No Reason Not To + Bunny Portia
All I do is live and breathe art so why not dedicate a series of interviews featuring other creatives. There is really no reason not to!
My love for art and artists is endless. I say this a lot. I learn a lot by talking with and getting to know other artists. By asking someone about their creative process, what their path has been like, where they find opportunities, I have come to see that we are more similar than we are different. I also see that we are diverse. I see that we are multifaceted. I see that often our art practices are connected to who we are as people. I see that our values and what matters to us most is wrapped up in why we make art and why we call ourselves artists. I also see that artists possess a strong work ethic and that we lead through our independent vision and innovative nature.
Beyond just being curious about other artists, I get a lot out of admiring their work. I am a fangirl. I love to geek out on and over the talents of others. I feel the more that we can offer and share with the world our creativity, our expressions, and our passions, we will reflect who we really are. The more we can do to support the work of others, the more that we can hold hands, lead with our hearts, and feel more connected.
We are rich. We are compassionate. We are strong.
With these interviews I want to bring us together, building larger and stronger creative communities. I want us all to gain by getting to know more artists, learn about who they are, why they practice, and what they may recommend for others as they manage their own career as an artist.
Feel free to send me an email at email@example.com. Share an artist with me that you admire. Tell me if you’ve learned or connected with something new by reading one of my interviews. Or just say hi! I want to get to know you too! I am really excited to start this project, so I want to know what you are thinking! I want to know what you are doing!
You can also share about yourself in comments. Then we can get to know you too!
My first interview in this series is with Bunny Portia, a painter that explores self-portraiture and concepts of youth and beauty in her art. Around her 60th birthday, she started making a series called Momento Mori. So many of us within the Twin Cities art community got hooked on what she was making. We haven’t stopped wanting to see more from her! So, please enjoy getting to know Bunny Portia!
Hi Bunny! Tell me more about you and your art practice? What mediums do you work with?
I’m primarily an oil painter. But I also make encaustics and prints.
I have admired your art for quite a few years now. I remember when I first saw “Love Letter to My Body,” it brought me into reflection about the use and care of my own body, particularly as I was aging; not really thinking ahead or how one thing or the other could impact my future self. I think some of that is related to neglect or body ignorance...and having some hate towards my body. Your art really had me thinking! Now, I am like “EMBRACE YOURSELF,” especially when I am confronted with how my body has been changing as I have gotten older. I will be 40 this year! So this theme “of becoming” is ever present. This piece was part of a larger series, right? Tell us more about it. Where did this work first start?
My Bunny Portia Memento Mori series started around 2012 when I turned 60 and started exploring the themes of aging and traditional ideals of women’s beauty and cultural worth. It was at the start of my transition of identity from middle age to old age, as I was experiencing first-hand, society’s negative perceptions of older women in both subtle and obvious ways.
In 2015 I was invited to participate in a group show at Groveland Gallery of “Love Letters from Artists”. Creating a love letter to my body proved to be a continuation of the therapeutic process of painting about old age from a female point-of-view.
“Love Letter to My Body” was created with images from my life-size Memento Mori paintings. On the left is me as a 19-year-old Playboy Bunny holding hands with 60-year-old me on the right. I use the Playboy Bunny image as a cultural symbol of youth, beauty and female sexuality. It’s a symbol I grew up with. To me it represents the Western idea that “youthful beauty equals female worth”.
The most gratifying aspect of this piece has been the response from all ages of women (and a few men) who’ve told me they identified with the feelings expressed. Many told me that they have my print hanging on their wall as a reminder to take care of themselves and to be kinder to themselves about body image. It feels good that my art has helped them.
Where has this series taken you as an artist?
My Memento Mori series started as a visual memoir and as a way of working through my anxiety of moving from middle age to old age. I’m still using this series as my therapy in dealing with the realities of old age and mortality.
What’s next for you? Is there a project that you are currently working on?
I have a series of “#MeToo paintings I’ve been working on for several years. I’m almost finished with the first one. Many of those years were spent percolating in my brain. I spend months thinking about ideas for paintings before I commit anything to canvas. Not the most efficient, but it’s my process.
I’m also working on a large scale “Love Letter”. A street artist on Instagram approached me about pasting one on a building someplace like a huge mural. I love the idea but need to find a building and some funding for that to happen. I’m too old to be dodging the police at night so I want to get permission. Although that kind of takes the “street” out of “street art” doesn’t it? If anyone has ideas about how that could happen, please let me know.
I am always curious about how other artists manage their art careers. Being an artist is awesome, but it has its ups and downs, as the case for most jobs. Everyone has their own path, too, but we can usually benefit from hearing other artist stories. So, what’s your favorite part about being an artist?
My favorite part of being an artist is not having to make excuses. I’m a binge painter. It’s my process and I’m fine with that. I’m just now coming out of a year of not producing much.
What’s your least favorite part about being an artist?
The toughest part about being an artist is the vulnerability I feel in face-to-face conversations about my art. When people find out that I worked a college summer job as a Playboy Bunny, I get so many strong reactions: admiration, disgust, curiosity, anger, and worst of all...MEN CHECKING OUT MY CHEST! I’m a 66-year-old introvert grandmother who is enjoying her “invisibility” after years of getting too much of the wrong kind of attention and feeling “watched”. When I see someone “checking me out”, I want to loudly shame them with, “If you’re looking at my boobs, you’ve missed the point. And, BTW, thanks for the creepie hug!” But instead, I do what I’ve always done: pretend I don’t notice. As if not validating what just happened means it didn’t happen or it wasn’t that bad. I suppose it’s more their curiosity than anything, but it’s especially unnerving after years of not having to deal with the male gaze.
When I took the job of Playboy Bunny, I knew what I was signing up for: lots of “the male gaze” in a skimpy costume in exchange for big tips in a non-threatening atmosphere. Now, at an art opening or casual meeting, I feel vulnerable again, reacting in fear to perceived threats of disapproval and/or unwanted, inappropriate attention .
How do you find art opportunities?
Most opportunities I learn about from other artists. Also, Springboard for the Arts has been a great resource. Every month I look at www.callforentries.com for shows to apply to, but don’t enter many. I’m against the “pay to play” business plan that many galleries have resorted to. They may need to do that to keep their doors open, but it feels financially askew if they’re charging $35 or more to enter a show with no guarantee of admittance. That system of showing my work isn’t financially feasible for me.
What art or artist websites do you like to visit often?
I’m completely addicted to looking at art on Instagram. Looking several times a day, almost against my will sometimes. But, hey, it’s work related, right?
Where can we find you online?
All images courtesy of the artist Bunny Portia.
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Artists I Admire is a series of interviews with artists I think highly of.
Artists I Admire
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I try to post interviews 1 or 2 times a month but sometimes there's a longer break, because life can get busy. I am sure you can relate!