If you don't know the work of Australian artist TextaQueen, lucky you, getting to learn about the portrait artist for the first time. The "felt-tip-marker super-heroine" creates bright, colorful drawings that incorporate cultural imagery into self-portraits and drawings of others. Though they're created with such simple art tools, Texta's portraits show complex layers of identity, shaped by her perspective as a queer, political, Catholic-raised, Australian person of color.
SARAH MIRK: You do a lot of vibrant self-portraits with markers. Can you tell me about how you started making them?
TEXTAQUEEN: My work has been portraiture for a long time, but I haven't drawn myself very much. I've gone through a lot of internal political changes over the last few years as a radicalized person and as someone trying to connect with my cultural heritage and what it means to be disconnected from that. I've done that in my latest series of art. So I draw myself in a self-portrait as Jesus, the sacred heart of Jesus, I was raised very Catholic, and yeah, kind of reclaiming that imagery, but also trying to mediate it with my own spirituality and what spirituality my ancestors might have had before colonialism. And yeah, it's kind of like me—all the series is me reconnecting with heritage through the tropes and things that are associated with Indian-ness, reconnecting with that. So I've done another one with a nose-chain that has charms on it, as if it's a charm bracelet, and all those charms are cultural influences. My cultural influences are just as much being raised in white-centric Australia, so they're all like a dollar sign for capitalism and a wedding cake for monogamy and heterosexuality, and a child's rattle—it's all about binary gender.
What sort of choices do you make when you're drawing yourself for these? Do you feel like you're really partly a superhero, you're partly this punk with a nose ring? Or are these totally imaginary visions of yourself that are just metaphors?
I mean they're both of those things. They are quite fantastical, I'm not really Gandhi returned from the dead as a zombie or anything so, you know.
That's one of the portraits, is you as Gandhi returned from the dead.
Yeah, I mean - that one is kind of about, the idea of leadership and how we idolize cultural leaders into these one-dimensional people when really they're just as flawed, we're all just as flawed individuals, that shouldn't be idolized in that way. It kind of strips people of their humanity. So it's about that because, you know, he was very instrumental in India's independence from the British but he also expressed anti-black racism, and expressed sexual behavior towards young women, and those parts are parts of who he was as well, so that's what that is about. But also because I'm drawing myself as him, it's based on my image it's not just his, it's also about me reflecting on my imperfections and the ways… It's gonna sound like vanity or whatever but it's kind of true that in Australia people look up to me, or have an impression of me before they meet me through my art and my public persona, and that I'm just as messed up as everyone else.
What's it like for you having that public image as an artist? How do you think your image as an artist contrasts or is the same as who you actually are?
It's really weird. I have a lot of social anxiety and people don't expect that because of how my art is. It's very bright and it's [involved] a lot of other people and are hopefully empowering images of them that we collaborated on and that they have a lot of input into how they are presenting and what stories they are telling. I'm actually quite a self-deprecating person and awkward and whatever. So it does kind of contrast with who I am.
You were saying that you used to not be comfortable drawing yourself and now you've started doing more portraits. How did that change happen, when did you get comfortable with drawing yourself?
I mean it's still a challenge to draw myself and look in the mirror. It's really an exercise in self-love and maybe that is to do with feeling more capable of trying to self-love than I ever have so that's probably part of why I feel more comfortable with self-portraiture now.