I’d say my artwork has always been feminist in content. My earlier work used naturalistic painting techniques, and focused on images of women in domestic spaces or on body/beauty expectations. Now the pictures of women have given way to abstract iconography, and the painting has evolved to include embroidery, fabric, and sometimes grows into soft sculpture. It was a big leap for me to start using these things in my work because I was trained as a formal painter, with the history of Modernism looming over everything. It seems crazy to me now, but I was really scared to use the materials I wanted to use (many of which are associated with the feminine) because I was told that sequins and glitter and the like weren’t real art. There’s painting, and then there’s folk art, and then there’s craft—now these divisions seem to be breaking down, but the lines were clearer not so long ago.
I wasn’t really aware of these rules until I studied and lived in New York City. I loved being there, and spent the better part of a decade soaking it all up. But I did feel like an outsider in the art world on many levels, and have empathy for people who feel like the art world is pretentious or hard to understand.
I moved back to Athens, Georgia, five years ago, after my second son was born. Just about the time that I was starting to question the relevancy of the feminist content in my work, Trump was elected. I decided not only was feminist art still valid (especially in the South), but that it was also necessary to take the conversations that I was having in my art out into the world at large. So, I started a podcast.
Peachy Keen has given me license to sit down and have informal chats with other women about art & the South. I was born in Memphis, mostly raised in Georgia, spent two years in Oxford, Mississippi—and never lived outside of the Southeast until I was almost 30. So I can talk Southern. But, it was leaving that made me realize how much of my identity was tied up with this place.
For the podcast, I’m talking with art world insiders (artists, gallery owners, curators) as well as with women who are working outside of the “art world” or who have had trouble breaking into an arts career. I want to have conversations about the things that interest me as a Southern artist: high-low culture divisions, how gender affects our choice of mediums/academic trajectory/career path, and how the South may differ from other parts of the country in the way we (especially women) perceive, create, and define “art.”
In episode one, I spoke with another Athens, Georgia, artist: Tatiana Veneruso. She, along with Laulea Taylor and Carolyn Crist of Pixel & Ink Studios, will be opening Trio Contemporary Art Gallery in June. Their first exhibition will be a Nasty Women exhibition. Since the first Nasty Women exhibition in New York City, there have been over 30 sister shows across the world that have been fundraisers for organizations supporting women. The Nasty Women Athens show (June 30 – August 20, 2017) will benefit the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta.
Here’s an excerpt from our conversation in Peachy Keen: Episode One, where Veneruso explains how she got into curating art shows:
Tatiana Veneruso: The end of 2011 was the Occupy movement. And at the time I was working for this like corporate advertising agency and hating it so much…I hated my boss, I was like the only female executive in this like, just this bag of douchebags…(laughter) It was just really terrible. And it was so, you know, having to go through that during this whole like anti-corporate…
Vivian Liddell: Right, and so you’re like the enemy…
TV: Well I was feeling it. I was feeling it. I was like yeah, these people are horrible…
TV: So, I was definitely feeling the sentiment of that movement, and I thought, well how can I help? You know here I am working, you know, designing stuff for all these big companies like working on these campaigns for big companies that are wanting to do all these creepy data mining things…
TV: …and all this weird stuff… And I was like, how can I help this movement? And so I thought, oh, I’ll do an art show! Because I was still doing art and you know making things and going to art shows, and trying to be involved in the art scene. But I’d never curated a show before, so I didn’t know really how to go about that.
VL: So that’s super interesting to me because it seems like curators are always artists.
VL: Almost always.
VL: And you always wonder what makes them have that leap. And in your case, it’s very, kind of political.
TV: It was. Yeah, at the time it was political and…I really, I enjoyed it. And I felt like… because I’m a more practical person, and I’m an organized person. And you know, that’s kind of the stigma that artists aren’t very organized people,
TV: Even though I know a lot of very organized artists…
VL: Yeah…I’m super organized myself and I’m very against that kind of idea that artists are slackers.
TV: Me too.
VL: …because really you have to work super hard to be an artist and be very self-motivated.
TV: I think so too, and you have to be really be very into self-promotion.
And be a nice person.
TV: You know, you have to be likeable. I’ve dealt with difficult artists and I don’t give them shows again…
VL: Right. Well you could move to New York and survive as a difficult artist…(laughter)
TV: Sure…Yeah, but we’re in the South. You still have to be nice to people!
TV: We don’t like jerks! Well, you can’t be a jerk to someone’s face. You can do it, you know, behind their back…(laughter)
Hear the rest of Peachy Keen Episode One.
Tatiana’s latest project, Feeling Magenta.