September 16, 2012

Spotlight: Emily Deutchman

Read about Emily's innovative take on the founding fathers of America.

The months leading up to an election always have a peculiar buzz to them. People with only a vague interesting politics suddenly become passionate and everyone feels a little bit more opinionated. But artist Emily Deutchman is using the election as an inspiration for her art – by painting boobs on all the president’s faces.

We were first introduced to Emily’s paintings by THE LE SIGH favorite Mannequin Pussy’s Marisa Debeast and were instantly taken by her unique take on portraiture aka putting boobs on people’s faces, such as the cast of ‘Girls’. At this time, she was at the earlier stages of her Presidents With Boob Faces series, which has been making waves on the Internet due to its absurd nature and an elusive Tumblr (there’s little information about Emily on the site).

Emily’s choice of art showcases her talent at painting and drawing but also that she has a sense of humor, which is something that can be rare in an artist. Last month, I had a chance to speak to Emily about her history with art, her inspiration for the series, and her upcoming projects (she’s also working on a graphic novel!). You can also stay updated with Emily’s POTUS project through her Twitter and try to guess where she will put a boob on the future presidents’ faces (she recently posted a James Buchanan with a boob nose).

Emily's work for Mannequin Pussy.

THE LE SIGH: When did you start creating art? Has this been something you've done since you were a child?

Emily Deutchman: I've been interested in art my whole life, growing up I took a lot of after school art classes (including at the Arts Student’s League and the National Academy) and in college, despite not being an art major, I took as many art courses my schedule would allow.

TLS: Where did you go to college?

ED: I went to Skidmore College and I was a philosophy major. When I first started I had romantic ideas of getting my PHD in philosophy and being a professor but then I realized I was not happy studying all the time – in a constant state of existential self reflection  so I decided to start painting more and became a much happier person.

TLS: What mediums have you worked with?

ED: When I was younger I was always into drawing and painted a bit in acrylics. In college I dabbled in printmaking (wood cut reliefs), and oils. I never felt in control when painting with oils, despite taking many classes both in and out of college. Post-college I began using a lot of Gouache (Gouache is somewhere between acrylics and watercolors) because they are compact, I could use them in my room and they aren’t toxic.

For a long time, I wanted to be a fine artist. I had a lot of notions of grandiose, I was going to get my MFA....I did this, it's kind of somewhere between a post-baccalaureate and a residency at Columbia University, last year. It was a six week intensive painting program. I used mostly oils, and found myself in a constant state of frustration and and anxiety. Eventually, I realized I was trying too hard to be what I thought I should be as a painter, and decided that I'm less interested fine art, I'm less interested in the conversation and I'm more interested in doodling and being funny and not trying to make a point. Once I decided to go the way of illustration, I started using watercolors and drawing with pen.

TLS: I can understand that. I feel a very similar way about writing.

ED: Trying to come up with a concept that seemed relevant or important was too much pressure, I just wanted to draw what felt good – what came naturally. I have always been drawn to figurative imagery  I never do still lifes or landscapes. I think this is because it is a sort of therapy: drawing fat, naked ladies is a way of working out my own body images issues.

TLS: You mentioned that you like doing sillier art and you have the series of Presidents with boobs on their faces. What inspired you to do that?

ED: It's kind of a story  I developed a habit where whenever I went anywhere like a restaurant or a bar or a house I would draw a pair of boobs on whatever materials presented themselves to me (napkins, note pads etc.) I happened to be dating this guy at the time, and one day we were at a bar with some friends of mine and I was drawing boobs over and over again and complaining that I couldn't think of anything else to draw, and he said "Well, why don't you draw a portrait of your friend sitting across from you?" I wined that that I wouldn’t do a good job  that it would be inaccurate and probably unflattering, so he suggested, “Well why don't you draw them with boobs instead of their faces?" And that is really how it happened, he was the one that gave me the idea of drawing boob-faces, and I thought it was brilliant  I could draw my boobs, I could draw my people, it'll be funny. So my first ever boob drawing was drawn on a napkin at a bar of my good friends. I started a series of portraits where I would attempt to get at the essence of a friend without using their face. All the drawings were in pen and involved intricate wallpaper patterns that incorporated aspects of my friends’ and their interests. So that's how that started, and once I realized that everybody LOVED them, and everybody- all of my friends, my relatives, my parents' friends, were all asking me to draw them as a boob face I realized that it was really marketable. I figured that no one would be interested in what my friends look like with  boob faces, so I needed to draw famous people with boob faces so I did a lot of thinking about what the most accessible and recognizable imagery would be and being that it was an election year, politicians just made sense. It was perfect  with one idea I instantly had forty-four (maybe forty-five) paintings already decided for me  I didn't have to think. That's a big part of it for me; I care a lot less about the point of what I'm doing and making a statement, and a lot more about the physicality of actually doing it-it's like meditation for me. Sitting in my studio for hours with one focus, one practice, without thought, is the beginning and the end for me. It's the coming up with an idea that's the painstaking part, that's the part I don't like to do. So, to have an idea that I knew people were going to enjoy and to have one idea and know the next forty-four paintings I was going to draw, it was a bit of a breakthrough for me. 

TLS: I think that's a really cool idea   it shows you're an artist but can be funny too. Do you have any future plans with it or any other series you're planning?

ED: I want to definitely get all the presidents done by November, and that’s definitely what I’m focusing on now. After that, I have a lot of ideas of things I could do that I’ve been playing around with, there’s just so many possibilities of various famous people or politicians from around the world or animals or whatever. But I’m kind of going to hold out and see where this takes me because I don’t want to overdue an idea and get sick of it. I am also working a lot with Mannequin Pussy, not just with boob faces, I have a lot of friends that are in bands and I love doing art for them. I love kind of having that community and supporting them. Finally, I also have a graphic novel I’m working on with a writer, so all of that along with my real, full time job, it’s kind of, well  I’m going to have to wait until November to see what direction I’m going to go in.

TLS: How do you stay inspired while you’re working full time?

ED: Honestly I don’t do a good job of it, there have been long periods of time where I haven’t done anything. I actually moved into a new apartment this past April and in the apartment I have a studio so that has helped a lot because I have a drafting table and all of my supplies and everything always there right next to me and that makes a huge difference. I also recently decided that in order to focus on my president’s series, I needed to go on a bit of a social hiatus. So, I stopped going out and deactivated all of my social networking accounts. I grew up in New York, and nearly everyone I know from college moved to New York, and everyone’s in a band and everyone’s an artist so every second of my social life seems to be taken up with supporting my friends and their projects  which is really important  but I needed to come up with a serious excuse to just focus on my stuff and force myself to paint as much as possible.

Written by Emily Thompson