Rad Women Who Make Rad Art #5: Cristy Road
by Interviews

This week we resume our series Rad Women Who Make Rad Art. The series is a string of interviews with some of the most exciting female visual artists that have connections with music today.

Cristy Road is not scared to draw hair on women's legs. She's not scared to draw gay people making out. And even more, she's not scared to draw utility knives with eyeballs hanging from them. DAMN!

Road has made a name for herself by focusing on issues in the gay community, releasing the autobiographical Indestructible and making bold-as-hell pictures that reference cartoons, classic art, and everything in between. On top of that, she's in the band The Homewreckers and does all their art AND just released her newest book, Spit and Passion!

Click more to read John Gentile's conversation with Road.

What got you interested in the visual arts?
I've been drawing… and preferring to be in bright tacky rooms… since I was a tiny child. I used to spend a lot of time drawing The Muppets and Ren and Stimpy. I've always been working on some kind of illustrated story or pamphlet since I was really little - eventually I got into punk and the accompanying art became really important as well.

How did you improve your technique? Did you go to formal training?
I went to art school and got better at figure drawing, but that’s definitely improved since by mostly being my own worst critic. I graduated in 2004 and can definitely point out a few poorly drawn arms and legs from my work then!

However, to be real, I went because I had the opportunity at the time, and did pretty poorly in a lot of my classes. I hated oil painting and the figure drawing instruction was rad, but the content of our assignments was always difficult for me and I always tried to tie in my real-life work like zines, show posters, protest flyers.

A lot of your work deals with personal issues. Are you ever worried about revealing too much of yourself?
I used to release a lot of zines between the ages of 17 and 21 that had incredibly up-to-date TMI and by the time I was 22 or 23, after the last issue of my zine, Greenzine, I felt exhausted with revealing my present tense, because I was incredibly angry at the state of, well, everything! And nothing really felt safe. I released Indestructible, a book about high school, so that felt good to publicly articulate the foundation of all my work while at the same time discuss things that were really important for me to discuss -- gender, sexuality, self esteem, and bullying in the teen years. But then I kept feeling claustrophobic and eventually finished Bad Habits -- a book about healing from abuse and moving to NYC. That was seriously the most emotionally exhausting and exposing work. So, I felt pretty done with processing the present tense after that.

Opening up in my art about my past and about my values is very necessary for me to feel grounded, as opposed to about my immediate present a la Twitter and Instagram. My last book, Spit and Passion, was all about being a Green Day-obsessed pre-teen in the closet. I mostly just reveal more present-tense feelings in my songwriting lately with my band The Homewreckers. Either way, I've been putting myself out there since I was about 11 and discovered the letters section of every comic and magazine. It's my astrological destiny.

I'm a Gemini, Gemini rising, cancer moon, Gemini Mercury. It basically means that I need to tell you everything all the time and maybe cry about it.

Have you ever gotten any blowback from someone that you included in your work?
Not really. I always ask people for permission to be in my work. Although, I used to be incredibly tactless, so I wouldn't be surprised if some punk got pissed off that I wrote about looking into their eyes while eating vegan biscuits in 2002… When I was 18, I wrote a story about making out with my friend, and I think it embarrassed him, but I also think we talked about it eventually? So yep… Nothing juicy.

A good deal of your work seems to be based in pen and ink and references a "comic" style. Can you talk a little bit about that?
All my favorite art growing up was bold graphic art, like Coop and John Kricfalusi of "Ren and Stimpy." So, I was really motivated to create something that was a hybrid of that and epic painting like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Kathe Kollowitz and really classic illustration.

Although, I really go for the overwhelming epic 80s movie poster vibes, compositionally, I really love maintaining the cartoon aesthetic. It's just what I've always dreamt of creating. Have you ever walked into a head shop full of black-light posters with ultra bold drawings of psychedelic mushrooms and fairies and thought "this is what I need to do for the rest of my life?" Except punk. And not black light. And more Lisa Frank. Cause I have.

How do you see punk rock and the visual arts intersecting?
I think punk music having an accompanying subculture lends to having a multitude of punk arts because punks don't only play music. I think the visual art that has existed throughout punk has really furthered the identity of the music and made it stand out to me in a profound way. I personally loved all the old Bay Area punk art by Patrick Hynes, Janelle Hessig, and Chris Appelgren. All those Grimple album covers were fierce. I also really loved the covers to those MASH IT UP Ska compilations.

As a huge Bay Area punk superfan, I can't even begin to explain the deep feelings of home and warmth that came from merely looking at Aaron Cometbus's art. It still gives me the heebyjeebies in the most humbling and romantic way. It basically allowed me to connect imagery to the sub-genre of punk that I felt seriously drawn to -- political, gruff pop-punk. I think that art has really allowed me to do that for every sub-genre of punk. Like every time I think about the early 2000's, I think of Merrydeth Stern's block prints and all the zines and art that documented the music I was loving at the time.

This piece is amazing. I love how you blended ancient Greek/Roman imagery with the modern world. It seems to me that you had a series that used these elements. Can you tell us a little bit about that concept?
That's actually from my tarot deck that I'm working on! The Greek columns and ambiguous ruins in the modern world are representing the post-apocalyptic vibe that I'm going for in the deck. I wanted to represent the survival and perseverance that gender freaks undergo when the world around them crumbles. So I thought mixing modern lifestyles and clothing and despair with traditional old world tarot iconography would translate everything real well.

