S2 Episode #3: MattJune 27, 2023
S2 Episode #5: AureliaJuly 11, 2023
Intro: You might remember the event, Visible – Weekend of Trans Joy, from a couple of episodes ago. It was a coming together of trans folks in Vienna to share their works of art and celebrate around the Trans Day of Visibility. This included an art exhibition, short film showcase, Open Mic, a delicious vegan feast, and a bonfire. In this episode I’m talking to another of the featured artists, Erik Pekny, about using COVID as an opportunity to work on their art, transitioning at the same time, and the power of the internet to connect communities in real-life.
D: OK, so what is your name?
E: My name is Erik Pekny.
D: What are your pronouns?
E: He/Him. What are yours?
D: Mine are she/her. My name is Denise. And I wanted to talk about, you, your art, your engagement in Visible, and sort of like what you’re thinking about in terms of, like your evolution.
E: That’s cool. Alright. OK.
D: So I wanted to read your artist statement from Visible.
E: Oh my god. I don’t even remember what I said.
D: You don’t remember what you said?
E: Yes, I don’t remember. No, I did like I wrote it and I sent it. And never looked at it again.
D: You never looked at it again?
E: Yeah, let’s, let’s hear it.
D: I can’t believe you forgot you said this. OK. Erik Pekny. Am I saying that right? Love Like Us. A visual poem that may be autobiographical, but need not be. Many of us just want to be seen, truly seen and when we do, it might come as a shock. Told through the eyes of a friendly skeleton. Why the skull? In a face that has no expression we find our own meaning, often more than any face of any person can offer us.
E: It’s pretty smart.
D: Awesome. So, a skull.
E: I draw that a lot actually, and I used to think it was just you know because, I don’t know for fun, because I like to draw it. And then last October I started working on that particular comic that’s called Love Like Us, where you had this skeleton person, persona that is maybe me, you know, used. And I used it for the comic and it worked so well and I and a lot of people ask me, OK, this is a cool topic. Why? Why is it a skeleton? Why is it so scary and like? And then I had to come up with a reason and realised as I tried to explain myself ‘Oh yeah’, that made a lot of sense because it could be anyone. It’s not just me and that when we when we draw faces, we immediately see some kind of emotion on it and what I intend to draw in the face, and the emotion might not be what a reader would read in the facing of the emotion, but the skull face has no emotion, so only the text and the circumstance gives it some sort of emotion, that is, whatever you need it to be in the thing. It’s like if you have, there’s these great comics where there’s literally just a smiley face as a person, right? And there could also be anything and the like going that like there’s much better to have less showing, and more interpretation of the reader for the skeleton, and there was sense then, that it’s not true. Right? My skeleton face has a lot of emotion actually can look angry and can look happy.
D: It has a lot of symbolism as well.
E: Yes, yes it does.
D: And like when I look at you I do not think of a skull. Like I just. You know what I mean? Like, I don’t think of like the death and everything, but there’s also something like, there’s a heaviness about it where like, what it represents is more than maybe what it is. Do you see yourself like this in this way?
E: Yes, I also don’t. I didn’t choose it for like the death aspect so much as well. I am interested in that as a like a as a symbolism thing, but also it is the bare minimum of me, right. If you take everything away at the core there’s skeleton, there’s a skull and it’s a good thing. I like that. And in my head with the skeleton and the people, the skeleton maybe meet in the future. They are all like people and then the comic is well, everyone else has the face and skin and I’m just. I don’t have that. The skeleton doesn’t have that. It’s really the core of what I am. And then the rest. Maybe we’ll still come. I don’t know. That’s what it is for me. If I see, like, a friendly skeleton. I think it is friendly.
D: How did you start doing art?
