WHAT DO rosy-pink lips and advertisements about masculinity have to do with each other?
Absolutely everything, and Elizabeth Winnel could talk about it for hours.
Winnel’s body of work primarily consists of lips, sometimes posed slightly open, sometimes biting flowers.
While you might assume the lips were of a female model, you’d be wrong—the lips belong to Winnel’s best friend, David, and to her husband, Martin.
Winnel challenges the typical gender assignments we give, both knowingly and unknowingly, and the role certain advertisements play in that work.
We spoke with Winnel last week.
1. How did you get started making art?
I’m one of those weird kids that I always did. We grew up where we had an arts and crafts cupboard in the kitchen, just for crafting. There was always the expectation that if you’re not doing something, you should be making art. I think maybe because my mom is an elementary school teacher, she’s always like, “Let’s keep kids busy.” I can even picture in my head where the section of colored paper is.
It’s funny because when I decided to pursue art as my job, it was like, “Whoa, what?”
2. What interests you artistically?
A lot of my interests in art are the societal pressures. The shoulds. The don’ts. “Don’t look at this, don’t be like that.” In society, whether through advertising or television or film, there are all these things that kind of undermine the uniqueness of everybody’s autonomous experience. “You as an individual are not good enough, so here’s us selling you more shit or reaffirming that you’re not good enough.” We’re all similar and we’re all different, but we just exploit that insecurity we have of being different because we’re scared. We want to belong. Even psychologically, there’s safety in belonging.
We should just keep ourselves. Why should we keep buying into that [insecurity]? Why am I buying into the mindset of I have to look a certain way, changing my face, changing my hair, purchasing this product to make my waist smaller or my ass bigger.
Why am I doing this? It’s that fear of “I’m not good enough, I’m not enough, I should be something more.” And the “more” is just a construct. It’s not real. I look forward to a day where maybe we’re okay with being who and what we are.
3. Do you think we’re close to that?
It’s like the Gillette ad, which I know a lot of people are up in arms about, but also support. I’m sitting on the fence. I get that if people say, “Don’t put politics in my products,” I don’t think that’s true either, because the whole point of ads is to undermine us or appeal to us through politics or emotions or our lifestyle. So, for them to now side with another part of it, which was previously to objectify women, and now you’re having them say the best a man can get is to be a good person? I get the political shift because if they don’t make that jump...I know it’s about selling more razors, but also, if they don’t take a stand, they’re going to be that misogynistic company that said the best a man can get with a girl kissing some dude’s face.
4. How does that politicization of advertising fit into the art you make?
I wanted to flow between preconceived notions of what it is to be female or male. We’re just bodies. Often we see poses like [the open mouth] from the Kardashians or the culture of Instagram, a puckered face on a 20-year-old. Why is that we assign that? Why has that become a thing for women to do? Is sexiness only assigned to women? Is softness only assigned to women?
I think about these things and why is that just within the camp of femininity. It’s not—it’s just things we don’t allow everyone to feel. We like to put people in little boxes.
Something I wonder about a lot is we say that women are assigned identities, but then my question is, are men also? “Boys don’t cry, be a man.” What we do is we’re not only undermining the feminine experience, we’re undermining the male experience as well.
I think we’re all sensual and soft, or have the propensity to be. We can be, but we don’t want it on some people. So this is really kind of a challenge, in that way. If we feel differently about these lips because they have facial hair, which suggests that it’s a male, does that make us less inclined to think they’re soft? If I’m uncomfortable because it needs to be hairless for me to be comfortable, then maybe I’ve got a problem.
5. How does the color pink, particularly in your paintings, relate to softness?
It’s happy and it’s warm. It can be fun. I’ve been playing a lot with the dripping and the flowers. They look fleshy and I like that. I don’t think I’ll change them. I wanted them to be fleshy, I wanted them to reference our body and the different colors our bodies can be. The fingertips are one color, the tip of your nose is different. Necks, lips, knees, palms—everything can be this beautiful different fleshiness. That’s kind of what I’m into.