1-on-1: Hilde Atalanta
Hi Hilde, your painting style is very striking, how did that develop and what are your major influences?
I’m an autodidact, and I started working as an illustrator 2.5 years ago, so I have to admit everything still feels quite fresh and new to me. In this period my style has been developing quite a lot (and I’m positive it will keep on developing in the coming years). I’ve always been drawn to very realistic styles, and in my portrait work that’s something that satisfies me a lot. Although I’m not working in a hyper-realistic style, I do love portraying individuals in a realistic way. I’m inspired by many different artists; I love browsing images on Instagram and see how others work or develop their styles. And when I was younger I always loved seeing portraits from the classic and romantic eras.
How did you develop the different styles for your other two major projects, The Vulva Gallery and the You’re Welcome Club, and what was your decision making process for choosing watercolours for TVG and clean, cartoon lines for the YWC?
The style for The Vulva Gallery developed gradually. It started with very simple, almost minimalist, illustrations. But, as I’m drawn to painting details and realism, during the past two years of The Vulva Gallery the illustrations have developed a lot and the commissioned vulva portraits have become quite realistic. Still, I want to keep them light, colorful and simple as this makes them more easily translatable to one’s own body – and it makes the illustrations suitable for all ages.
With the You’re Welcome Club it took me longer to find a style. I wanted to explore diversity in a broader sense (while I can only show diversity in vulvas with The Vulva Gallery), and I wanted to make a series that would be very accessible and relatable to as many individuals as possible. I decided that a minimalist style would be most suitable for this, as it allows you to understand the meaning of an image promptly, without distracting your attention with details. It also allows the viewer to identify more with the illustrations than they might have if I’d have chosen a more realist style.
You’re most famous for The Vulva Gallery. Your site has a great overview on the political reasons for embarking on the venture. I am wondering about your own experiences with these vulva portraits. Was it awkward for you at all to start on this project?
From the beginning, The Vulva Gallery has been a positive and joyful project. I’ve always been comfortable with nudity and the natural human body, and painting a body part that I’m familiar with has never made me feel uncomfortable at all. That might have been one of the drives that started the project: I would love everyone to be more comfortable and less awkward with all of their body parts, including the ones we’ve been taught to hide and feel ashamed about. To me, vulvas and penises are not awkward. They are as natural as hands and noses. Painting a vulva portrait for someone feels beautiful and special, and so does painting someone’s face.
What’s most interesting to me about it is what it does to others. There’s the individuals who participate in The Vulva Gallery (who are often very touched and empowered by their portraits), and there’s the individuals who approach me daily, thanking me for the educational work I do with The Vulva Gallery.
The ‘Personal Stories‘ are very touching, and sometimes quite shocking. Do you find the process of producing these pictures is therapeutic for the models, and also yourself?
For many of the individuals who I portray, having their portrait painted is therapeutic in a way. Their responses vary from feeling empowered, emotional, proud or simply surprised to see their vulva painted and getting to view it in a different light. The overall responses are overwhelmingly positive. And for me, seeing so many different vulvas has absolutely opened my eyes to the incredible diversity there is. I already had an appreciation for vulvas, but I’m deeply impressed by the power and beauty of this body part – and the stories of the individuals behind these portraits.
Is there something about painting vulvas that makes this project different to how it would ‘seem’ if it were photography?
I guess one of the big differences is that a painting feels less direct, hence less provocative, than a photo. It makes the portraits accessible and suitable for all ages, and it makes the images more easily translatable to one’s own body, which would be more difficult if you were looking at photographs.
Are the illustrations as part of the You’re Welcome Club based on people you know, strangers, or from your imagination?
They are a combination of all three. Sometimes I portray my friends, sometimes I portray strangers, and many times I create based on my imagination. And I’m also open for commissions, so I’m creating portraits of individuals from all around the world on a commission basis as well.
In M/Magnetic and Hiding you used blocks of colour to obscure parts of the people you have painted, while in other places you’re happy to show bodies without any privacy. What is the relationship between showing and not showing in your working process?
M/Magnetic is a series of homo-erotic portraits. Unlike in the traditional male-female interactions in porn, this series started from the feeling that seemed to be more equality and respect among sexual partners in gay pornography. I became fascinated by the sexual interactions that felt more genuine than usual male/female interactions. They are clearly staged as well. Behind the macho appearance there was a feeling of tenderness, vulnerability, and mutual respect.
For M/Magnetic, I partly focused on tender interactions, and partly of close-ups of faces in anticipation for cum shots. Somehow this moment of anticipation felt so intimate, where one person is almost reaching their climax, and in the softness of the other’s face time stands still for a while. The reason for covering up their genitals with a brush stroke was to focus the attention on the intimate interaction and to leave room for the imagination.
Contrary to M/Magnetic‘s focus on sexual interactions, both The Vulva Gallery and You’re Welcome Club are explicitly non-sexual series, which gave me no reason to cover up any of their bodies as they are an open portrayal of natural variety.
What are your plans for the near future?
I’m planning on making a book with The Vulva Gallery, which will be a collection of illustrations, personal stories, anatomy, debunking myths and all kinds of wonders about the vulva. I can’t tell you much about it yet, but keep an eye on my Instagram account and you’ll find out more very soon!
Headline photo: Fabienne Bieri