E: I have always been drawing. Like lots of others on the side and I wasn’t particularly good at it, but it doesn’t matter, right? Like I love doing it. And they, you know as you do in school instead of school like, you just doodle and draw a lot and I got really into comics as a medium and I drew my own terrible comics, you know, in school, they’re great. I love them. They are awful. And then I thought, well, better now do a career, a real look. And I did that for a while and I always kept drawing on the side. And I discovered digital drawing because. It’s just so cool what people can do with like concept art and stuff like that. In like when COVID started, and I was just out of a job and also rather unhappy with where my life was going, I thought, well, now we’re all at home anyway. And I don’t have a job. Now I can try the art thing for real, like professionally, like as an actual career and not just as a hobby. And if it doesn’t work out, I always have the excuse of like it was COVID and I didn’t do. And here I am. I tried to get into art school, right after school. But they didn’t want me. And to be fair, I wasn’t. I don’t think. Yeah. Now I think, oh, thank God, I am so glad I didn’t go to art school right after school. It would have been terrible. I would have hated it there. I would not have fit in. I mean no offence, sorry. Or maybe a little. And I wasn’t ready. And then I did a little diploma thing for game art and animation, but I also left that again because it was very focused on the industry, which was cool and I learned a lot of cool stuff, but I realised I didn’t want to like actually fit into that industry where you have you have these kind of artists, and these kind of artists and they are expected to do these very specialised things really well. And I got really bored with that, very specialised things like, oh, I want to do so many things. But of course, wherever you go, you like learn so much about the craft. And that’s cool. And here I am. And I mean, I have a I have a day job. I have a side job. For 20 hours, fix it. Well, my art doesn’t pay my bills, but you know, sometimes it comes and goes. It’s project based so.
D: There’s this thing that I’ve been thinking a lot lately, which is that find what you’re passionate about and make it into a job as horrible advice. Because really what it does is it turns something that you dig and love into something that now your livelihood depends on. And generally that turns it into a slog, right? So it’s not going to be something that you just turn to as a site of refuge anymore. It might be come this thing that is another chore.
E: Yeah, that that is a difficult path to walk, I think because on the other hand. I agree with this and I found that happened to me too because for a while I really only did art as a source of income because I was lucky enough that for a while I had this project going and it was, it was cool, but it turned into a chore. Like really it did, like you said. And then on other days, I found myself thinking oh that’s I mean this is I get up and I go to work, which is at home at my place and I draw all day and then that’s my work and that’s really cool as well. I think under the right circumstances, I would be happy to leave behind any kind of office day job and just do this. But then yeah, it takes a lot of work also mentally to be like OK, but this is my job. And then also maybe some other art is mine and not my job and it is hard to find reasons to still draw to be creative after you’ve been creative for work all day, and sometimes you just you’re out, you got nothing left, you just don’t want to anymore. So yeah. And capitalism always haunts you wherever you go.
E: Yes. Because on the one hand. You have to make money with your art. And then you are online, I mean I’m I have to be online, and I have to be on social media. I’m not particularly good at it, nor do I enjoy it much, but you have to be. You have to sell yourself and you have to ask yourself, do I do something that I know is going to sell well, or do I do something I want to do, or do I want to do something that I think would be good to be out there, which is maybe a third thing. That is maybe more painful than the actual working for a living as an artist because. I know, or sometimes I think I know that well. I wanna do this art thing and nobody will care. And then I get nothing for it, but sometimes that’s wrong. You know, it’s not always true. It’s just my belief that I have to, you know, make money to be a real artist, that you know.
D: Or be validated.
E: Yes. And it’s terrible and I don’t want to think like this. I don’t. And I also don’t, you know, if I see other artists and they’re like, you know, they make their money somewhere else and then they make art. I don’t think that they’re not real artists, right? But you don’t apply the same standards to yourself sometimes, even if you should.
D: So, it seems like you found this community here of other artists. Could you talk a little bit about that?
