Thursday, June 17, 2021

My Supposedly Cisgender Character Takes an Unexpected Turn

I once learned that good fiction writers have a peculiar relationship with the characters they supposedly create. At some point, the character will take on a life of its own, and the author becomes more of a communication medium for a seemingly autonomous being they are somehow the guardian for, but no more. The characters sometimes do things the author doesn’t expect, and the plot can take turns that even the author is surprised by.

Lately, I have found that the figures in my art are starting to speak to me and have a life of their own, just like might happen with an author. I had an interesting thing happen along these lines.

Usually, when I need to draw a male figure, I take pictures of myself in male drag. First I draw what I see in the photograph, then go on to “masculinize” myself. 

I flatten the chest, broaden the shoulders, narrow the hips, square the jaw, and so on. I was all set to go through this process to create a piece that eventually became The Knave of Swords seen here. I used some binding to flatten my chest under my shirt. Then I realized I needed a new reference photograph of myself without the shirt on in order to understand the position of the shoulders.

That’s when the character took on a life of its own. Then I realized I had a treasure.

©lesliepetersonsapp Untitled Drawing
Breast/chest binding has a very, very long history, and has been done for a number of reasons. The character that emerged and took over my original idea seems to be doing it for the purpose of “passing” as a male. It is as if we are catching them midway through their dressing ritual. At some point during my drawing process, one thing became clear: this person did not want to be transformed completely, to be erased from the story, for me to move onto the safer waters, ignoring their existence. 

So. I saved this drawing as is. I took a photo, printed the photo out and traced it onto a new piece of paper, and continued onto my cisgender male vision from there. But the butch woman remained. 

To learn more, this is a totally fun video about the origin of the word "Butch" and what it means.

©lesliepetersonsapp Circle Mirror Drawing

From this experience, new pieces featuring butch women with binding have emerged.  This one is currently called Circle Mirror, and I plan to develop this into a painting soon.

©lesliepetersonsapp The Hanged Man Drawing
I am currently developing this one into a painting entitled The Hanged Man. 
So far, I am not sure the folks who follow me on social media, where I have posted images of the drawings, have picked up on the gender of the character, or the presence of binding. I seem to be sneaking up on this new path slowly and quietly, perhaps attempting a bit of "passing" myself.

To be clear, I know that as a cisgender female in a heterosexual marriage, I will never fully understand the experiences of a non-binary, or otherwise queer person. But I also feel drawn to respect the identities of my characters, as well as celebrate the myriad orientations and identities of the people in my community and beyond. 
Below, if you click on my youtube link, you can see a slideshow video of the progression of this saga, from the initial photographs to the point at which I traced the drawing to another paper.

Oh, and by the way, Happy Pride Month!

To learn a bit more about gender identity, click here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

A Return to Painting

After doing mostly collage for a few years, I have taken a turn to painting again. Although I love the effect of the collage, painting provides me with agility and fluidity that I have come to miss. When I wish to alter or change a piece, a simple swipe of the brush and it is done.
With paint I am working hard on developing richness and depth, and expand upon the chiaroscuro effects so integral to the famous film noir aesthetic.  

©lesliepetersonsapp The Knave of Swords 30x20
The Knave of Swords started as a drawing, which I transferred onto a dark blue ground and went to work. He emerged fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' skull.⁠
⁠It is a wonderment to me that during this time of increased awareness of the plight of Asian Americans, and during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month that my latest male figure should arrive in the form of a sexy, bad-ass Asian man.⁠

©lesliepetersonsapp Queen of Diamonds 30x20

With this new beauty, I felt inspired to make a painting with a woman playing cards with us, the viewer, and at the same time doling out our fate. A real woman, and a quasi-super-natural element of fate at the same time. The question was, which suit should I make her? Which suit would pack the most amount of symbolic punch?

I solved it by creating an engaging online poll in my social media communities, asking my fans to vote on which suit, hearts or diamonds would best represent my newest femme fatale. The Queen of Hearts got a good showing, The Queen of Diamonds was the undisputed winner. 

To learn more about the unexpectedly complicated decision about which suit to choose, I have written an interesting blogpost about it, entitled When a Card Isn’t Just a Card:  A Lesson in a Lexicon of Racism

If you are interested in witnessing the blow-by-blow, non-stop action of what it takes to create an artpiece, you can follow me on social media: 



Even Twitter

In this short video, you can watch me paint the diamond on this card of Fate!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

When a Card Isn’t Just a Card: A Lesson in a Lexicon of Racism

I am fascinated by playing cards and their symbolism. I recently felt inspired to make a painting with a woman playing cards with us, the viewer, and at the same time doling out our fate. A real woman, and a quasi-super-natural element of fate at the same time.

