This article is part of Hyperallergic’s Pride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.
The canvases of Cassidy Early, a trans nonbinary painter living and working in Chicago, exude a sense of peacefulness and strength. In “Early After” (2022), the likeness of a short-haired figure looking away is reflected on rows of tiles inspired by those in their mother’s bathroom; the self-portrait is partially obstructed by the stems of two dandelions, flowers often considered garden weeds that nevertheless symbolize consistency and protection for the artist. The composition juxtaposes different views and geometries, embracing perspectival ambiguity. Like many of Early’s paintings, it invites us to simultaneously interrogate and accept the image in front of us, capitalizing on the discoveries that occur in the space of this tension. In the interview below, the artist delves into their experience of grief, Dungeons and Dragons, and how art organizations could better approach the work of individuals who don’t fit into a strict gender binary.
Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?
Cassidy Early: Over the last three years I’ve been making work about grief and grieving through the lens of still life and some embedded self-portraits. One of the first paintings I made after my mom died, “Mom’s Ring” (2021), references a letter from my child self to my present — a letter of soft reassurance that things will be okay.
As my grief has expanded and softened around the edges, it feels like the work is allowed to expand as well. My piece “Trans People are Angels” (2022), a portrait of a headless, angelic ghost version of myself with a thin rainbow hovering in the clouds around me, reaches through my own experiences to touch the community aching for the safety to rest in the warm light of day.
I displayed it on a yellow paper wall installation I’ve put up a few times, a reference to my mom’s final days writing illegible notes and missives to us about her life. Earlier versions of it have appeared in my apartment for a show called My Mother’s Funeral; at Lauren Powell Projects for my show In the Light of Day, and most recently at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago with a traveling group show I’ve been apart of this year called Aesthetics of Loss. I’m sharing updates on these and other projects on my Instagram.
H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?
CE: My work has always been about how and what I’m feeling, so of course that will never be separate from my identity as a trans-masc person. As a practicing artist, I would love if organizations stopped having shows that are framed as “Women+” or “Womyn.” It feels like a wishful thinking sidestep that frequently invites me into a space I purposefully and publicly stepped out of, while simultaneously leaving trans women wondering if it’s TERF territory.
H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?
CE: Dungeons and Dragons has been a huge influence on my work lately. I play with different groups of friends twice a week, one group here in Chicago and one totally virtual that’s kept on since nearly the beginning of the lockdown. As a former Catholic, I find the legends and expanding lore of Dungeons and Dragons to be more exciting than the fantasy of Catholicism or the Greco-Roman Myth. Some artists I’ve been very into lately are Philip Guston, the artist known as Jess, and Bonnard.
H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community at the current moment?
CE: I hope that cis people step up and elect politicians that aren’t trying to kill trans kids. Hard to focus on much else when there’s a mass exodus from states that are endlessly proposing laws to inflict as much harm as possible and continue to ceaselessly indoctrinate kids into a cis-hetero hell. Other than that, to keep taking care of each other.