Unique and all-encompassing Queer Art that refuses to be pigeon-holed
For some, art is a hobby. For others, it's a catalyst for social change. Lizz Andronaco is a senior at MSU who paints visually striking pieces that make viewers question the lines of gender and sexuality, and reflect on their innermost definitions of who they really are. Her paintings, such as 'But You Used to be Such a Pretty Girl' are usually mixed media, with themes that deal with gender and sexual minorities, bringing visibility to these so often marginalized groups.
Nathan Rodriguez: When did you begin making artwork?
Lizz Andronaco: Since before I can remember, actually. I was a starving artist at the age of three. [chuckle] I used to sit in the corner of my room and draw all day. I also used to make these little books…like, I didn’t write words because I didn’t know how to spell or read yet, so I just made a bunch of lines. But I was always very creative. It was always something that was with me throughout my life.
When I got to high school and I was trying to figure out what to do career-wise, I was looking more into medicine, but then I had this art teacher who kept pushing me to go and pursue art, so I did.
NR: So would you say around high school was when you got really serious with it?
LA: Yeah, around my junior year. I thought about going to school for softball maybe, but I wanted something that would last me more than these four years. Art was really the only thing that could get me out of my head.
NR: Alright, now at what point did you decide that queer art was going to be your focus?
LA: Well, my sexuality was something that I very much repressed. I went to Catholic school, and grew up here inNorth Jersey, which isn’t always the most gay friendly place depending on where you go. In college, when I was finally letting myself have these attractions, I started trying to find resources. I searched for things in the media…just trying to learn about it, and there were no really positive images. It was a real search. Especially because gay men are more visible, but with gay women, it’s like you’re either stereotyped as Rosie O’Donnell or fetishized as porn, for men’s pleasure at that.
I’d say that’s where my work started, just to counter those negative stereotypes, and also to help me deal with the stigmas just for myself. It was therapeutic, especially because that happened right around the time I came out.
NR: What would you say is the most, or one of the most, important aspects of your artwork? What makes your artwork important?
LA: I think what’s most important to me is that my artwork has transcended the sort of categorized LGBT, and moved into the all-encompassing Queer. I’m a figure artist, and I paint Queer people, with Queer being anyone who is not conforming to the norm. These can be sex workers, or people who are into S&M, so it’s heterosexual as well. It’s just moving out of the sort-of hierarchical mainstream LGBT.
My artwork focuses on equality in an intersectional way. It says, ‘I’m not equal until everyone else is equal.’
NR: What is it like being in a field which is predominantly dominated by men?
LA: Not only is it dominated by men, but it’s dominated by heteronormativism. It’s like, I’m an artist who happens to be queer, and whose art has queer themes, and yes I happen to be a woman, but don’t pin me into this niche. And I am constantly critiqued. I had a teacher of mine say I don’t have a very ‘gay’ style of painting, and that I had very ‘hetero and masculine’ strokes. I’m like, ‘How does paint have a gender?’ You know? It’s paint!
Things like that make me angry, but it also fires me up. I’m not the type to back down.
I also deal with a lot of straight male painters who say things like ‘I guess if I see two guys holding hands inChelsea, it’s fine,’ or ‘People are dealing with the gay thing already.’ Well, it’s not fine, and gay is not Queer. They always want to put the word ‘gay’ back in there, so I constantly have to educate them. Again, it’s frustrating because I want to talk about these issues, but I don’t want to pin them down either.
NR: Sounds tough…how do you push past all that?
LA: Well luckily I have enough support and enough people thanking me for what I do and what it means to them. That’s so powerful, and it means so much more to me than the people who don’t get it.
NR: What would you say is a dream of yours?
LA: Ultimately what I want to do is help people. My dream job would be to run an art cooperative with Queer youth, especially because of how therapeutic it was for me. I think it can be so cathartic, you know? Even making abstract art and putting colors together. It taps into a part of the brain that doesn’t get accessed in this society.
NR: That’s really great. So, do you have any projects coming up?
LA: Yes I do. I’m working on a lot of more expressive portraits that I really want to delve into. I want to do more gender-queer or gender ambiguity. The one I just made is called 'Bearded Lady,' and it comments on how others see queer people as circus freaks almost. It’s meant to bring awareness to marginalized groups to bring them to the status of the elite. It challenges the sort of white, heteronormative cis-genderes elite. It comments on things like class and other systems of oppression.
NR: I just love that your platform to do this is visual art, because there’s no hiding in that. You’re painting someone, and everyone who sees that painting will see that person; they become visible.
LA: Definitely. And I was inspired by the Self-Evident Truths Campaign. I mean, the problem I have with the No H8 Campaign is it’s so focused on same-sex marriage, and it’s like they are so blown out and put into this conformed look that they lose their identity, and it becomes glamorized. The Self-Evident Truths Campaign is all about, ‘This is who I am; this is what I look like.’ That’s so much of what I needed when I was coming out, because we feel so alone and everyone tries to stereotype what Queer people look like, you know? It’s just…I don’t like when there’s so much policing about gender identity or sexuality, things like biphobia or transphobia or racism. I’m about stripping us down to our cores and being able to be us exactly as we are.
NR: ‘Bearded Lady’ was definitely a fantastic piece of art. Now to close it out, what is kind of the ultimate statement you believe your artwork makes to others?
LA: I think…I want to be the voice for people who feel powerless. I want to make something out there that happens to deal with queer themes, but can be enjoyed as art. I’m always trying to make a statement. I’m always trying to challenge people. Of course there’s a line between being in someone’s face and making them uncomfortable, which sometimes turns people off, and doing things in a way that makes them think about their own actions. It’s the same way I thought about my own privilege with being white and middle class. It’s even about seeing the things I don’t like about myself and working to change that. Hopefully, I can open up that dialogue for others to do that and let everyone know that it’s okay to look at your own flaws. If you’re in denial because you don’t want to admit you’re like ‘that guy,’ you’re just perpetuating the system. My art is the platform to have that dialogue. •