An Artist’s Erotica
By Esta Pratt-Kielley
MADISON, Wis.—Pepto-Bismol pink painted walls. Large, orange brushstrokes spelling out the phrase “feeling my feelings” scribbled on top. Queer images scattered here and there. And a few curvaceous, alluring paintings of butts.
These are among the first elements you notice walking into Catie Rutledge’s studio.
“I wanted a ‘90s teen girl aesthetic,” Rutledge said, smiling.
But contrary to the clichéd, cute, little girl that our culture normally associates with the color pink, Rutledge’s work is anything but stereotypical. In fact, most would say it is shocking.
Catie Rutledge, 21, is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beyond this endeavor, she is also exploring herself.
Provocative, sexual, erotic: all words that could be used to describe the artwork Rutledge has been creating recently.
“People will ask me all the time, ‘why are you so obsessed with sex? Your work is kind of in-your-face,’” Rutledge said. “I mean yeah, I think sex is interesting. And maybe my work is in-your-face. But I guess that means it’s where it needs to be right now.”
However, Rutledge’s ventures do not necessarily translate to what our society is ready to accept. Rutledge has run in to problems displaying some of her art because of the erotic content. Some places, such as coffee shops, will not put her work on display because of potentially upsetting customers or kids that may come in.
“I think everyone is interested in sex and sexuality, but it’s not something that’s okay to talk about,” Rutledge said.
For Rutledge, art is always on her mind. Last week, she went to the hospital due to an allergic reaction to peanuts. She recalled being upset and crying, but still thinking, “God, I need to take a photo of this right now” for a current art project she is working on.
A huge part of self-introspection and expression for Rutledge is the art of “selfies.”
“Selfies are a way to examine yourself. Sometimes I look really cute and I want record it,” Rutledge said, laughing. “I don’t think there should be any shame in that. You see a window into someone else’s world in how they choose to frame themselves. There’s a kind of feminism in thinking you look cute and taking a picture of it to share with people.”
Feminism is a key part in Rutledge’s work. Expressing women’s bodies and exploring feminine sexuality are themes that she has recently delved into fully and honestly. Nevertheless, vulnerability remains a fear for Rutledge.
“I’m afraid that my art might come off as frivolous or that I’ll just be known as the ‘butt girl’,” Rutledge said. “Which is endearing, but it’s important to realize that you can still shame someone, especially women, by showing a nude picture of them. What does that say about where our culture places women and their expression of sexuality?”
Besides her art, Rutledge seeks to create a voice for women’s issues by working on the sexual assault and prevention campaign through the Associated Students of Madison University Affairs Committee.
Although Rutledge is hard working and passionate, she finds that art is not always a major that is taken seriously as a part of academia. When Rutledge tells people her major, she said most will immediately ask what she is going to do after school to make money.
If the fear of the constantly lingering ‘starving artist’ is not enough, Rutledge said creating art can “take a toll on you personally.”
“If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you end up trying to make yourself work through issues that you’re not ready to work through,” Rutledge explained. “It’s a lot about knowing yourself and being aware of what you’re ready for, which is hard to do.”
Creating art is inhabiting a threshold between yourself and society, your innermost thoughts and what you communicate to the world around you. So then what exactly defines an artist? Rutledge said this identification is not always clear.
“I think telling someone that you are an artist is saying that you can express some part of humanity that can’t be expressed in any other way,” Rutledge said.
Being an artist is not so much of a title as it is a way of life for Rutledge. She aspires to continuously develop and improve her art. Rutledge said, “If I make this my way of life, then I’ll be.”
Art is about the process; a sometimes grueling, but more often times rewarding experiment of introspection, communication and externalization. When Rutledge completes a painting, there is always more to learn and something invigorating to gain.
“The paintings I make are finished projects, but they aren’t answers,” Rutledge reflected. “They’re just more questions.”