Trigger: Justin Vivian Bond
I’m Justin Vivian Bond.
The majority of work in this show explores my obsession with Karen Graham who is the Estee Lauder model from the mid-70s to the mid-80s. When I was young I knew I was trans but I wasn’t able to do my own makeup or explore femininity on my own body so I obsessively painted her and when the time came when I was able to free myself and do my own makeup I sort of stopped portraiture. I stopped painting to a pretty large degree until about 6 or 7 years ago when I was in a body of water in Sag Harbor and I was wearing a pair of waders and I remembered a picture of Karen Graham in waders in a later Estee Lauder ad for the middle age woman and I realized I had finally become my own fantasy. And so I started exploring her again from the perspective of a mature person to find out what it was about her that had made me so fascinated in the first place.
Estee Lauder was a small Jewish lady from queens who chose this lissome, southern wasp to be the face of her company because she represented the sort of perfection of whiteness, I think, in the mainstream ideal of what success and wealth could bring you and so that is what she chose as the representation of herself and her brand. And so I thought it was very interesting how as a young trans person I was looking to that person and that ideal myself. And that was held up for a lot of people as the quintessential beauty. And so looking back on it and putting myself into that situation I am now seeing it from a much more complex perspective and it almost an oppressive one.
The reason I created the wallpaper was around the same time I was obsessed with Karen Graham as a teenager I was also obsessed with Billy Baldwin who is a preeminent American decorator of the late 20th century. He was a gay man from Maryland who decorated the homes of the wealthiest and most established people in America, most of them wasps—the Eastmans, the Paileys—people that shaped our culture. Here you have a little Jewish woman creating the quintessential idea of whiteness and you had this little gay man from Maryland creating the environments in which all these people lived. So looking back on it I decided that I would make this wallpaper with her face and my face on it as a kind of homage and exploration of what they had created.