Fetish Fetale

Wed. March 18, 2009 12:00 AM
by Feature Column

A tattoo artist from the ‘burbs turns female casual conjecture into promiscuously provocative portraits
By Jason P. Freeman

"Welcome to Nasty Rubber!" exclaims the opening to artist Kate Tastrophe's online portfolio. "Behold a bevy of beauties, / Wicked, rubbery and nasty all! / Hold on to your hats / (as well as your tails) / And always mind your manners. / You don't want to make us angry."

As a former dominatrix, the Champange, IL-based tattoo artist says, "I whipped my way through college." Studying graphic design and advertising, Tastrophe used her income, from giving clients what for, to fund her art-school expenses, where she studied graphic design and advertising. Yet shortly after graduation, she turned to the steady job of tattooing, finding herself, as she says, "too weird, too out there, for commercial work."

The lenient time constraints of professional tattooing allowing her to freely explore her creative sides, Tastrophe referred to her illustrative, graphic-art training and the advertising mantra "sex sells" in developing her specific artistic niche. What eventually emerged was an ongoing theme of portrait painting that showcases female sexuality, carnal costuming donning the female form with emphasis on fixation and drive: leather, rubber, restraints and/or uniform clad women engaged in unconventional sex play, or conventionally clad women whose innocent poses also, kind of, imply sex play. Neither hard core porn nor definitively fine art, Tastrophe calls her staple style and craft, jokingly, as, "smut light." It's S&M modeled but not always entirely evocative of S&M. Bondage branded, but from a straight woman's perspective—-Fetish Fetale.

"It's post-fem, portrait art, self analysis," Tastrophe explains before laughing at herself, "I don't even know what [post-fem] means, but [the paintings] say it's ok to be topless, and it's ok to bake a pie ... to have that duality or ambiguity ... and to express the fetish cultural ideal."

Currently running at the Leather Archives & Museum (6418 N. Greenview Ave; www.leatherarchives.org), Tastrophe's exhibit Beauties Service features less of the fetish and more of the implication-—women who have, as the exhibit's tagline announces, "taken hold of beauty and made it their servant:" the horny housewife, the naughty nurse, the evil head mistress.

"As far as my technique goes," Tastrophe says, "I work with ink washes, which is basically a watercolor technique with India ink, on watercolor paper. I'll add color to some occasionally, for that I use regular watercolor paints, and sometimes I'll have to go in with pen and ink for super-fine details."

And Tastrophe adds that the overall response to her work has been quite favorable, "from straight men to gay women to everybody-—it speaks to everyone at some level. Once, a housewife in Indiana cried when she got an autographed poster."

Beauties Service runs at the LA&M until April 10, 2009.