CLÉMENCE CHOUTEAU interviews s burnette

How would you describe your artistic style?

Versace + Arby’s. Tammy Faye Messner + Honey Boo Boo + the Virgin Mary. Key West + Manhattan + the Research Triangle + Hell.

Who / what inspires you to create?

In terms of who, definitely my partner and my family/friends and other writers/artists I admire. But in terms of what, it could be anything. I have vivid dreams/nightmares, and I sometimes use art as a way to try to make sense of them. It feels like putting together a puzzle in a way, but you have to find/make the pieces yourself.

I’m particularly interested in exaggeration and excess, and I’m often inspired by advertisements, disgusting displays of wealth, and/or garbage. Living in a gross city like Boston, I feel like art is always around me, even it if it’s not necessarily intended to be art. An empty Dunkin’ Donuts cup trailing latte dregs as it rolls around on the floor of the 22 bus is more moving/disturbing to me than many of the pieces you have to pay $25 to see at the MFA. It will be here longer than any of us or most of the art we make.

Can you tell me about your creative process?

It kind of depends on what I’m creating. With any art/writing it usually starts with an unshakeable impulse, almost like the urge to take your sweater off when it’s too hot or a sudden feeling of having to puke.

With collage specifically, I begin by sifting through my hoard of images that I’ve already cut out but that haven’t made it into something yet or by flipping through magazines I found and ripping out things I want. Either like I want the thing advertised or I’m just drawn to something for aesthetic purposes. After I get sick of cutting things out, I sort them into piles based on categories that I make up. Could be based on a theme or texture or color or whatever. I spend a lot of time doing this, but I usually end up only using a small portion of the piles. Then I start arranging them on paper without gluing and basically move things around until it looks “right” to me.

You are both a writer and a visual artists. How do you both of these disciplines influence each other in your creative practice?

This is something I’m still figuring out. For much of my life, I considered these disciplines to be separate, so I am only recently starting to kind of combine them. But I think I definitely approach art from a writer’s perspective; I interpret every image as “telling a story” even if it might seem more abstract to someone else. I am also very attuned to the way my writing looks on the page. If I’m working on something that’s a combo of writing and art, I typically do the writing first.

You define some of your creations as “visual poetry.” What does that mean to you?

I think of it as something that incorporates both text and image(s) that engage/depend on/influence each other in some way.

You’ve written several pieces about gender, sexuality, and transidentity. How do these matters influence your visual art?

In a world where I sometimes have to hide parts of myself to be safe or taken seriously, art for me is a chance to take up space and do whatever I want without the threat of something uncomfortable/bad happening to me. I feel like I at least temporarily have some sort of control/agency in the mini-world of each piece, when I often feel controlled/silenced in the actual world because of things like my gender/sexuality/etc.

How do you think art can change our perception of gender and sexuality?

It can show people that bodies don’t always look/don’t have to look a certain way or act/interact in expected ways. That there are possibilities of expression and ways of seeing/being outside of what is curated and celebrated by crusty old cis white men.

What is a question you wish I had asked you?

What does it feel like to respond to these questions?

It was hard! Talking about myself/my work so directly without self-deprecating or deflecting things with humor is something I don’t do frequently. But I appreciated the chance to practice!

s burnette is a writer/artist from North Carolina living in Boston. their art/visual poetry has been published or is forthcoming in petrichorHoney & Lime Lit.,Riggwelter, and Bible Belt Queers. Find more work at sallyburnette.com

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.