New York

Jayne County, Silver Bastet 46 1/8, 2019, acrylic and ink on canvas, 16 × 20".

Jayne County, Silver Bastet 46 1/8, 2019, acrylic and ink on canvas, 16 × 20".

Jayne County

A pioneering transgender entertainer and one of the high priestesses of punk, Jayne County first made a name for herself in downtown 1970s New York, rocking and rolling onstage at the legendary clubs Max’s Kansas City and CBGB with her signature song “Fuck Off,” and hanging out with the Warhol crowd. She costarred in the Pop artist’s 1971 play Pork, a parody of Factory habitués, and her hell-raising antics and transition from Wayne to Jayne are illuminated in her fascinating 1995 memoir, Man Enough to Be a Woman: The Autobiography of Jayne County.

While the artist has continued to perform ever since, about fifteen years ago she decided to return to her roots in rural Georgia to take care of her parents in their declining years. Although they have since died, County continues to live just down the street from her family home. During this period of her life (she turns seventy-four this year), she has devoted much of her time and energy to painting, and in the process has emerged as an acclaimed self-taught artist. Considering that she shares her house with nearly twenty cats, it seems only natural that her most recent work is feline-themed.

County, however, doesn’t exalt garden-variety pussies. Instead, her paintings pay tribute to the revered ancient Egyptian cat goddess Bastet, who is associated with domesticity, fertility, and childbirth. In keeping with County’s transgressive ways, many of her deities have been bestowed enormous phalluses, some of these bearing their own faces. Her exhibition at the Viewing Room—a smaller gallery located inside Marlborough’s Chelsea outpost—was comprised of fifty-eight modestly scaled ink-and-acrylic works, which transformed the space into an erotically charged temple. (Leo Fitzpatrick, the Viewing Room’s director, curated the show.)

The exhibit marks the second time County’s art has been showcased in New York. In 2018, she presented a larger cast of characters at Participant Inc., including mermaids, Yeti-like monsters, and burqa-clad mystery women. Even as she has streamlined her menagerie, her hieroglyphic style remains unchanged—forward-facing figures all the same height, situated against patterned backdrops. Most of the images here were populated by intimate groupings of freaky characters, such as Fertility Sisters 44 1/2 (Bastet Two) (all works cited, 2019), whose title might be a reference to the length of the depicted duo’s towering erections.

Perhaps County has also been influenced by the popular TV show Ancient Aliens (2009–) on the History Channel, with its enticing theory that Earth’s oldest civilizations may have been triggered by visitors from outer space. Several of her paintings feature extraterrestrial Bastets, who are possibly the procreators of her entire supernatural species. Fertility Women of Pluto includes a shapely extraterrestrial creature sporting six breasts. And did the well-endowed twosome of Bastet Shecocks arrive from a faraway universe to impregnate the human race?

Let’s face it—artists of a certain age whose subject matter is cats are usually relegated to quaint craft fairs. County, as a cultish avant-garde shaman, has invented a magical and gender-fluid underworld that merits being worshipped by everyone. Whether her kitties hail from the Nile Valley, the heavens above, or Planet X, their sphinxlike gazes captivate the viewer even more than their horse-hung appendages. Recently, cats have suffered a bad rap, especially with the disastrous movie version of the titular Broadway musical. County rescues her furry friends from farce and puts them on the purr-fect pedestal they deserve.