[NSFW] In the Studio with Punk Illustrator and Vagina Afficionado, Heather Benjamin

 
 

by Codi Fant
All artwork courtesy of the artist
 

Bleeding rose beds, naked breasts, and large dripping vaginas. The work of Heather Benjamin exudes a visceral feminine power; her work is explicitly sexual and graphic, though not carelessly so. They are intimate explorations into sexuality, femininity, and societal views of the female body. Benjamin depicts large woman with hairy legs and vulvas and larger than life vaginas, often in states of either masturbation or mutilation. Pleasure and pain drive Benjamin’s work.
 

Benjamin has been a familiar name in the punk scene for many years due to her signature shocking visuals and graphic line work. She began her ascent into the arts community making concert flyers and zines which exhibit the erotic and extreme imagery that has developed into her current body of work. The most prominently used imagery that Benjamin portrays is the vagina; it wouldn't be a Heather Benjamin piece if there wasn't a large and lovely vagina staring at you on the page. “I love them and I love drawing them and rendering them in different ways to try to express emotions through them,” Benjamin explained. “Really big and swollen and full frontal, or small and almost unassuming but still peeking out, whatever. I love drawing them.”
 

And I love seeing them. Vagina’s have always been taboo, even in the art world. Looking at any nude women depicted throughout history, the pubic area is always censored, as if it's an area of wrongness or shame, as opposed to seeing male statues with a penis literally crafted for the world to admire. “It's personal and political. I love and hate my own vagina the same way I love and hate my own body. It feels like a symbol for so many positive, lively, robust aspects of my femininity, as well as for so much confusion and trauma.” she explained, “I feel like it's important for them to have even more visibility. I like drawing them larger than life on my women's bodies, disproportionately large in a way that maybe communicates how all-encompassing and powerful they really are. And I get a huge kick out of people reacting to drawings of big, drippy vaginas.” she continued, “I think our society as a whole has made a lot of progress, especially recently, in the way of conquering taboos about things like that. But it's not like they don't still exist, and it of course makes me livid when I encounter the deeply ingrained ideas in people about how to interact with or think about women's bodies.” She vented, “Like hearing people just say off the cuff, for example, that period blood is "gross". I even hear people who I consider freaky and smart and open-minded say things like that. Fuck that! I'm going to shove a giant bleeding one in your face over and over and portray it feeding seedlings growing into blooming flowers until you get what I'm trying to say.”
 

One of the most interesting forms of Benjamin’s work is her zines. Her zine series, Sad Sex, and her one-shot, Exorcise Book, showcase her artistic aesthetic, personal catharsis, and political flare. Beyond this, many of her pieces delve into queer topics: “When I first started drawing my Sad Sex zines, there were a lot more queer couples I was depicting in my drawings, which I think had to do with the fact that those relationships were more prevalent in my life during that time,” she said. The most compelling aspect of her work is the fact that it is in so many ways personal: “The kinds of relationships I depict are directly related to what's going on in my life just because of the nature of my work and why I make it,” she explained, “which has been helpful in aiding me to grow as a person and to feel like my emotional struggles have the capacity to at least create some amount of productivity and hopefully beauty and resonance, even if they simultaneously cause me anxiety and pain.”
 

Recently Benjamin has been working on a whole new body of work and is gearing up to show it off within the next year. She has been experimenting with large scale work with paint and brush rather than pen as she has been for many years. But don't think this is the end of zines for her. “I can never fully leave the book format behind,” She assured me, “I love self-publishing and photocopying my work too much and figuring out new things to do with my work in that medium.” Benjamin will have a table at the NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 this coming September as well as new pieces for a group show coming up this Fall.
 

Check out some of Heather's work below. For more, check out her site. To purchase original artworks, visit Heather's Big Cartel page.