This piece appears in AdHoc Issue 24.
Hether Fortune is drawn to the darker things in life. It’s a fascination you can trace to her teenage years as a self-described “angry punk,” or her work with her lovably gloomy rock band Wax Idols. Recently, she’s ventured into painting portraits, rendering friends, historical figures, and her fellow artists in pale and deep hues. Her paintings grapple with the moments of grief and joy in life, as well as the notion that the ghosts that haunt you can also provide inspiration. Ahead of her book release party on January 11 at Union Pool, where Fortune will read from her first collection of poetry, Waiting in Various Lines (2013-2017), she spoke to us about her portrait of Anaïs Nin, which appears on the cover of this month’s zine, and the therapeutic possibilities of painting. Fortune and her band Wax Idols will also perform with Future Punx and Desert Sharks on January 12 at Elsewhere.
AdHoc: What inspired you to start painting?
Hether Fortune: I've been doing Wax Idols for almost eight years, and I've been in bands for over a decade, so it's become almost like a job. I got to a point in the last year where I felt like I had more that I needed to express, and music wasn't necessarily the right medium for doing that. My neighbors moved out and left me a bunch of watercolor supplies. I just had them in my garage, and I have been [painting with them] non-stop since I started. Painting is just me. There's no words—no need to communicate anything with anyone. [It puts me] in a meditative space that is very calming for me. When I'm feeling anxious or neurotic or am having negative thought patterns, if I just sit down and start painting, it completely resets my brain.
Your recent paintings explore contrasts of light and shadow. How would you describe the themes you are exploring with these works?
I'm, like, a reluctant goth. I think I've been described as being goth so much that I’m like, “Ok, I guess I'm goth,” but I don't really think about myself seriously in that way. Still, it's always been important for me to try and really pay attention to the darker side of myself, and of life, because I think that which we usually ignore is what ends up killing us. And so I feel almost like if I'm keeping an eye on the darker side of myself, and on the things that are happening around me, then they can't sneak up on me and hurt me again. I found myself wanting to do portraits of women and people that I admire because I thought it would be a good way to practice. And it’s also a way for me to pay homage to [certain] people.
I'm only 30, but I think I've lost at least a dozen friends, unexpectedly, violently. And that's a lot of loss to carry. I don't want to arrogantly state that I'm in any way directly channeling those people, but I feel their presence. Sometimes I feel like I'm compelled to create almost because of them, like their work was unfinished, and somebody needs to keep them alive. People like my friend Cash Ashew, who died in this Ghost Ship Fire last year. And my friend Lorna Donley, who was the singer in the band called DA! She was also a painter and she passed away a few years ago suddenly, and she's with me all the time.
When did you start reading Anaïs Nin, whose portrait appears on the cover of this zine?
When I was in my early 20s, I found A Spy in the House of Love at a garage sale. I was really drawn to it visually, so I picked it up, and I have been devouring her stuff ever since. I think especially in my early 20s, I really needed a female archetype to identify with: someone who was sexually liberated and unafraid to explore her sexuality freely and honestly and without fear. And that's something Anaïs Nin did, for better or worse, her entire life; she received a lot of brutal criticism because of her fearlessness. I just felt really connected to her ever since I found that first book. I almost hear her voice in my head sometimes.
Was was going through your head when you painted her portrait?
The urge to paint Anaïs Nin specially came out of nowhere. I just found myself thinking about her, as I often do, and decided to paint a portrait of her based on a photo I’ve always loved. I didn’t really have a plan for a color palette. I tried to just let her energy move through me and chose the colors as the painting progressed. She appears a bit more masculine in my painting than she was in real life, but I think she contained a lot of masculine energy, which led to her being misunderstood and criticized. I remember looking at it, and realizing it was finished, and having a feeling that was sort of like someone looking over my shoulder.