Portrait

Getting to know TextaQueen through her first survey show, Between You and Me. By Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Artist TextaQueen

I.         The first time I encounter her work I think: Frida Kahlo meets Emory Douglas meets Egon Schiele. Lavish High Queerdom dressed in frilly suspenders and self-fingering ecstasy. Bare bodies sketched in children’s marker pen. Subjects posing direct to camera. Gaze gloriously unflinching. Non-binary nakedness in exquisite detail, politics curling in at the edges.

 

II.        The second time I encounter her work – mock movie portraits of fierce renegade people of colour in apocalyptic settings – I think: TextaQueen.

 

III.      We meet in person through a mutual friend. She is gentleness flickering with tightly coiled art-channelled anger: Goan history’s heaviness churning in dark eyes. There is storm all about her, a strange air of anticipation, but she stands in the dead-calm centre, where the strong winds and uprooted houses cannot touch her, looking out.

 

IV.      The National Gallery of Victoria has recently acquired some of her work. “I mean, you don’t have to come along… if you don’t want to.” “I’ll be there.” “It will just be donors to the gallery. And a handful of artists.” “It’s okay, I’ll come along.” “It’s a kind of semi-formal thing. I might have to wear two earrings.” Her laugh, like a child caught stashing a Shortbread Cream under their pillow.

We meet at Flinders Street Station. Texta wears tailored black pants and a puffy-shouldered ’80s-style jacket. Gold-beaded earrings: a matching pair. The National Gallery is eerie after hours. We gather in the foyer, joining a handful of other artists. We shift from foot to foot among wealthy, mannered people much more at ease than us.

An upstairs gallery room is elaborately set with round tables. Paintings hang around the walls.

Bunches of red grapes, nuts and baskets of summer fruit form decadent still-life centrepieces. We’re seat-carded, Texta and I, at opposite ends of the table, gallery donors separating us. The heavy gaze of identified impostordom makes me nervous about which fork to use first. “Are you an artist?” “No. I mean, I’m a writer. But I’m not…” “I’m just here with…” “Oh.” Polite banter over delicate ceviche entree. Giant blueberries bloom on the porcelain dessert plate, like purple bruises across skin un-browner than ours.

 

V.        She is superhero extraordinaire, in her skintight tomato-red suit in the National Gallery’s children’s garden, rainbow connect-a-pen Textas embedded into both shoulders. Children gather round, wide-eyed, as she hands out A3 rectangles of acid-free paper. “Would you like to do a drawing?” she asks, eyes laughing, as if we’re strangers. The activity is continuous line: pen never leaves the page, and we’re not allowed to look down. I trace from her eyes, down to the bridge of her nose, to her chin, until I’m lost, and can’t remember where my ink has been. When I look down at my page, I see perfect eyes, surrounded by scribbling. When she looks down at her page, she sees me.

 

VI.      In the most stunning of the photographic series hung on the wall of Blak Dot Gallery, Texta is a deep-sea creature. Jetsam dredged up. Elegant grit. Her sandy brown body is draped in five-billion-year-old kelp couture. She is jewel flotsam, small but statuesque. Her bare feet sink into deserted-beach shallows. She is a high-fashion wild thing. Her wind-sculpted charcoal-black hair is streaked with wiry silver wisps that I see through the photograph, only because I know they’re there.

We’re all really excited about this new direction. It’s amazing work.

The National Gallery representatives look closely at the landscapes: her slim body shielded by reeds; emerging from grass; swallowed by rock.

Later I search the walls next to the photographs, but no holding dots have appeared.

 

VII.     “I just… before you go, I want to ask you about something.” Texta is on the phone, from where she’s working at her new studio. I’m in mine, three suburbs across. “The picture I’m drawing is me, with a monkey on my shoulder, covering my mouth. And there are these ladies – Indian ladies – in the distance. With their heads covered and their backs turned. Like, you can’t see their faces. It’s kind of a comment on not being able to speak the language, and… should I draw? I mean, I’m thinking about drawing Union Jacks in my eyes. Does that make sense? Is that stupid?”

It’s a week after the Blak Dot exhibition opened. She’s back to drawing with Texta pens for her first survey show, Between You and Me, at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, and an upcoming solo show at her commercial gallery in Sydney. “No. That doesn’t sound stupid at all.” “Okay. Okay. Thanks. I’ll see you later on.”

She is gentleness flickering with tightly coiled art-channelled anger: Goan history’s heaviness churning in dark eyes. There is storm all about her, but she stands, always, in the dead-calm centre, where the chaos cannot come close.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 4, 2017 as "Between You and Me". Subscribe here.

Maxine Beneba Clarke
is the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil.