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The Surreal and Grotesque Fem-Pop of Kira Leigh 

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Boston's Kira Leigh, or "the gross Kira" as her website puts it, is a visual artist whose compelling and bright works are, at once, universal critiques and deeply personal battles waged in vibrant colors. Leigh is a feminist who fights the patriarchy in an emotive manner by turning inward and depicting her own anxieties and struggles on (mostly) paper with non-traditional implements (markers, nail polish, gel pens, highlighter, and more). Her work challenges the male-dominated status quo by abstractly visualizing the damage it has wrought upon her own psyche. Last week, the San Antonio Current caught up with Leigh to discuss her concerns, her processes and her upcoming solo exhibit at K23 Gallery. Here are some highlights of that chat.

On her stream of consciousness style:
During my career in college I kept a sketchbook of these strange, surreal female figures, complicated and grotesque. Then I was approached by my professor when he saw them and he told me I needed to make that my focus, not these traditional oil portraits I was making. I was hell-bent on realism, but these [drawings] had just sprung out of me. I knew then that this was what I was put on this earth to do; to draw images from the soul, from emotions and feelings, responding to color and shape.

I never intend on anything in my art, it simply comes out that way. I start somewhere and continue on with the piece, using the 'mistakes' to construct what I am feeling or what topic bubbles to the mind at the time. I aim never to revise, never to paint over, and never to think of something as a 'mistake'.

On her use of non-traditional materials:
I see no point in abiding by the rules or social standards concerning, for example, gender and sexuality. So it wouldn't be any different for me to nix the rules in terms of how I create artwork. I think it's important to challenge any and all institutions and find out for yourself if they are worth your time and effort. Art is worth my time, but by going over, under, and through traditional practices I aim to challenge what is static and make it dynamic. I used to paint portraits of serial killers, realistic oil paintings. It was trite. I gave it up for a freer level of creation that relies on the ability to approach 'mistakes' as visual puzzles and work through them, like one works through emotions, issues, and the causality of living in the modern world. I'm trying to start conversations with a Bic office pen and gouache.

On the purpose of art:
To me, art is a way to express when words so often fail us. How do you describe what it feels like to hate living in your skin? The sensation of pure joy? Words can do so much, but a feeling distilled into words calls to mind a moving picture, something that grows and has weight and tone. That's hard to do, to capture a thought like that with words. A feeling has mass, it has volume and it ebbs and flows. It has a color, a shape, a tone, an atmosphere. Movies do more than words can, for me, at least. And the closest thing I have in my skillset to making films and television programs to explore all these ideas are these surreal still-frames of states of mind and concepts that interest me. Art is a moving emotion.

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On the feminist perspective in her art:
I believe that my work challenges the idea that women need to be a certain way to be sexual. Not sexy, sexual. I think that we spend so much time plucking, grooming, obsessing about body image, weight, acne, and so on that we forget we are females and not dolls. I think [my art] sends a very clear message that women can and will be ugly and that's fine and we can own our bodies and all of our flaws. I also make these pieces based on emotional states, and sometimes things like anxiety are not pretty. The work as a whole is an attempt to produce the truth among the lies we are told on a daily basis about how we should feel, react, look, and what we should say. Art is meant to start a dialog.

On the K23 show:
I am showing roughly 42 pieces as of now. The focus is on female issues and feminist principles, ranging from body politics to gender identity. Cunt Culture [the title of the exhibition] was an art collective I started for feminists (albeit to the chagrin of my father) that I've since dissolved but still feel close to. It's a culture of the female identity and body, a culture surrounded by an ugly word I wish to reclaim for myself and anyone else who has heard it used as a slur. I don't care much for playing by the rules or bowing down to the idea that a cunt is a bad thing anymore. When you hear a word enough it tends to lose meaning, or even evolves into something new with vernacular at the helm. This is the culture I have created around female issues and identity as well as mental plagues. I hope it is enjoyed and understood by those who see it.

Cunt Culture: Works by Kira Leigh

Free, 7pm Fri, Nov. 13, K23 Gallery, 702 Fredericksburg, (210) 776-5635


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