Meet Bethany Burgoyne, a self-positive sexuality and intimacy connoisseur—she, in a society that might still shy away from anything adjacent to sexual expression, fights for her place. By Occupying a space that must feel at times like a small guava island, Bethany stands strong, her online platform crowned “Sassy” with intention. Through her important educational work at The Sassy Show, self-expression, dance all coinciding as one, Bethany continues to explore life through her illustrations, enriching a career she has worked so hard for us to see and feel.
After a social communing with Bethany, I knew that I had to share her visionary essence, by asking her a few questions. It is this merging of life and art that I thought would be captivating for those who want to pursue fulfilling careers as artists etcetera. Enjoy this gem of a read!
The term “Sassy” is refreshingly delicious, why did you decide to reference your art this way?
Oh I love that description, you make Sassy sound so yummy!! For me, the word embodies everything that I felt I wanted to be in life. All the characteristics that help us actively liberate our self-expression such as being unintimidated, loud, proud, seen and heard. Over the past 3 years, since taking this word and using it for my brand, Sassy has become a verb for me, a way of living. I am Sassy when I push against what society expects from womxn, I am Sassy when I share my personal stories, I am Sassy when I perform and shake my body around freely. Being Sassy has allowed me to move past insecurities and know that I do not need to be ashamed of anything – whether it’s the scenarios I draw, the songs I sing, the appearance I choose to present of myself, or the conversations I want to have about sexuality, intimacy, and desire. I also love the fact that the word ‘ass’ sits in the middle of Sassy, that somehow gives it an extra dose of cheek (excuse the pun! :))
Please tell us how your journey to illustration began (the first time you started drawing… doodling perhaps)?
Growing up, there was a general buzz of creativity in the home. My great aunt was an illustrator, my elder sister is very talented at drawing, and my fairy godmother (who looked after me a lot when I was younger) is an incredible watercolour artist. So, during those early years of my life, I was encouraged to draw and be as arty and crafty as possible, and I loved it. I’ve carried a sketchbook with me since I was about 8 years old and to this day, I sketch whenever I travel, whenever I am alone sitting in a new environment. Quickly sketching people moving through their day, the landscape in front of me, using my eyes and observing. However, it wasn’t until I was 20 that I actually took my art seriously and went to study painting at City and Guild’s London School of Art.
I had been interested in feminist theory and the male gaze since I was about 15 and this really inspired the direction of my artistic narrative. My final degree show was a painting series of huge, larger than life female bodies, all distorted in their naked fleshiness and bursting with multicoloured energy. The face of each body was a printed photo of a different man I had met on Tinder. It was a definite nod to the sexualisation of the female body as well as the role apps play in our understanding of appearance, attraction, and intimacy discourse. Although I still paint, since graduating I’ve focused my attention on developing my skills as a digital artist, I can honestly say that I feel the happiest (and most confident) with a pen or pencil in my hand, drawing away on a piece of paper.
Were there any reservations in your mind that you could illustrate, if not how did you defeat the deadly imposter syndrome?
One hundred percent. Being able to call myself an artist, an illustrator, a painter has been something that always gets a little clogged up in my throat. I think the education I had in a very traditional painting school meant that there is a presumption that you’re only an artist once you’ve sold your work in high end galleries. Moving past my own insecurities and letting go of thinking my art is worthless because it’s not being sold for thousands of pounds had been a process. What helped me was recognising the worth and value it has in my own life, for me.
"I had found the experience of terminating a pregnancy incredibly isolating and it silenced me, scared for what others may say or think. Through drawing, I found a language to talk with others about what I'd been through, and slowly other women opened up, shared their secrets and let me depict their experiences."
How have you incorporated art and illustration into your daily routine and other works?
Besides drawing to offload my weight of emotions which happens almost every day! I have incorporated my illustrations into my journalistic work; whenever I go on research trips to different countries, I often interview strangers and document the conversation through sketching and snippets of writing rather than audio recordings or film. I find it allows me to digest what they have said more, to observe and make note of the context in which they are in and give our experience of talking more privacy somehow.
I love when someone wants to share their story on my multimedia platform, The Sassy Show, and they let me illustrate their narrative. It builds a connection between their words and my imagination which I find to be a very beautiful experience. I have also been able to collaborate with musicians, writers and fellow creatives to illustrate their visions. Album artwork and developing textile prints for fashion designers always makes me happy because I love seeing my work move from the flat surface of paper and take a new creative shape.
Your work feels very expressionist, and self-care motivated. What stories are your illustrations carving out from your lived experiences? Do you have any artistic influences?
The first time I defined what I do as illustration was when working on a series of stories from women, including myself, about having an abortion. I had found the experience of terminating a pregnancy incredibly isolating and it silenced me, scared for what others may say or think. Through drawing, I found a language to talk with others about what I’d been through, and slowly other women opened up, shared their secrets and let me depict their experiences.
My illustrations are a journal of my lived experiences and the interactions I have with other people. In this way, they become an act of self-care and liberated expression, a form of therapy. If I am anxious, hurt, sad or frustrated, I make art. Often, through the process, I will find myself crying, aware that I am quite literally drawing out my emotions onto the page. When this happens, I will quickly file away my work, refusing to see what I’ve made until a few months have passed and I’m finally ready to face what I was feeling.
I see how artists such as Tracy Emin, Roy Lichtenstein, Egon Schiele and Nan Goldin have inspired my work. The days of pop art, of including text, of uncensored depictions of the human body and intimacy all feed my creativity and use of colour. Today, I am looking at the work of street artists for inspiration, seeing how they use speed as their superpower – this is something I want to be able to harness.