©lesliepetersonsapp Queen of Diamonds
But which card? Obviously, a Queen. Which suit? Which suit would pack the most amount of symbolic punch?
I started to research the four card suits and any symbolic meanings that might be associated with them. I was especially enjoying The Queen of Spades. In cartomancy she is supposed to represent a woman who is intelligent and strategic. She is also featured in a book by Pushkin and an opera by Tchaikovsky. Sometimes she is called The Black Madonna, Black Maria, or The Black Lady, and is considered a powerful, “unlucky” card. In Hearts and Old Maid, she has the power to end the game. There is a variant of Seven Card Stud Poker where she is featured called “The Bitch”. In Pinochle she and The Jack of Diamonds make a significant hand, boding doom for one’s opponent. I thought she would be the perfect candidate for this femme fatale, this goddess of chaos I was dreaming up. I was even considering making a companion piece called The Jack of Diamonds.

But my curiosity led me on an unexpected journey.

Way back in 1998 I saw the movie Bulworth. In it there is a scene where the main character, played by Warren Beatty, says to an audience full of African Americans “Let’s call a spade a spade” and the crowd erupted with indignation. Ever since then I have passively wondered about that and I thought now was the time to look up the phrase. 

It turns out it has evolved into a racial slur. 

The evolution of the phrase is fascinating. It used to mean “call it like it is”. It comes from an ancient Greek saying "to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough."  Which is in itself a sexual double entendre- get it? Figs? Troughs? (Never mind. It seems like everything back then was a sexual double entendre.) 

In an evolution that I only vaguely understand, the phrase was translated from Greek to Latin, from Latin to English. Note that during this time the term “spade” was still referring to gardens and gardening tools. 

During the Harlem Renaissance it started to be used by Black authors to refer to “Blackness” and also to playing cards. Terms like “Black as the ace of spades” started to be used (possibly an expression of “colorism” in the Black community). But then, like so many things, it got appropriated by white authors and evolved into a derogatory term. 

So, what about my new main character as The Queen of Spades? Well, it gets worse. The term “queen of spades” has evolved (or devolved) even further to refer to white women who fetishize Black men. I don’t mean date or marry or love a Black man, I mean sexually fetishize Black men, often in company with their white male partners. This is dual objectification; of the Black man, and of the white woman. It is a particularly ugly form of racism.

Out of my ignorance, I almost walked face first into a racially charged image. 

Imagine that. Imagine I had not seen Bulworth all those years ago, had not remembered the term, had not decided to search Wikipedia for the phrase, had not done an additional google search specifically about The Queen of Spades. I would have made a piece of art featuring a sexy, very white woman, (white because I was thinking about the white of the playing card and wanting the painting to have echoes of that) and called it The Queen of Spades. What is doubly alarming is that I had been musing about completing that Pinochle hand by painting The Jack of Diamonds, and arbitrarily creating him as a Black man. 

All completely unaware. 

I have gone through my life submerged in whiteness and white culture, to the extent to where there is a racial slur, I might not even know about it or see it for what it is. 

Some people might say that I am being overly precious, too “PC” or too “sensitive”. Furthermore, it might be said that many people don’t know about this particular racial slur, so why would it matter? But one of the values I hold is to be respectful of all people as much as possible. In order to do that, I need to learn about when I might be doing or saying something that is racist, because racism does harm. Period. It is important because even if I don’t intend to be racist, it doesn’t mean I haven’t caused racial harm. 

Not only that, my audience is wide and varied, and I want everyone who interacts with my art to be able to relate to it- or at least not feel disrespected or hurt. 

So, it was a simple matter of rethinking my metaphors. Away from the stormy waters of the suit of spades and toward the equally intriguing subjects of Love and Money. Love with The Queen of Hearts, and money with the heartless Queen of Diamonds. In fact, I turned it to my advantage by creating an engaging online poll in my social media communities, asking my fans to vote on which suit, hearts or diamonds would best represent my newest femme fatale. The Queen of Hearts got a good showing, The Queen of Diamonds was the undisputed winner. 

So, The Queen of Diamonds, she is.

To read a good article about the evolution of these terms, visit Code Switch from NPR

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

National Tell a Story Day

With narrative art such as mine, we are reminded that there is more than one way to tell a story.  Some are told with words, others with sounds, body movement, or images.

My last show was entitled “Story Without a Plot”, which demonstrates how I am driven to tell stories with my art, even if it is implied and not explained with words. 

