Sinead O’Connor was the first transgressive artist I fell hard for during that time of transition my sophomore year from Christian, mainstream, good girl to a goth-punk who opened her mind:heart to what the world had to offer beyond family and religion. She reflected the rage and pain I felt in my center but was unable to express in my mother’s home. She tore up the photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live just after I left a church where a pastor I adored for years was revealed to be extorting money and having sexual relationships with parishioners, including one of the girls in our youth group.
When my eyes opened to the existence of alternative worlds, I immediately began seeking out other transgressors who might show me more pieces of my weird and dark self. My favorite artists are those that transgress both art form and content in extreme ways. They defy what is believed to be safe and normal. Salvador Dali and surrealism. Joel Peter Witkin and documenting the strangeness of life and death. Diane Arbus photographing “freaks.” Annie Sprinkle and showing people her cervix. Laurie Anderson’s unique blend of music and spoken word performance. David Cronenberg and Crash. David Lynch’ s strange worlds. David Bowie embodying alien archetypes. John Cameron Mitchell and Hedwig and Shortbus. Saul Williams’ fierce word art. Amanda Palmer breaking the rules regarding the relationship between artist and patron. Steven Shainberg and the films The Secretary and Lars and the Real Girl. Robert Maplethorpe and kinky photos. Octavia Butler and her sci-fi featuring strong Black women and an empath.
I didn’t know in the beginning that I am a transgressive artist, too. I just knew that these people spoke to my soul through their art in a way that no one else did. They moved me, deeply. They made me feel seen. They pushed the edges of what I believed to be possible, pushing me to grow. They held/hold up mirrors to the doom and glory of this being human.
Image: I made this collage when Sinead O’Connor was one of my favorite musicians. The pieces around her are from an Oprah article about dark things women suffer from like abandonment, perfectionism, etc.