this painting is pretty because honesty and vulnerability are fundamental for authentic beauty. But, it is so much more.
I went back and forth about the name. When planning out this series, I have created a working title that helps me stay on theme. They are usually wordy and far too much for an actual title. But with this one, I was hesitant because I didn’t want to be offensive. I didn’t want to alienate anyone. Art is and should be for all. But, art should also be honest and genuine.
I was flipping through pintrest one day while debating using this profane title, and stumbled upon this quote:
"You’ll never have the comfort of our silence again.”
It struck me deeply.
Sometimes art is intended to make us uncomfortable. I never set out as an artist to make people uncomfortable. I only wanted to make art that was pretty, that people enjoyed looking at. I was uncomfortable making others uncomfortable. But the subtext of the pintrest quote has it right. Silence for the sake of comfort, and forsaking the truth and injustice is wrong. That time is over. For heaven’s sake, the people I’m concerned about offending are the very people who elected the man who said it in the first place! Why should I shy away? I’m daring to give a voice to women who have truly endured some horrible things. If I can’t quote the president, then what right do I have to offer the platform, to be a representative of their voices?
So, right or wrong, offensive or not, I’ve named this painting “Grab her by the Pus*y”.
Follow along on Instagram as Voices of Vulnerability: A Chronicle of Casual Misogyny unfolds. The paintings in Voices of Vulnerability will be released for sale after the completion of all 12 works in the collection.