©lesliepetersonsapp Lace 40x40 Collage, acrylic on panel.
 Our imagination is part of what makes our lives have richness and meaning. The figures in my pictures feel like ghosts performing tableaus and delivering messages from our own subconscious.
©lesliepetersonsapp Anticipate 16x20 Collage on panel

I use the elements of design to support a narrative. Deep focus emphasizes the distance between people, even in a closed room. Dramatic value changes create mood and mystery. Silhouettes and profiles obscure the identity of the characters and create an even larger screen for us to project our stories on.

©lesliepetersonsapp Search 48x40 Collage and Acrylic on panel.
 The spaces I depict feature mirrors, doors, windows, apertures through which we witness dramas unfolding, furthering our engagement with the piece. Populated with femme and homme fatales, they evoke photographs a private detective might take through a window, espying people in some forbidden situation. The mystery of what we see compels us to wonder and reflect.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Everything Old is New Again

©lesliepetersonsapp Ambivalence
My Film Noir series has dark, rich colors, high drama, and often integrates collage for pop and panache.

But those of you who have followed my art for a while know that it wasn’t always that way. 

For many years I did work in a very different style, based on vintage snapshots of ordinary people. This body of work evokes feelings of wistful nostalgia. 

©lesliepetersonsapp You Are the Only One 24x36 Acrylic on panel

They are boldly drawn with thin layers of paint over visible wood grain. It was a popular and satisfying method that worked for me for years before I felt the need to evolve and change. 

©lesliepetersonsapp Reservoir 36x24 Acrylic on panel
Many of these pieces are still available! In this vein, I’ve done an entire reorganization of my website. I have included a page of available artworks in this previous style.
The website is organized into three pages under Portfolio. Each image on each page has a clear indication of where to inquire about the piece, and if you feel so moved, how to buy it.

visit to see all my work, current and otherwise!

Another way to explore this earlier style is to visit previous blogposts, especially the years 2013 and before.  Look at the Archive section on the right side of this page to investigate.

Monday, March 29, 2021

An Artist Who Inspires- Suzanne Valadon

On my social media I often share posts about other artists who inspire me. I have decided to start a blog post series based on the same thing. Here is the first installment.

An Artist Who Inspires- Suzanne Valadon

Suzanne Valadon has what might be the coolest biography anyone could hope for.
She was born named Marie-Clémentine Valadon in Montmartre district of Paris. 

What is Montmartre? The site of the famous Moulin Rouge, and an incubator of art and culture. A partial list of artists who hung out there over the years include Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, van Gogh, Raoul Dufy, Picasso, Les Nabis (Vuillard, Bonnard), Matisse, André Derain, and later Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, and Django Reinhardt.
And yes, she was born there! 

She was very poor, and her father is unknown. She quit school at age 11 and by age 15 was an acrobat at the famous Cirque Fernando. An acrobat!

Paintings of the Cirque by Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas
But very soon after she started, she fell from a Trapeze, injuring her back, and that was the end of that. 

She started modeling for artists, such as Puvis de Chavannes, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec. During this time, she gained the nickname "Suzanne" after the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders (a story where dirty old men spy on a naked young woman). 

Paintings of Suzanne Valadon by Toulouse-Lautrec
Valadon by Renoir- him, being Renoir, may have idealized her just a bit.
 While observing her artist employers, she began to teach herself how to draw, and then paint. Degas, in particular, encouraged her and bought her work. She became an accomplished and respected artist. 

Etude de Chat by Suzanne Valadon

Valadon’s work seems to be mostly post-impressionism, but she really stood out because of the subjects she was willing to handle. 

Most female painters at that time, such as Cassatt and Morisot confined themselves to landscape, still life, and domestic scenes involving children and women. Valadon painted all these subjects, as well...  but she also did nudes.

Reclining Nude by Suzanne Valadon

 Nudes nudes nudes. She did nude women, but did not idealize their bodies.

The Blue Room by Suzanne Valadon
She did self portraits and recorded her aging face.
Self portraits by Suzanne Valadon
 She drew her son as he bathed or slept.

My Son Utrillo by Suzanne Valadon

 And she painted nude men, unheard of at that time, and one of the first and few examples of a man being seen through the “female gaze”.

Casting the Net by Valadon- model is her husband Andre Utter

At 18, Valadon had a son who also became a famous painter, Maurice Utrillo. She married twice, once to a wealthy banker, and then to a man 21 years younger than she, Andre Utter. She died of a stroke in 1938 at age 72.
To top off the world’s coolest biography, she also has a crater on Venus named after her. And an asteroid.
How cool is that?