Working from images culled from niche online fetish communities, Brittany Shepherd’s painterly lens reframes erotic performances into poetic metaphors. Akin to the motivations that fuel the performances depicted, Shepherd pursues the act of painting as a reflex with love and devotion. Applying the (il)logic of fetishism to depictions of fetish acts, the images sourced and shared digitally are slowed down and rarified through the care and obsession of the painting process.
Left unresolved as to whether there are multiple subjects that share physical characteristics or the same subject on different days, crimsons and magentas rise to meet the surface of pale flushed flesh, decorated with nails and lips painted in rhetorical shades of synthetic reds. In acts of teasing seduction, slippery veils exhibit bodies while concealing identity.
She is filthy, dirty, sticky. She is wet and messy. She plays with materials as if an extension of the body – stretching gum and latex, curling toes around a stiletto heel, or showing off clammy thighs through plastic wrapping. Upon close observation, double meanings and nonsensical details begin to strain the viewer’s comfort; a handgun with a “cocked” trigger rests hazardously between a woman’s heels; raw pink cuts are visible on wrists while disturbingly not the focus in the image of acrylic-nailed hands showing off strands of hair that cling to wet fingers.
Instrumentalizing substances, clothes, props, and prosthetics, fetish objects stand-in to soothe a wish for an imagined whole. The fetishist is confronted by a conscious fiction that confuses fantasy and belief, subject and object, to re-route libidinal paths of desire and close in on satisfaction.
Exposing the double-edge of power play, our subject reveals an interchangeability between humiliation and empowerment. Moving between abject and affective registers, their debasement offers a path to salvation through humility. While playing the role of the adulterated, the defiled, the sub, the theatrical poses contain a permissive wink. As the thresholds for danger heightens the fun, she must grapple with the threat of a game gone too far.
Just as the internet has fractured traditional correlations between privacy and intimacy, Shepherd’s paintings further squander the conflation by reincarnating an image’s life cycle. The works gesture toward the timely sliding of definitions of transgressions, determined by context, as images are increasingly censored within platform capitalism’s interfaces, versus harder to access, though ever as present, depths of the web.
If the erotic fetishes captured in Shepherd’s paintings highlight a perversion of mundane objects, they also infer a mundanity of perversion. One doesn’t have to look far to see how often practices of fetishism traverse erotic relations and penetrate so-called “normative” commercial and cultural conditions to reveal illogical perversions that are always already baked into economies of power to a point of near invisibility.
- Marie Heilich