Why a pink pussycat sits at the heart of Adam Linn’s deeply tonal, coloured pencil practice
The Pittsburgh-based artist harnesses feline anthropomorphism as a vessel for the “grotesque” and “seductive” experience of queer discovery.
- Liz Gorny
- 28 April 2022
Slinking across the work of Adam Linn, you will find a magenta pink pussycat. The origins of this anthropomorphic feline character are rooted in the artist’s personal experience, but its presence speaks to many things. It holds links to the Pink Panther and the Cheshire Cat; visuals plucked from the late 90s and early 00s cartoons that offered Adam a form of escapism as a child. It nods to artificiality, with the figure often donning wigs or suede, calf-length boots as a reference to personal expression. Its flamboyant, searingly pink skin – often contrasting with villainously perfect square-tipped nails – also “represents many of the attributes I suppressed in myself at an early age that I feared would ‘out’ me,” says Adam. “These were the limp wrists, coquettish and slinky movements, underbite lisp, hands on the hips, effeminate voice, etc. I have combined all these elements into the pussycat character I celebrate today.”
The idea of the “pussy”, or un-masculine man, “was highly discouraged” when Adam was growing up, the artist tells It’s Nice That. During that time, “I instinctively knew I did not fit into the masculinity tropes of sports, stifled emotions, ‘macho’ attitude, etc. I instead found myself most reflected in the perverse world of cartoon imagination,” he says. Escaping into an arena of “curved edges” and “bloated lines” through cartoons, Adam has pushed this space of familiarity into something even more through his work today. The pussycat figure has become a vessel of empowerment; both a figure that can inspire warmth and one of the “grotesque”. Other themes that emerge slowly with revisits to Adam’s work include fuzzy furnishings, electrical power cords, curtains, beds; the interiors of a room that you remember as a child. “Each of these elements are symbolic for larger themes of childhood discovery, technology and our dependence on it,” explains Adam.
To commit these themes to paper, Adam uses coloured pencil on watercolour paper, a surface which aids when it comes to shading. The extreme depth of texture he achieves with this technique is staggering; tonal hues saturate each work, along with a certain kind of glowing light – the kind that might come from a TV in a dark room or street lamps on wet surfaces. Adam explains much of this comes from his background in printmaking and that he shades in layers of colours, as opposed to blending on the surface – a “methodical”, but “meditative” process:
“I love using coloured pencils because it harkens back to childhood exploration and creativity, but also feels stiff and stubborn as a medium. This technique demands a sort of push and pull with the user as it can produce glowing, luminous and saturated results, but they must be on the terms of the pencil and how it desires to be used.” Adam explains that the pencil has to be applied lightly, in a very specific order from light to dark colours, and it can not be pushed too hard, “or it will break or burnish the grain of the paper down too smooth so no more colour can be applied.”
There are endless lines of discovery a viewer can draw from Adam’s work – both on a technical level and a symbolic one. But, “ultimately”, Adam says: “I want to create what I feel are beautiful images, embracing a sort of baroque-cartooning style with jewel-toned colours and vivid textures.” His work can offer something wonderful to anyone who has ever felt out of place, felt too queer, and anyone with a penchant for the extreme.
Adam Linn: Closet Creep (Copyright © Adam Linn, 2021)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.