By Grace Rogers, a Highlighter staff columnist
These women are making amazing, radical art, and seeing their illustrations on my Instagram feed makes my days a little more empowering. If you’re looking for something to break up the influx of spring break pics, look no further.
Polly Norton (@pollynor)
Polly Norton, a 26-year-old illustrator from North London, likes to “draw women and devils for women and devils.” She does so in a startling and grotesque manner, depicting the unsettling inner workings of her characters while remaining erotically satirical. Polly’s characters are often seen chillin’ in the nude, hanging out with a devil, and experimenting with sex. With a clear focus on sexuality, Polly’s illustrations introduce a bolder and more female-driven approach to sex and its relationship to finding one’s radical, feminist self-identity.
On sex as a subject matter for her art: “Kids are learning how to be sexual from an industry that is created almost entirely by men, for male pleasure alone. Through this very warped representation of sex and relationships, young girls are being taught that they are submissive, sexual objects for men to leer over, use and control, and led to believe that their value lies wholly in how sexy they are….But then our society also teaches females that being too sexual is shameful and vulgar. I’m interested in discussing and reacting to these conflicting pressures from a female perspective for a young female audience.” (x)
Laura Callaghan (@lauracallaghanillustration)
Laura Callaghan, an Irish illustrator based in South East London, describes her own style as “colorful and detailed, with a slightly sinister edge.” Her work has been featured in NYLON Magazine, Bon Appétit Magazine, Refinery 29, Urban Outfitters promotions, MTV horoscopes and more. There are almost no men to be found in Laura’s drawings, which feature lots of eye rolls, iPhones and get-togethers over food and self-pampering. There is something extraordinarily moody and indulgent about her characters’ lives that is captivating — you want to know why they’re talking behind that girl’s back and where she got her shirt from. It elicits the sort of feeling I get watching “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” and I can’t say I hate it.
Ambivalently Yours (@ambivalentlyyours)
Under the anonymous name of “Ambivalently Yours,” this artist started a Tumblr blog for “feminist rants, questionable advice and too much pink” while working in and getting frustrated with the fashion industry. Most of her illustrations feature pouty-faced portraits of girls accompanied by feminist messages like “I’m not your stereotype” and “Partners over patriarchy.” But there’s genuine vulnerability, too; other pieces read “Yesterday’s ghosts whispering in my ear” and “Not sad but still a little lost,” nodding to the insecurities that surface on the journey toward self-assuredness. To top it all off, she has created four volumes of her zine, The Tumblr Years, and sells t-shirts, mugs, phone cases and temporary tattoos online.
On how she got started: “I started Ambivalently Yours in 2012, when I was studying feminist art and working in the fashion industry, which seemed like a huge contradiction at the time. At work, I was the feminist killjoy every time I raised a concern about the sexist undertones in our campaigns, and in art school I was the fashion girl who many assumed was duped by the patriarchy just because I liked cute clothes and girly colours. I felt caught somewhere in-between two worlds that I both loved and hated, in other words I felt ambivalent. I eventually decided to embrace my contradictions and Ambivalently Yours became my way of unapologetically exploring my feminist questions from this in-between place.” (x)
Lola Ogbara (@artbyleaux)
Lola Ogbara was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and is now an active artist in St. Louis, Missouri. Her collections span several forms of media, using materials that range from photos, clippings, drawings, plants and more. Lola particularly focuses on women of color and celebrates bodies outside of mainstream media: they are curvier, darker and a whole lot more representative of what we see IRL. A run-down of her collections’ titles — “Body Positive,” “Herbal Womyn,” “Queens,” “Vagina Monologues” — are indicative of her subject matter and can be found on her website. One of her most notable pieces, “Black Girl Bleu,” is a self-care activity book for women of color suffering with depression.
On her art’s mission: “Throughout my paintings and illustrations, I gravitate towards a more literal and abstract functionality of the Black female body. I explore self-identity using my own body as a source of material and am most interested in social observance, social standards, and illusion as it pertains to the body. Struggle, insecurity, fluctuation, classicism and inequality are subliminally captured throughout many of my portraits and juxtapose life’s luxuries and life’s realities.” (x)
Miranda Lorikeet (@mirandalorikeet)
Remember Microsoft Paint, the extremely rudimentary program that was on every computer of your childhood? This artist, Miranda Lorikeet, puts your square-and-triangle houses to shame. Miranda was bored at her desk job one day and started to play around with Paint, rejecting the lofty prices of Photoshop and similar programs. Pretty soon, she found herself spending hours creating artwork, excited by the challenges of having like, three tools to work with. Her artwork features surreal, pastel landscapes sprinkled with naked girls as a “nod to feminine freedom.” Interestingly, Miranda says her nightmares frequently inspire her drawings.
On why she uses Paint: “It was partly a nostalgia thing, but also it was so simple and easy to use. People place a lot of importance on the software you use when you’re making digital art. I like using MS Paint because I want to show people it’s not about the tools you have but how you use them. Anyone with a computer from 1989 up until now would have used MS Paint. There’s something comforting knowing that everyone has access to MS Paint.” (x)