By Katherine Sweetman
The First time I saw this artists’ work, I bought it on the spot. It’s the kind of thing that lures you in with its provocative, seductive, shinny surface layer and then kicks you in the balls — or the metaphorical balls (in my case). I watched people observe the work, and I paid special attention to men as they first encountered it; strolling casually by the art, eyes rolling along the walls, and then STOP. Eyes and feet frozen. A guilty little smile crossing their lips as they approach the painting. They read the text. BAM gut shot. The pleasure instantly wiped from their face as they continue to walk. Sometimes they turn again to give the work a parting glance as they quicken their pace. A look of fear in their eyes.
The people that could take the work and weren’t confused-by it or afraid-of it, gathered at a table with the artist and talked all night.
It seems to me that since that night Surly Gurly has been showing her work as much as possible. I’ve seen her at Ray at Night, I’ve seen her at Zeph Alt, I’ve heard of her shows in LA. She sells t-shirts, prints, jewelery, and does body painting. She makes Kinetic Sculptures with collaborator Bret Barrett and creates Christmas tree ornaments, sculptures and piñatas. The girl is serious about her work.
I caught up with the artist one night at her home to do an interview and take some photos of her work, her studio, and of course her.
Interview with artist Surly Gurly (S.G), interviewer Katherine Sweetman (K.S.):
K.S. I’ve seen your work in public and it attracts different types of people, but one type that seems very interested is women with a certain “look”. I’ll describe them as kind of “punk rock chicks”. This type seems drawn to you work, what kinds of comments do they make? Why do you think they are interested?
S.G. I think the “punk rock chicks” relate to the rebellious nature of my art and appreciate the brazen, “in-your-face” delivery. It’s not so much about that punk rock look as it is about that attitude. An elderly woman told me she liked my art because it’s “unabashed, unashamed and on the edge”.
One punk rock girl who recently bought my “Love Me So I Can Love Myself” T-shirt wrote to me about how it starts serious conversations on love, sexuality and acceptance whenever she wears it. I found it incredibly exciting to hear that my art was being used as a platform for discussion.
K.S. What are some adverse reactions from the public to your work? — Does anyone say negative things? Or do you overhear anything funny?
S.G. I get such a wide range of responses. People are shocked, thrilled, amused, distraught, disturbed… It’s really amazing. I get more positive responses than negative ones, but I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad reaction. The whole goal of art is to evoke emotion and stimulate contemplation. Even if someone absolutely hates what I’m doing, they were still forced to think about it long enough to hate it. That being said, one response that really disturbs me is the “creepy guy” response. One guy literally asked me if he could cut a hole in the mouth of my painting and take it into the bathroom. Really, what the fuck? I don’t care if he’s into sex with inanimate objects, but he could at least buy the piece first, maybe take it out to dinner, get to know it a little better… don’t just rape my art in a public bathroom!A lot of my work, despite the serious subject matter, is infused with a sense of humor. I don’t take myself too seriously, so I have a lot of fun at shows joking and talking with people about the art. I’ve had lots of funny remarks especially about “Masturbation Celebration”, “Crush the Serpent” and the collaboration piece “Titty Twister”.
K.S. When did you start to explore sex and the female form in your work?
S.G. The female body has been a theme in my art since I was a small child. I was constantly bombarded with Barbie Dolls, Disney Princesses and even art museums filled with nude women. It seemed only natural to want to portray women even at a young age. The exploration of sexual themes is a more recent development. It probably started around the time I moved back to the US from Europe in 2009.
K.S. Do you have any inclination as to why you started to do this?
S.G. My whole life has been leading up to this: as a child I was sheltered from sex, as a teen I was sexually repressed, and as an adult I was completely dissatisfied. Now I’m taking the concepts of sex and sexuality into my own hands. I finally have the life experience, the vision and the confidence to make intensely bold and provocative statements with art. Confidence is key– it takes balls to paint vaginas!