Sexuality From a Woman’s Perspective : Interview with Lily Brown

Lily Brown graduated from Tyler School of Art in 2015 with a BFA in Painting. Since graduation, she has continued to live and work in Philadelphia. She works with children by day teaching art, her way of helping to ensure a creative future for the next generation. By night, she returns to her studio. Oil and Gouache are her primary mediums, each used for different outcomes. Oil allows for a more complex range of emotion and technique, offering a more complicated result, while Gouache allows her to render a specific emotion with more precision and clarity. 

Using these mediums and techniques, Brown aims to investigate the gender roles in American society with a focus on the female experience. While painting these images, she is closely examining the moments when these roles are being utilized or abandoned. If the subject is leaning into these influences or fighting against them. Or possibly trying to understand them, trying to figure out where she as a human begins and these overwhelming and sometimes detrimental outside expectations end. Examples of the repercussions of gender roles pop up in all forms of social media, sexuality, anger, motherhood, our education, and every other facet of our being. Lily is questioning the foundation of being a woman and attempting to shift how we treat and view them. This drives her to search for moments and images that portray women who are encountering rules that were written by society, and enforced by our own insecurities.

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Tell us about your interest in painting the figure. When did you first begin exploring this subject matter and how has it progressed over the course of your art career?

I have drawn and painted the figure since a very young age, people in general just interest me. Before committing to art in college I started my education as a psychology major, this was before realizing I just wanted to paint people, not necessarily try and solve them. I could just stare at them for hours, imagining where they’ve been, who they are, what they're going through. Maybe subconsciously I started painting them since starring is considered rude.

Not much has changed for me in the sense of the subject matter, but I guess I go in and out of different themes. I know that when I graduated from college I became obsessed with painting highly sexualized images. I was completely infatuated with two bodies crashing against each other and I felt too self-conscious to pursue those thoughts in school. Now I have kind of moved out of that phase, although it definitely shows itself at times. I think my work reflects where I am in my life in some way or another and now I'm at a point where I feel more at home in my practice. I no longer question why I want to paint the things I do, I just act and reflect on it later.


Exploring sexuality from the female perspective is important, especially given our current political climate. Talk a little bit about your approach to painting the female nude.

This is a subject that is forever changing for me and so incredibly important. Sexuality from a woman’s perspective it still somewhat of a mystery to American society, I find this deeply upsetting. I remember growing up and ingesting all of this information from movies, magazines and yes porn, which was all mostly given to us from a man's perspective.

When I’m painting a woman, and people in general, I just want to paint them as authentically as possible. I want to catch every unique part of them. I am so sick of seeing women in paintings being depicted as these otherworldly creatures. I'm sick of seeing perfect skin and “perfect female bodies”. That ideal should be crushed, and I'd like to think that every time I paint myself or some other woman the way they truly are, stomachs, uneven boobs and all, I'm helping myself shed these ridiculous insecurities that should have never been there in the first place. And if I’m lucky, I get to help someone else feel a little more at home in her body as well.


Who are the figures you choose to paint? Where do your references and inspiration come from?

I paint my close friends, myself, and draw inspiration from old playgirls and nudist magazines from the 70’s.

How does the art community in Philadelphia impact your studio practice?

If I'm being completely honest, I am a very solitary worker and it is very hard for me to branch out and speak to others about my work on a regular basis. But when I do get out to see the shows and talk with people in collectives they are all nothing but welcoming and inclusive. I'm lucky that when I need a critique I have a couple Philly artists that are always happy to come speak with me about my practice.

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What should artists and creatives be doing to contribute to the change in how we perceive female sexuality as a society?

I think we need to destigmatize the female form, we need to stop viewing it solely a vessel of sexual pleasure, yes it can be that, but it is SO MUCH more. Just as everyone is more than their sexuality. But for the most part, artists who are dealing with this subject matter are already doing the work. Exposure is key, there is no reason female sexuality should stay behind closed doors or be seen as a subcategory of art. It IS art, just like any other subject matter. What I hope is that curators and collectors will stop viewing sexuality as a taboo theme without any real meat or importance. I hope that this type of work will start to be viewed with more consideration instead of being overlooked as crude and two-dimensional. I want to see female sexuality in galleries and shows without the label NSFW.


What's currently happening in your studio and what should we be looking out for this year?

I'm in an in-between area right now. But I have just recently started a painting of two women wrestling that is really exciting me. I plan on starting a new body of work that focuses on physical female aggression. Usually, when people think of women fighting we imagine them saying nasty things behind each other's backs. And I love the idea two women just throwing punches instead. (not that I endorse female rivalry) But that idea is fun and full of juice for me.