We sit down and have a chat with trans artist Lily Waite, about how transitioning affected her work, her career and her time as a UAL student.
Tell us a bit about you and what you do
I’m Lily Waite, I’m 21 and I’m a 3rd year BA Painting student at Camberwell, UAL. Mostly painting, mostly ethereal landscapes, mostly in brightly pink. But I’m hoping to move back to portraiture and focus more on queer stuff and trans related issues, that were always present in my pre existing work, just weren’t at the forefront.
Do you think that has anything to do with the fact that you weren’t out as trans until recently?
Yeah, I always referenced it in my work and those who knew about me being trans could see what I was trying to say in my paintings, like there are ones where it’s pink and blue and the blue is fading- go away masculinity, hello felinity sorta thing, but now because I’m out and open I can address it head on as opposed to tiptoeing around it.
Whose work do you admire, both generally and more specifically trans artists?
I love Jen Mann, she does really cool portraits in pastel colours that are really subtle and gorgeous and I want to try stuff like that myself, then there’s Marlo Pasquale who does amazing installations, loads of objects pieced together and distorted portraiture. As for trans artists, I love Catherine Gratham’s work , she’s an art student from LA who does really open and honest self portraits about her transition, it’s just so refreshing to see someone be so candid and honest about it all. Then there’s other trans girls like yourself , Paris Lees, and Hannah Winterbourne.
What themes do you explore in your work and how does your identity as a trans woman influence your practice?
A lot of the paintings I’ve done are quite fantastical, ethereal, mystical; I made work about a place where I was happy. There’s always a horizon in my paintings and it’s always brighter on the horizon. Its funny because people never twigged- its pink, its looking towards the horizon and its always a brighter on the horizon, no one ever got it, but its great to be able to talk about it now that I’m out as trans. I want to look more at self-portraiture now, and I’m working on a new piece; really huge black canvas with my signature over and over again in white. It’s all about assuming a new identity, and the process you have to go through like getting a new name and a new signature, all the little things and how symbolic they can be. So now my work looks a lot at my life as a trans woman.
Do you think being out as a trans woman will affect your career and the way you navigate the art world?
I’m yet to find out, but as we know the art world is ruled by penises and there’s still a huge amount of sexism, that Guerllia Girls piece comes to mind- ‘do you have to be naked’. But then on the other hand I think I’ll find it easier to get press because I’ve got the trans tagline attached to me, because it’s currently still hip and cool to be trans, we’re still interesting because we haven’t gotten to the point where society has accepted us as human beings and not as novelties yet. There’ll come a point where the trans thing won’t have any effect whatsoever, but currently that’s the way it is, and trans artists can capitalise on that.
How have you found UAL as a student and more specifically as a trans student?
They’ve been great, like before I legally changed my name, they allowed me to change my name on my student ID and it’s the little things like that, that make life and trasition a little bit easier. Members of staff like Bethan Williams in the diversity team would always email and check up on me to see if I was okay, which was so sweet and when I was having a really hard time this year my tutor was amazing and really looked out for me, she didn’t have to care, a lot of tutors don’t, but she was actively engaged in my well being.
Hopes for the future?
By being an out and open trans artist, I wanna join the ranks of trans people making it better for other trans people. By being a visible trans artist I want other gender non-conforming artists to know that there’s representation and know that they can get there if they want. I want to do what I can to make the world a little bit of a better place.