We are thrilled to share with you the cover for our upcoming Issue 5 featuring the outstanding painting entitled Adolescence by Austin artist Drew Riley:
Preorders for Issue 5 are now open: http://theaustinreview.org/store/issue5.
Please also support Drew and her amazing artwork by visiting http://www.genderportraits.com. Visit the following page to specifically learn more about Adolescence: http://www.genderportraits.com/adolescence.
Drew is one of the most exciting artists working in Austin, and we are lucky not only to feature her work, but also to have had the chance to interview her in conjunction with the announcement of this cover:
The Austin Review: When and how did you become interested in painting?
Drew: Art has been a lifelong passion of mine. I remember watching and drawing along with children's art shows by Mark Kistler when I was around five years old. It's stuck with me my whole life. I graduated from the Gemini School of Visual Arts in 2008, where I learned traditional technique. What I learned there really transformed me as an artist because before that I was largely self-taught save a couple good art teachers in high school. By the time I had graduated, I was already working as a concept artist and freelance illustrator, which is what I did for five years until switching over to fine art.
TAR: How would you describe your artistic style or point of view?
Drew: I use my art as a stage to share stories of people with diverse gendered bodies, identities, and presentations. I want viewers of my work to feel like they have met and gotten to know the people that I paint. As a result, I preserve a lot of realism in my portraits and balance that realism with exaggerated color and strokes to convey personality and emotion. If someone walks away from one of my paintings feeling like they met a real person, then I have successfully given my subject's voice and visibility. When the general public sees my work in that way it provides education, but when gender diverse people have that experience it can provide validation and therapy.
TAR: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists, or artists who have influenced you the most?
Drew: My taste in art is very diverse. I seem to always be falling in love with new styles and artists. My deepest and longest lasting artistic loves lie in the classic impressionists like Degas and Sargent. But as I've been working on the Gender Portraits series, I've found myself having a deeper appreciation for artwork that shares the stories of real people. Photo series that mix in the stories of the subjects like Dese'Rae L. Stage's Live Through This series or Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York have been a huge influence for me. Local Austin artist, Beth Consetta Rubel, has also influenced me greatly. Seeing the work of artists like these drives home how powerful something as simple as telling someone else's story can be if it is done in a raw and vulnerable way.
TAR: If you couldn't paint for a living, what would you be doing?
Drew: I would still be an activist. I would still be sharing stories and fighting for social justice for people that don't fit into societies gender norms. There is a lot of suffering out there, and I am in a privileged position to get to be loud for other people who have to maintain silence for fear of their own safety. Not that it is always safe for me, but being white, economically stable, able bodied, and adept at public speaking gives me a lot of advantages. I also have a large support network to protect me and provide me with safety nets.
Before doing visual art for a living I was an entertainer. I was a costumer, magician, and entertainer. I would probably be using those skills to promote voices if I didn't have painting. Maybe I'd have a gender diverse burlesque troupe or variety show.
TAR: What is it like being an artist in Austin? Has it changed in the last few years?
Drew: Being an artist in Austin can be hard. There are so many artists here, it is easy to get lost in the crowd. The lack of gallery districts, increasing venue prices, and the sheer volume of artists looking for space creates an art scene comprised of mostly independent DIY shows. That makes it difficult for our city to attract art collectors and for artist's prices to be competitive. In a town where studio, apartment, and venue prices are skyrocketing, it gets harder and harder to make a living as an artist in Austin.
On the flip-side, Austin has a wonderfully supportive and interconnected queer scene and trans community. So while the economics surrounding fine art are difficult, I would have had a much harder time creating a project like Gender Portraits in any other city. Plus, making art around marginalized voices means that I often need to create my own shows to celebrate my work because it doesn't always fit into mainstream galleries. The fact that Austin's art scene is mostly comprised of independent shows works very well for me in that respect. I've been able to create my own shows entirely themed around trans, intersex, and gender nonconforming stories and attract crowds by the hundreds. I think that says a lot about Austin and its residents.
TAR: Who are your favorite authors?
Drew: I love the work of Bill Bryson. His writing is captivating and he somehow enchants me with subjects that I would not expect to be interested in. If you ever have a chance to listen to him on audiobook, narrating his own work, do it. I know that may sound like a strange recommendation but his voice is as alluring as his written words are. I would pay to listen to him read a phone book.
Patrick Rothfuss is another of my favorites. I grew up with an obsession for science fiction and fantasy. Escaping into the worlds of Robert Heinlein and Orson Scott Card made my own world more manageable. Rothfuss's The Kingkiller Chronicles gave me the same amount of world immersion and excitement as an adult that I had as a child and teenager, a feat that has grown more difficult with age. I enjoyed having that feeling again. I can't wait for the final installment to come out.
Drew Riley's Bio
Drew Riley is the founder and artist of Gender Portraits, a sponsored nonprofit project of the Austin Creative Alliance. Through vibrant paintings and personal stories, the Gender Portraits series increases visibility and validation to underrepresented trans, intersex, and gender nonconforming people.
Riley graduated with distinction from the Gemini School of Visual arts in 2008 and immediately began a successful career as a concept artist and illustrator. A few years after coming out as a transgender woman, Riley left the commercial art world to create work that advocated for gender diversity. Now, she shows her work and speaks on gender issues in galleries, colleges, festivals, and LGBT community events. Work from the Gender Portraits project has been a finalist for the Hunting Art Prize two years in a row and has received accolades from publications like The Texas Observer, STEAM magazine, Rockstar magazine, and the Advocate. In 2016, Riley expanded her project to host events that showcase other gender diverse artists in order to increase opportunities and encourage creative visibility in the gender diverse community, resulting in the Gender Unbound Art Fest.
This project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.