Enter Laughing: Flannery Cashill at WSW

December 5, 2018 by

Artist and writer Flannery Cashill is a world-maker. Her work pops with color and patterns, flowers and women, aliens and animals. Finding inspiration from an array of consumer branding and cultural phenomena, including “comics, cereal boxes, jokes on popsicle sticks, emojis, infographics, petroglyphs, Skymall, etc.” she incorporates these elements into her work asking “how much of a narrative can be contained in packaging, and how could the order of the world be subverted by it?” When I look at her work I enter into a vivid, soft-edged land filled with an urgency of life. Everything feels alive, from the pattern on a rug, to posters on the wall, and surrounding daily ephemera, there is personality and a sense of wonderment in all the details.

In October of 2018, Cashill came to Women’s Studio Workshop as part of the Public Arts Residency Grant to paint an outdoor mural on WSW’s campus. In her notable cartoon style and neon color palette, the public sees a woman in her room, surrounded by records, instruments, psychedelic posters, tabloids, and clothes. She relaxes on a blanket, wearing a wiggling-patterned floral outfit and a look of perfect contentment, “I’m interested in the interiority of women and girls. This mural, especially, emerged out of an interest in private lives and dreamlike spaces, a room that glows in the dark and smells like Nag Champa.”

The mural is a bright spot on a winter day, a warm and inviting scene reminding you to take comfort in the things and ideas we surround ourselves with, “I think everyone fantasizes about selling everything and starting over. But I’ve thought a lot about it and now I’m like: when I die, bury me with my shit. I love being surrounded by stuff.” But it’s more than just “stuff” for Cashill, it’s an assortment of inspiration, “I have such a glut of influences. I think growing up with certain kinds of friends who are always trying to find the most obscure book, the most expensive vinyl, it feels liberating just to be like yes, I’ve listened to this Cardi B album a hundred times….If your interest in culture is what it says about you (italics mine), that stinks. Listen to ABBA instead, live a little.” This mural is inclusive in its ideas of pop- and counter-culture, of being around the things that make you feel nice, of creating spaces that can hold you as you are.

Nude women are a staple feature throughout Cashill’s work. Her ongoing project the Nudie Ladies Calendar began in response to a 1968 Pirelli Calendar that featured mostly clothed women in insinuating situations. Cashill thought “…it would be funny to invert that formula: excessive nudity, zero insinuation, women with visible areola moving pianos, women with pubic stubble playing badminton, whatever. I think nudity is funny but women never get to do physical comedy without critique, they still have to be provocative. It’s oppressive for everyone.” She acknowledges her calendars are “…a subtle dig at the real world” and asks “what if this was what guys had in their garage?” Printed risograph, with vivid colors, clashing patterns, nudity, and fantastical scenarios, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of joy at this idea, a sense of freedom from routine and status quo.

“What-if” and “why-not” are two questions at the heart of her work, “I have an imagination that thrives on hypothetical situations and all the things I can’t or shouldn’t do in public. Nothing X-rated, just like the urge to call 911 or touch a painting behind a velvet rope.” These urges, cultural taboos, and misbehaviors are given the go-ahead in her drawings and fiction and provide some comic relief from our own suppressed whim. 

Merging the surreal with the utopic, she crafts imperfect but generous and optimistic scenes of cultural oddities and human behaviors. And she’s funny. “I try to make art that’s accessible and I think humor helps. A really good joke is qualitatively the same as a good song, or poem, or any piece of art. Comedy relies on pacing, attention to detail, a certain tenderness, surprise, [and] personality.” Her style disarms the viewer—often through zines, comics, and animation—and is activated with deft and humble wit, “I want to empower everyone to make art and have the freedom to start small, away from institutional approval.”

Cashill’s work is bold and punchy, embedded with clever and weird observations. Each woman she draws is made her own. Each scenario stranger and strangely familiar. She composes words that aren’t afraid to shatter expectations through their strange charm, inviting us to see alternate realities where the wild-self, in all its forms, can reign.

Flannery Cashill is an artist and writer from Kansas City, Missouri. She experiments across a variety of media, including fiction, animation, and illustration, in search of the most dynamic way to tell a story. Inspired by the elasticity of cartoon logic, her art asks “what-if” and “why-not”, creating outsized worlds with rainbow colors, rich textures, and Utopian ambitions.

Marisa Malone is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been published in Selfish Magazine and BlazeVox Journal   and she has self-published two chapbooks of poetry.