Main Menu

Published in Bad Attitude: Lesbian Erotic Fiction, Vol. 10, no. 1, 1997

Working as a Lesbian Visual Artist
By Lorraine Inzalaco

I could tell you that the “formal iconographic and psychobiographical elements in my art coincide.” But I'd much prefer to be honest and to the point and just tell you the truth: “My art connects my heart and my body to the life they are living.” I am so tired of being polite, trying not to offend the patriarchal art system or the homophobic dilettantes. I paint it as I see it and tell it as it is.

As a lesbian painting the subject matter of women loving women for more than 25 years, I feel I haven't any choice but to be honest – I've earned my position and the right to describe my art and its creative sources.

First, I would like to tell you a bit about myself. I am a lesbian-born Sicilian American with years of formal art training in “very good” art schools. “Very good” if you're straight and even better if you're a male, and much better if you're a straight male painting in the abstract style. Unfortunately, I didn't know then as an art student what I know now. What I know now is that it's almost impossible to be a lesbian artist depicting the intimacies between two women and remain within the present educational system.

Throughout history, men have painted “two women together” – Courbet, Renoir, Lautrec, and Picasso (to mention a few) -- but I don't consider this subject matter LESBIANISM. I consider it to be male object-fantasy and even on some level male voyeurism, in spite of the fact that the scene is so beautifully depicted. Also, it was created with the intention and specificity of the male audience, not for the identification and pleasure of the women viewers, as my art is.

So I had a very difficult time as an art student. I would like to go farther back in time, when I didn't have words for these feelings, because I believe it was then that my language began to take shape.

I remember how in kindergarten I would draw as part of the class exercise. The beautiful teacher would suggest we lie on the floor with a very large sheet of drawing paper and crayons. She would start the classical music on an old record player and would repeatedly encourage us to draw what we were feeling. I believe that this rich combination of beautiful music, my innocent and pure love for my teacher, and the permission to express myself visually and colorfully, set the conditions of my studio life for years to come.

The next passion was at the age of 12. I fell madly in love with my teacher. She was 28 years old and straight. I was shy and in love. I expressed my feelings for her by leaving a flower on the windshield of her car from time to time, smiling at her a lot, and being a very attentive student. As my feelings grew, it seemed to me my mode of expression must also grow. I managed somehow to purchase a few tiny tubes of oil paint, two brushes, and a canvas board at a neighborhood art store. I began to paint my feelings for this woman. Every day after school, I would go downstairs into the basement of my noisy Italian home and paint. I touched the source of my creativity – DESIRE. Desire of the spirit, heart, and years later, the body. My feelings, even then, had to be in code, hidden. Yet I had to paint to express my love for her. Passion has also been a fuel for work, but desire is still the deepest source of my creativity and also of my sexuality.

I continued to paint and draw my love and desire for women lovers, and eventually met up with the challenge of art school. There, at the beginning of my schooling I found it necessary to “code” my sexual subject matter; to become closeted about the work even though I was never in the closet to myself. So, I was an “out” dyke, but my work was “in”. It had to be “in” in order for the instructors to critique the work and to place it within the limited realm of art that women are permitted to create. I hated this and it was an enormous struggle for me, but I continued to paint. From time to time, while still a student, I would fall passionately in love with a woman, and the sexual energy would become more blatant on the canvas. I couldn't hide it, nor did I want to, but it would get me in trouble with the professors.

Finally, when I was an MFA student in one of the top graduate art departments in the country (Queens College, New York) one of the older, “distinguished” straight female professors and I fell into lust. Due to circumstances in both our lives, this remained for the most part, a psychosexual affair. I couldn't paint from any source but my desire! My art, body, and heart were in perfect harmony, and I was painting very, very well. For three years, my creativity was at the mercy of this powerful internal connection – I was at the source of my creativity – DESIRE. A place where my body and my heart were connected to the life they were living.

I came out on canvas. I painted “Coming Out,” “Duo,” and “A Kiss”. No more codes, closets, or games for me. The painting, “Coming Out” was directly related to the fact of being a graduate student at Queens College, the thesis committee (all men), placed me on probation for my subject matter! In other words, they asked me to politely leave without a degree from their institution. When I asked what the charge was for dismissal, they replied, “Your painting world is male exclusive.” I became furious. And so, I painted “Coming Out” which was a freeing personal statement. Since then, the main body of my work has depicted intimacy between women, and my goal is to make lesbians and their lives visible.

home | artist | experience | exhibitions | reviews | published | appearances | gallery | products | Contact

© 2000. All Rights Reserved
No images may be downloaded, saved, stored, reproduced or used in
any other format without the express written permission of the artist.
***A line has been deliberately placed through each image to prevent improper use.***