Transgender and gender-nonconforming figures rarely pop from the page quite like they do in artist Drew Riley's new collection Gender Portraits.
Painted with splashes of bright color, full of dynamic movement or charged silence, and set against whimsical or brooding backdrops, Riley's portraits are nothing short of arresting. They pull the viewer in for a closer look — which is exactly the response Riley was aiming for, she tells The Advocate.
Based in Austin, the 28-year-old gender-fluid artist says the series — which would eventually be backed by a succesful Kickstarter campaign and has now become her life's main work — was initiated by chance.
"The project started in the fall of 2013 out of a necessity to paint something for a contest that would stand out and speak of me as an artist," she recalls. "I decided to paint a self-portrait of myself from a time when I was still figuring out the basics of my gender expression. While I worked on that self-portrait, Adolescence [see on following pages], I became enraptured with the idea of creating a whole series of paintings that would stand alone as works of art, but also tell stories of gender-nonconformists to spread visibility."
After "fate" intervened in the form of a job layoff, Riley says she began raising money to both paint and interview gender-diverse subjects. "It's been the most rewarding work I've ever done," she reflects.
Musing over how much the world has changed in the months since she began, which saw an "explosion in visbility" in 2014 (a phenomenon Time magazine famously referred to as the "transgender tipping point"), Riley marvels at how she can now openly discuss her identity as a nonbinary trans woman, and find many others living their complex identities out loud.
"As visibility and education have grown, so have the messages behind my work. I can now talk about surgeries, politics, nonbinary people and much more," she tells The Advocate with a twinge of awe. "In my mind, my work is as much for the gender-diverse community as it is for the gender-normative community. I'm hoping that in addition to increased visibility to the general public, transgender and other gender-nonconforming people are empowered and validated by my work."
See Riley's portrait series below and visit the project's website for more.
Pictures courtesy of Drew Riley.