Dancer in the Dark
The work of iconic New York painter Lisa Yuskavage skewers our fear of otherness and mines the seamy for the sublime.
Lisa Yuskavage isn't afraid of being too much. The New York artist, who has spent the last quarter of a decade painting a universe peopled by feminine subjects whose bombshell physicality – legs splayed, breasts swollen – cloaks the tawdry thrill of finding an old Penthouse tucked under your pillow in the quasi-spiritual glow of a Renaissance fresco, tells me that a queasy response has never put her off.
“Have you ever had someone invite you over for dinner and then start opening cans of food?” she asks me, over the phone from her studio in Brooklyn. “And you're like, ‘Holy shit, you're inviting me for dinner and all you're doing is opening up cans of food? What did I come here for?' When someone is standing in front of one of my paintings, I don't want it to be like that. I want them to feel as if I went all out. Maybe they can't stomach it and prefer canned food but I'd really rather someone have a reaction. It would kill culture if artists made something for everyone. Then you're really reducing yourself to being ordinary.”
Provocative. Epic. Cynical. Yuskavage has attracted a rollcall of adjectives since becoming famous in the mid-'90s (alongside contemporaries such as John Currin and Elizabeth Peyton) with her Bad Babies series, works in which half-naked women with woebegone expressions press through curtains of peepshow red and midnight blue, like deviant escapees from some long-repressed fugue state, but ordinary has never ranked high on that particular list. Whether they're fondling their lovers, examining their bodies or... Subscribe to read this article in full