Interview: Peregrine Honig at Haw Contemporary

JW: Hi Peregrine, it’s great to see you have a new show of works on exhibit now at Haw Contemporary. I love the image you sent me of the work new that you wanted to discuss. It is so delicate and intimate. Can you tell me the impetus behind this group of new paintings and why you chose this work to represent it here?

PH: Thank you so much Jeffrey- it’s nice to be here again. The title of the painting of the young transgender girl is #unicorn and I’ve been working her on and off since 2002. She’s sitting in a crown of roses on tree stump with a dead rabbit at her feet. She has tan lines, very detailed shoes and she’s looking directly at her audience. I was lightening her right breast last November and I touched the canvas as I stepped back- it left a mark between her legs. The insinuation of a penis brought her forward for me. She shifted from being just a nude to revealing a very contemporary body and the narrative of why it was taking me so long to finish her came to light. I requested studio visits with transgender men and women and after a few conversations about hormones and their internal and external effects I modified her hips, hands, and feet. The painting has a thin red line before the frame – I wanted a reference to Time Magazine’s iconic cover of Laverne Cox.

I immediately wanted to protect and define the girl in my painting. The idea of a transgender flag emerged through a convergence of my artistic explorations of sexual territory, and an ongoing interest in protecting and defining early identity. The rainbow flag is inclusive, but I wanted to create something that addressed gender, rather than sexuality.

JW: I read the article on your show on The Kansas City Star  and can see how your exhibition at HAW CONTEMPORARY is a natural extension of your artistic explorations on sexual identity. I get the obvious use of the metaphor “Unicorn” in the gay/transgender community, but I also thought that using a term for a creature that was mythically hunted into extinction was ironic. As our society evolves to become more inclusive of the variety of sexual identities we can use to define ourselves, the popularity of the idea of a transgender identity as separated from the broader culture is weakened. What is it about Transgender Identity that seems to touch such a sensitive nerve in so many cultures?

PH: We surrender to our bodies the moment we are are born, orgasm, die. I am not transgender, so I can only imagine the sensation of abandoning my gender, and redefining myself in the way I want the world to see me. To be transgender is, in every practical sense, exclusive.

Mythologically, unicorns are so exclusive only virgin girls can tame them. I am always trying to stay current on the culture of twelve year old girls and I love how unicorns weave in and out of pop culture- this horned white horse runs the gambit from medieval tapestries to scented stickers. I’ve been following Kate Durbin’s recent work and Peggy Noland’s rebranding of commercial princess-hood has had a heavy influence on how I evaluate feminine pop culture. My studio mate Hadley Johnson has taught me about color and material in ways I will never be able to put to words. It wasn’t until I installed both flags that I realized I had created two enormous abstract unicorns against the gallery wall. The poles are at such an angle the pale nylon looks like two manes.

JW: How was the opening? Did you get any reactions (or interactions with the selfie frames) that made an impression on you?

PH: The show was very well received and three large pieces sold on the first night. Not that sales validate the conceptual worth of the work, but I treated myself to the best paint and perfect canvases and I wanted to gild these images so the framing and material costs were very intense!

The young transgender girl, #unicorn, affected a few transgender men and women who approached me and identified themselves at the opening. It was wonderful to be told I had created something that respectfully portrayed someone in a community I was wanting to honor, not objectify. I am aware a few voices do not represent a larger whole, but I could at least breath after these quick private conversations. The flags and the image of this contemporary young woman took a long time to get to. I want the relationship between these ideas to be cohesive and reflect each other.

I gave myself to this show. I surrendered to ideas and my own power in ways I did not know were possible. I wept in my studio when the paintings were picked up for the gallery. The sales of these pieces will pay off the credit cards I’ve maxed out to afford to make them and give me time to create a new body of work, but every red dot feels a bit like a tiny funeral. I’ve been living with these pieces for a very long time and have grown to know myself through making them.

JW: Thanks Peregrine. We’ll be looking forward to seeing more of your work on in the future.

Following this interview, Peregrine asked for me to include a link to this beautifully considered essay on the Transgender Flags on exhibit at Haw Contemporary.

Portrait of Peregrine Honig, Lauren Thurman-King

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