Jayne County

Jayne County, untitled, 2017, acrylic and marker on canvas, 18 x 24”.

Considered the first openly transgender rock performer, Jayne County is revered for the in-your-face punk acts she performed at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City in the 1970s and at SqueezeBox! in the ’90s. Archival photographs from her historic five-decade-long career are being displayed at Participant Inc. in New York as part of “Paranoia Paradise,” the first retrospective of her visual art. This revelatory display of over seventy of County’s ravishing paintings from the ’80s to the present expands her artistry well beyond the performance histories for which she is widely known as a living legend. Here, County discusses the exhibition, which is curated by Michael Fox and is on view through March 11, 2018.

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN FASCINATED with creatures that don’t fit into society, or are mysterious, nonhuman, half-human. If the creature is unexplainable, it makes it more interesting for people.

When I perform live—and I’ve been doing it a long time, since the late ’60s—Jayne County is basically an extension of me. I lose myself in another world when I go onstage, in this creature that I created: a very irritable punk-rock bitch with all this strong energy. People with more of a conservative stance would say I just look vile. With my music, you only know this one person up there. But with my art, you get to know more of me. And many people, many personalities, come out in my art.

I’ve made some paintings that are dark, but there’s humor in the work too. I love images of shrouds where you can only see eyes peeping out, to which I add humungous feet or toes. I think that’s an amazing visual that makes you wonder about the person inside.

If I’m pissed off at somebody, I either write a nasty song about them or make a nasty piece of art, as you can see with my paintings of Lady Bunny. Now, Bunny and I are actually the best of friends, but a couple of years ago we had a bad falling out, and I did these awful pieces about her that were absolutely insulting. Yet, to this day, she says she’s more flattered than offended. Some of the paintings have a political sense to them, but they’re humorous as well. I believe in taking politics and laughing at it, like I did when I was going through a period of redoing covers of magazines and I took Rush Limbaugh and put coke around his nose. It’s all about something that I think will make people smile a bit.

Michael Fox, Jayne County at Squeezebox!, 1999.

I admit I am colorist. Some artists don’t like to be accused of that, but, to me, it’s a compliment. I have this thing for loud bursts of color. It’s probably from all those times in the ’60s when I dropped acid. When mixing colors, I don’t have to think about what color goes where, it just comes out of nowhere. I didn’t get one painting entirely the way I wanted it until I mixed a little bit of my lipstick with the paint and created a whole new color. I’ll get the color from anywhere I can.

My art comes so naturally, many times I don’t plan what I’m going to do. I sit down with a blank page and get the paint, the brushes, the Crayola metallic glitter pens around me, and then my hand starts moving, drawing, making images. Sometimes I do it without even thinking about it, then maybe I might get the idea of what I want the painting to be right in the middle of it, or a direction comes toward the end of the artwork, when I’m almost through with it. A lot of my art happens that way.

I’ve also always felt very strongly about adding a bit of my own personality as a transgender person to my work. A lot of the figures in my paintings are androgynous—you really can’t tell if they’re male or female. They could be both, and I love that. To me this is very old; it goes back thousands and thousands of years, to ancient Egyptian art, life, and mythology. The ancients held shape-shifters—from gender to gender or sex to sex—in high regard.

I really want the younger generation to learn and know about my history—it goes back so far. I was gender-fluid before anyone was doing it. I love that somebody young and androgynous could discover Wayne Jayne County and think, “Oh my god, look at this person, this was so long ago and look at what they were doing.” I do think of myself as a pioneer, as somebody who drove a covered wagon with a mule and paved a trail. I was just being myself and doing what I wanted to do, including my own personality and my own opinion. I will probably live to be into my nineties. Can you imagine? “Hey Grandma, what was it like doing the twist back there in the ’60s?”