I also notice that when your subjects are women, you usually draw them with leg hair, armpit hair, et cetera. Traditionally, artists have not done this when representing women, despite the fact that they quite obviously have hair in those places. Can you talk a little bit about why you usually add those elements into your work?
I just want to portray people as I see them, especially people who are expressing freedom and self-love that is otherwise untraditional. I find body hair and curves and wrinkles and love-handles to be natural and sexy -- and radical, thanks to our shitty system. Their presence on our bodies should be our choice. Sometimes I’ll draw a woman with shaved legs if she prefers a shaved leg and sometimes I’ll draw a woman with hairy legs -- both ways of being can be feminist and attractive and okay. The problem I'm tackling is the ridiculous subjugation of hairy women because they’re unconventional via American beauty. I don't understand how the rules of femininity became so rigid and offensive, and I'm happy to break them.

There is a good deal of conversation about whether it is difficult for women to exist in the music community. Do you think that it is easier, harder or the same to be a woman in the visual arts? Why?
I think it's harder, but then again, if you're skinny and rich and have some conventional asset to the industry's market, then I feel like you can either be unproductive and famous like Taylor Swift, or attempt using your voice to empower young girls and queers, like, say, Beyonce. Although, shit, I'm sure Beyonce has had to deal with some bullshit.

Despite that, in a smaller scale, I don't think women are taken seriously. I think we have to prove our worth in completely unfortunate or tiring ways to be taken seriously. I also think that at least in punk, it’s becoming clear that sexist behavior is such a joke. I don't have any sympathy or understanding for either straight up sexist behavior, like, remember that time Ben Weasel punched a woman and people chose sides as if that was actually justifiable? Or straight up sexist business, like the way that Hellcat Records used to only have one "girl-fronted" band at a time, like if gender is a genre of music.

I can't imagine a DIY punk show with only white guys fronting bands and identifying as a "revolution." I have, however, seen a lot of labels and events exploring music by women and queers and acknowledging the power in our voice, because, fuck, our voices, when expressing anger, are genuinely cast aside by the mainstream. And at the end of the day isn't giving power to silenced demographics what punk is all about?

Since I exist as a musician in punk, I can’t say much for the world outside of that. I’m not dedicated to revolutionizing the music industry that's already based on sexist and classist morals. I'm concerned with maintaining the spirit of punk that made it a haven for angry girls and angry queers and, fuck, angry straight guys who experience some kind of disenfranchisement and maybe have tough as nail mothers and a basic respect for women. You know? I definitely own the complete Mr. T Experience discography, and I love an apolitical pop-punk song as much as the next guy, but, come on! Punk is about expressing a message to the disenfranchised, not really about selling your product. If your message blows up, then more power to you. I feel proud when bands like Against Me! and The Gossip, who I used to see in stank basements for years, now get the recognition they deserve for the work they've done.

Have you ever had to deal with unauthorized usage of your work? If so, what did you do?
Not really! I like for my art to live on in mysterious heresy. It's really amazing and touching to see a drawing I made on some random punk show flyer in a city or country that I don't live in or visit. People usually ask for permission a lot of the time too. I have a disclaimer on my website that encourages folks to use my art as long as they don't bank off of it. I guess if I discover something like that happening ill just write them a really honest letter…… BWAHAHAHA.

Have you found the art world to be competitive, supportive, or both?
I guess I haven't dabbled much in the art world itself! I've found it to be stressful. I'm not much of an artist's artist, although I love illustration and talking about it and doing speaking gigs for artists. I find the same problems in art as I do in music. I may be talented, but my art is still full of vaginas and puking dinosaurs and overturned cop cars and homos making out. I'm tucked in a niche.

I like comics and punk rock, and hell, getting into the comic world is a process on its own with the same limitations set on "feminists." I organically fell into the punk world and the queer literature world. Since I’ve been part of punk my whole life, and as a queer zine publisher, falling into the queer lit world made sense. And fuck, the fraction of queer literature that I'm a part of is totally punk! I tour with Sister Spit who were founded in the 90s as an all-dyke spoken word performance group -- they're all-queer now, and include all kinds of writing. They used to perform all over the Bay Area alongside queer punk bands like Blatz and Gru'ps and were a huge part of the 90s queercore movement. Right now I'm on tour with Race Riot! A tour put on by the People of Color Zine Project featuring readings by zine writers of color. We all happen to be queer and multi-gendered on this tour, so there is a radical feminist undertone to all of our work, although not all of us identify as punk. So I guess to answer your question, the art world seems competitive and I'm not sure what I would be competing for. So, it's nice to stick to these other communities that support the art in making and are standing up for important things.

What do you have in the works?
Well, I’m focusing pretty hardcore on The Homewreckers, my all-queer punk band. We've had so many highs and lows and rearrangements over the last few years, and I feel like the universe is ready for us to calm down. We had a really solid drummer long enough to record an album, though. He left us and is focusing on his other band, Shady Hawkins, who are fuckin' awesome. So, our first full-length is finally getting mixed! Now we’re playing with a new solid guy and things are lookin' fierce! Art-wise, I'm working on a tarot card deck with Michelle Tea, the rad queer author who I mentioned founded Sister Spit. She’s doing the text and I'm doing the paintings -- or whatever they are -- I use paint, markers, white-out, and I draw everything with all sizes of micron ink pens. So, for the first time in my life, I'm not working on an illustrated book or zine! Although that's what usually comes of The Homewreckers liner notes.

Any last comments?
Don't let the mainstream media kill you! Take their money and run when they ask you what your "real name" is.