"I tell people all the time that changing the stigma around artists being poor and struggling is such an important step in understanding the value creativity has in our lives. For me, making money is something I enjoy doing when I know how I can put it directly back into the society I want to support."
I love how proceeds from selling your art helps fund projects as well as pay contributors on your multimedia platform. This is an interesting take on giving back as being selfless/philanthropic can prove tricky early on for burgeoning artists but you’re managing to do it. Please tell us more about this.
I tell people all the time that changing the stigma around artists being poor and struggling is such an important step in understanding the value creativity has in our lives. For me, making money is something I enjoy doing when I know how I can put it directly back into the society I want to support. Making money from my artwork has not only allowed me to invest in other female creatives, but it’s also helped me share the things I love to create. Each woman I pay to produce work for The Sassy Show is collaborating with me and helping my dreams come true. That is something I value above anything and will always pay for with love and the money I’m able to make xx
However, it’s important for me to disclose that the only reason I have been able to afford to do a Fundraiser from my artwork is because of my mother’s generosity. She’s let me live rent free in her home while I have worked for a long time without earning very much money to build The Sassy Show. This experience taught me the importance of supporting creatives as they transition into their careers and recognising the monetary value your art and craft is worth.
Let’s Imagine you are the global art ambassador for extra-terrestrial beings who’ve started exploring earth, which five words would you use to describe the message your art conveys to them? (no pressure but humanity might depend on this)
Artistic language of human behaviour
"My freedom of movement and being able to work to my own schedule is something that I feel very thankful for. My job allows me to engage in research wherever I go and I find it very fulfilling to share, build and nurture creativity with others. It becomes the most rejuvenating spiral of spontaneous play.
Have you considered creating a self-portrait; what weight would being your own subject hold for you?
I am a self-portraiture artist in other mediums such as film and photography and would say that a lot of my drawings are inspired by the person I see looking back at me in the mirror. Having control over the image I represent of myself is something I utilise and play with. I focus on showing what isn’t always seen in mainstream media. I capture, and freely show, the ins and outs of my genitalia, I document my skin and my hair, and I question why parts of the female body are censored, hidden from view.
I have found that the more self-portraiture work I make, the more confident I feel in my own skin.
How do people react to your art and how do you take any feedback and apply it to your work?
I have found that my work has become more self-explanatory in the past years. I was working a lot on developing my mark making and creating without hesitation. This meant I made a lot but it wasn’t always comprehensible. Abstraction became a way for me to tell more challenging stories, but people wouldn’t always understand the content of my work.
Over time, I have found that people want to have conversations about what I make more and more. To discuss the depiction of the female form and how gender, sex and intimacy are portrayed. I am learning to be open to engaging in hearing all perspectives, the good and the bad, without the fear of criticism. Negative comments come and go, but my vision has remained the same, so I am trusting that approval isn’t necessary.
What can you say are the benefits of a career as an artist/creative/writer?
My freedom of movement and being able to work to my own schedule is something that I feel very thankful for. My job allows me to engage in research wherever I go and I find it very fulfilling to share, build and nurture creativity with others. It becomes the most rejuvenating spiral of spontaneous play.
I also see the huge value of creativity being a universal language, allowing us to communicate with one another, share stories, and offer space through art. Self-expression and engaging with one another’s talents connect us on an empathetic level. It allows us to see one another beyond the appearance, and into the mind.
"The message of my work is always to encourage liberated self-expression. To break the boundaries of what represses us as people, to challenge the status quo when it is no longer serving us. I wish to be building greater opportunities for more womxn around the world and I want to be helping the economic development of artists in countries where their governing bodies do not support them financially."
Are there any new pieces you are working on that you are excited to tell us a bit about?
A lot of my attention is going towards building The Sassy Show merchandise. I’ve got some juicy plans in the works and am finding ways to bring my interest in fashion and photography into the mix as well. And I’m slowly building a network of fellow femxle artists who are interested in running visual street campaigns with me. So #freethenipple here we come.
For a long time, I have been drawing series of illustrations that tell a short story. I’ll often scribble down sentences of text that end up being quite Sassy. I have been building an archive of these short stories that I’m wanting to turn into a book. It’s something that I’ve been interested in doing since seeing the work of comic artist Natasha Natarajan (FML Comics). So, watch this space.
Where do you see your artwork evolving into in the next two years and crucially how will your message, skillset and lifestyle adapt?
I hope to continue growing in all areas of my creativity. I am slowly establishing my work as a performer and have new music coming out soon with videos that speak to the topics of sexuality, female bodily autonomy and all that jazz! The plan is to turn The Sassy Show into a TV programme, mixing interviews with entertainment. And I would love to be running events that are kinky as f***. So yes, lots of dreams and lots of love.
The message of my work is always to encourage liberated self-expression. To break the boundaries of what represses us as people, to challenge the status quo when it is no longer serving us. I wish to be building greater opportunities for more womxn around the world and I want to be helping the economic development of artists in countries where their governing bodies do not support them financially.
Can you share with us some artists/illustrators we should be following?
The whole of the Riot Soup collective is an artistic dream. The founder, Asma Istwani is a gifted collage artist and Anna Glibbery’s digital drawings always make me feel whole somehow. I’m also really drawn to the work of figurative painters including Jesse Jones (her colours are just a dream) and Karimah Hassan (Strangers Year Book).
Both Irina Voinea and Cyd Eva (of Pattern Nation) are using their artistic talents through fashion to build creative communities. I am in awe of both of these wonders. And I have a lot of time for illustrators who are showing the human body in erotic, subversive ways. It’s an essential part of normalising sexuality, flesh, form, and the diversity of appearance. Ggggrimes and Exotic Cancer keep my feed fresh. And I’m grateful to people like Ali Mann who brings a new idea of the female anatomy into our lives.