And her choice to include portraiture in this latest exhibit signals a zoom-out for Minter. Instead of an unfurled tongue or a hyper-focus on the dirt gathering beneath a blue-painted toenail, Minter is painting the full faces of people we instantly recognize. The grotesque glamour and intimacy of her earlier, iconic work is now replaced with a technicolor dreamscape that creates a bit of a barrier between us and her subjects. Hypnotic teals and purples swirl around their faces like a cryogenic time capsule of a psychedelic early ‘aughts magazine cover. That pullback, however, doesn’t mean these new works don’t pack the same punch. They absolutely do.


The portraits of Gay and Lewinsky, in particular, had me wondering what made these two women—whose bodies have been shamed and picked apart by the public—feel safe in Minter’s artistic hands. Was it the literal glass barrier protecting them? Did the layers their likeness would go through in Minter’s process distance the final portraits from their own self-image?


“Agreeing to sit for a portrait that would be considerably more subjective than a photograph was not the easiest ‘yes’ for me,” Lewinsky, who was already familiar with Minter’s “provocative, boundary-pushing work,” wrote in Vanity Fair. “For many years, my image was hijacked by paparazzi and political cartoonists.” Similarly, Gay wrote an essay about the experience: “As a writer, my work is on the page. I am not the center of attention, the object of anyone’s gaze.”

Image for article titled It's Clear Why Monica Lewinsky Felt Safe Having Marilyn Minter Paint Her First Portrait
Photo: Andy Romer

“I didn’t know that before I approached them,” Minter wrote in her email, about it being Gay and Lewinsky’s first portraits. “Monica’s image has been used against her in awful ways, and I wanted to change that narrative.” In zooming out to depict these women, Minter allows for a space between our interpretations of them and who they actually are to exist.

Minter’s work asks you to consider the layers of identities—physical, emotional, and cosmetic—that women and femmes construct for themselves. “I approach all of my subjects with care and sensitivity,” Minter said. “The goal is to make a great painting that captures each person’s unique essence.” I’d add that this recent work not only captures a person’s unique essence but protects it as well. It’s why, I imagine, I safely saw my own burgeoning sensuality in her work at 15; why two women whose likenesses have been abused decided to sit for her; and why her embrace of the complexities of femme identity has only become more celebrated as society catches up to her vision.