A Conversation With Artist And Esteemed Butch Hero Ria Brodell

by Ellen C. Caldwell

Painter Ria Brodell has gained fame in the way they disrupt and update both the artistic cannon and history itself. In their painted series “Butch Heroes,” Brodell takes the form of traditional Catholic Holy cards depicting saints and martyrs, and instead paints “butch heroes” on a reinterpretation of the cards. Brodell highlights queer heroes from across the world and ages, showcasing and celebrating lesser-known, “butch” (female assigned, but masculine presenting) historical figures.

Brodell’s process is research-based in terms of uncovering these buried histories. Brodell visits archives and libraries, writing textual descriptions of hero and ensuring that these always accompany the images so that this history is also brought to light.

I interviewed Brodell in 2012 before they had started showing the “Butch Heroes” series in gallery or museum spaces and was lucky enough to interview Brodell again now, six years later.

ELLEN CALDWELL: Your “Butch Heroes” series has gained a lot of attention since my last interview with you. Can you describe that process? How did the series pick up and garner more attention?

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Katherina Hetzeldorfer c. 1477 Germany. 2012.

RIA BRODELL: I guess it’s been a slow and steady climb. Shortly after our interview for New American Paintings in 2012, a writer for Autostraddle, a site for “lesbian, bisexual & otherwise inclined ladies (and their friends),” interviewed me. She saw the “Butch Heroes” at Open Studios. That interview brought the series to the general queer community’s attention for the first time. I also received some local grants, and then I think another big push was receiving an Artadia award in 2014,which brought the series some wider art world attention. I also think there is a lot of word of mouth, and social media sharing that helps.

CALDWELL: That’s great that it has been receiving such attention. The Davis Museum at Wellesley College recently acquired fourteen pieces of the collection as well. Could you tell me a little about how that came about?

BRODELL: Yes, that was an incredible lift. I credit an extraordinarily generous man, Louis Wiley Jr. He saw a couple pieces in my framer’s gallery and asked me for a studio visit. He came prepared — he had a binder full of information about my work. He told me basically that he would make it his mission to get the work into institutions that would appreciate it, and he was specifically interested in educational institutions. When I had my show at Gallery Kayafas in March of 2017 he and my gallerist reached out to a few places, like the Davis Museum. Lisa Fischman, the director at the Davis, came into the gallery to see the show and was super excited. She picked out what she wanted for the Davis, two of which Louis had purchased and he donated them to their collection.

To read the full interview with Ria Brodell, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/interview-with-ria-brodell/

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RIOT MATERIAL is LA’s premier literary-cultural magazine with an eye on art, word, and forward-aiming thought. Check out our gallery on IG: @ riotmaterial.

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