A woman waves a lit cigarette in her hand as her nipples protrude just above the bath water. Two cigarette butts are thrown at the base of the bathtub. A nearly empty bottle of red wine and a bottle turned into a vase with two red tulips, one suspended in the air as if it had just been decapitated, rest on the edges of the tank. The woman looks shamelessly directly at the viewer. His bath time is an escape from the daily grind and his habits are not for you to judge.
At Danielle Orchard Two bathers (2021) draws on the vibrant colors and fierce brushstrokes of Fauvism to gain a contemporary feminist perspective on how women relate to each other and how they interact with art history. It makes sense that queer indie-folk-pop-rock singer and songwriter Elizabeth Wyld, originally from Virginia, found inspiration in the visual narratives of the Indiana-born, Brooklyn-based artist when creating his new EP in 8 tracks, tricky creatureswhich will be released Friday on all platforms.
“When I first saw Danielle Orchard’s work last summer at Philips, I was completely mesmerized. Her work is feminine and vaguely Sapphic. Most of the subjects in the play stare boldly at the viewer,” Wyld recalls. “I chose this specific track because I’ve written most of the songs in my bathtub. At least the bathtub is a starting point. I’m a very sensitive person and find that a lot of the experience to live in New York is too stimulating and overwhelming, but in the bathroom I find the calm necessary for creation.
The deep and profound coexistence of music and visual art informs the way we listen and see, guiding our emotions through sound and imagery as we imagine how each is imbued with the other. Music permeated every facet of the work of Wassily Kandinsky, who was among the few to suffer from synesthesia, a neurological condition in which one of the five senses becomes crossed with another. Even without this heightened awareness, we understand how Wyld’s music collaborates with visual art.
Wyld’s work has evolved rapidly since his debut album quiet year, dedicated to the year she endured silenced by vocal paralysis. Borrowing from his musical theater training, tricky creatures erupts with passion, featuring an array of sensational female characters.
love comes with a knife invites us into the primal psychopathic mind of Villanelle (AKA Oksana Anatolyevna Astankova), an assassin from BBC America’s spy thriller Kill Eve.
Wyld was immediately inspired by the women depicted in the transgressive black and white photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe.
“When I started writing these songs, I noticed the theme that all of these women shared. There was a kind of tension, a connected feeling,” Wyld explained. “I think any kind of romantic relationship we leaves somewhat tied in. We lose a part of ourselves, we become restricted in certain areas.
Wyld was inspired by Mapplethorpe Lisa Lyons (the first female bodybuilding world champion) and Frank Diaz (a famous figure in the gay disco scene of the 1970s). “I think they go well together and they both feel tight with their muscles flexed,” she said. “I tried to pay homage to these poses in my promotional shoots for the album.”
A visit to Surrealism beyond borders exhibition at London’s Tate Modern last spring found its way into the magical space between reverie and realism in Wyld’s evocative songwriting that investigates her evolving gender identity and the overcoming of roles and socially prescribed representations.
Commissioned for the June 1965 cover of a prestigious modern art publicationUntitled (Woman’s face covered with a rose) by René Magritte evokes ambiguity and depicts the bust of a woman whose face is obscured by the artist’s recurring rose motif.
“As I’ve tried to develop a sense of myself over the past two years, I feel like what I present outwardly is a highly conditioned, highly styled version of a ‘woman.’ does that mean? The binary is wired into me and I’m trying to deprogram it,” Wyld said. “I find myself in this subject. The viewer can’t see his mouth or hear him or grasp the words coming out of his mouth, but he can admire her beauty, the soft curl of her hair, her smooth skin. The red curtain reminds me of the proscenium curtain you find in a theater which reminds me that many of us cisgender women play a character when we introduce ourselves to the world.
Oscillating between dream world and reality has become a collective coping mechanism during the pandemic, as surrealist art has experienced a resurgence. Wyld embraced Tomasz Kowalski’s “introspective and dreamy” quality Untitled (2018) which also alludes to gender fluidity. There is a sense of numbers as multitudes of a character.
“A lot of these songs were written on sleepless nights during the pandemic lockdown; evenings where I lamented that the shows and opportunities were gone for the foreseeable future. It’s funny because my partner’s job wasn’t affected at all but the landscape of my world has changed so much. It made me look inside, wonder what I was without my art, without an audience,” Wyld recalls. “Now that we’ve passed this difficult time, I find myself hearing this loneliness in my songs like How am I still holding on.
We land softly from a dreamlike state on a disconcerting red velvet dining table flanked by fuschia curtains trailing across the floor. We imagine the women of tricky creatures gathering in the theatrical scene depicted in Will Colenso Creatures of habit.
“I think his work is very special. His artist biography calls his work a “very personal invitation for people to linger in an otherwise transient state where questions are deliberately left unanswered,” Wyld said.
Visual activist and photographer Zanele Muholi documents black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people across South Africa. Muholi turns the camera on himself in the Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail Black Lioness) series. Wyld’s songs experiment with different personas and archetypes, as do Muholi’s self-portraits, which reference specific events in South Africa’s political history.
“In a different way, that’s what I tried to do with tricky creatures. Get out of me and write, sing and act from the perspective of different people and characters,” Wyld revealed. “In my body of work tricky creaturesthese characters are limited to a very similar archetype, but I’m trying to develop this idea in the future, as Muholi did.
Cindy Sherman is an unparalleled chameleon, performing for her camera as myriad characters to subvert and contextualize constructions of identity, sexuality and femininity. Sherman spent three years posing for a suite of 70 black-and-white photographs playing with the conventions of 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art house films.
“While she sometimes portrayed glamorous characters, Sherman was always more interested in the grotesque,” Wyld noted. “The songs of tricky creatures also explore more “grotesque” characters who all share a common line of obsession. Sherman draws attention to the artificiality of life, as well as the way tricky creatures peels back the layers of stereotypical female characters, exploring more complex experiences of reality.
tricky creatures focuses on women as victims, “often victims of controlling and obsessive relationships,” Wyld said. She found a source of empowerment to counter this trend in the highly symbolic works of internationally acclaimed watercolor and ink artist Ole Aakjær, based in Copenhagen, who celebrates the complexity of women to illustrate her own psyche.
While the title alludes to fragility, the character of Aakjær broken porcelain (2022) expresses feminine courage.
“I wanted to get rid of any victim mentality that I found in myself while writing the album and take back control of my own narrative and my own destiny,” Wyld said. “For me, this piece by Ole Aakjaer does just that. It’s about triumph, femininity and strength in gentleness.
Listen for yourself. Come hear Wyld cross genres and moods at tricky creatures album release party at Rockwood Music Hall on New York’s Lower East Side this Friday.