E: Yeah, I feel like the community found me, and I’m so grateful for it because I’m, I love, I look, I’m kind of hidden away a little bit at home for a long time and slowly other people like oh, come here and come here, and also the way I got to Visible. I think I got recommended by someone to Georgie, a good friend of mine who was like, ‘oh, ask Erik’ and he has things like. And then Georgie asked me and I was grateful, and I would love to be here and I met so many new people, but sometimes I need this little like someone was like, come on, go here and go here. And it’s great when wherever I go, when the people that recommend it, it’s always great. And then I have these contacts and I love it. And it honestly saved my life. Like this friend who I think recommended me. I met them couple of years ago. Which is what made me realise that I am trans, awhile back. Because before that I just, I wasn’t in contact with anybody. And I knew it was the thing, I was on the Internet. It’s not like I wasn’t aware of it, but it didn’t, I’ve never met anyone that I spoke to and was really close friends with them, shared their experience so much with me. Like hang on, wait a moment, this feels too relatable and that, that I’m so lucky that it happened to me. Because I wasn’t really going anywhere. I like being at home. You know, or I used to. I hid away a lot. Because before I transitioned I just hated being out generally and I always felt out of place. And then it was COVID, and I wasn’t used to it and doing my transition and I also hid away because it was hard and I’m realising, hey, I actually like being out, and I like community. This is great.
D: We don’t talk a lot about that. Like what happens, you know like. This kind of like dream deferred thing. Where it’s, what happens to queer folks that never get the ability to fully express themselves because they don’t find community, they don’t find the space, they don’t feel like they have the right to, they feel like they would be persecuted and everything. What it, you know, but most of us queer people we have at least a phase in our lives where we felt that that was true for us. Right. And that just feels so soul crushing. And yeah. So you meet this friend and through this friend, not only do you find community and sort of a mirror in terms of like your art, but also around like your identity.
E: This friend introduced me to more friends, of their friends and I became friends with them as well. And now somehow in the last couple of years, what happened was also that because. I am. I’m not that old, right? I’m 29 now.
E: It kind of is though, because then I meet, like younger queer people who are just also for the first time, maybe, you know, come from the countryside. Now they’re in Vienna and they’re going to these events for the first time and I can see them standing there with open eyes and like, yes, I get it. That’s like your first pride and you think, Oh my God, there’s so many. There’s so, so many. And I find myself thinking like you and I, I will adopt you now and you and you and come here and it’s all great. And they wanna, you know. Tell them like it’s great and it’s fine. It’s going to be easier eventually. Like, trust me, it’s great, like, and that all that happened within the span of a few years from, like, myself being like, oh, no, I don’t know anyone. And I’m so scared. I don’t want to go anywhere to like. Yes, come here everyone. What was the question?
D: Then what happened? And it’s still happening
E: Well, it’s still happening. Yes, I agree it’s still happening. And I, I’m also so grateful that now I’ve made these contacts. And already, like when was that, a couple of weeks ago with the children’s book reading and the protest outside, right and when was.
D: The April 16th protest.
E: Yes. Yeah. And it was, it was really easy because I own. I came here without my protest buddy because she was out of the country, which I wouldn’t usually do. But I knew already there’s like a couple of people that I met in Visible earlier would be here and I met up with them and then I met so many people that I already know, thinking, oh this is great. This is it. This is how it’s supposed to be. And that was fantastic. Also, what I said earlier about how you know, you have to choose as an artist to do something that could sell maybe or do something that means something, however. With the right people, you know like that’s the same thing because it speaks to, it speaks to people and then they want to support me as an artist and suddenly I no longer have to decide between doing something commercial and doing something is actually meaningful, because now it’s the same thing. And that is, that was really good on that Sunday when I was selling my art here and people were like ‘oh I love this’, and ‘this really spoke to me’. Really? Great. Thank you.
D: Yeah. I really love your art. You already know that.
E: Thank you.
D: How do you sort of negotiate this space of like who you are, your identity, and how much of that you want to put in your art? How much of that you want to put into the story behind your art, right?
E: I don’t particularly try to, but then it happens anyway. The Love Like Us comic is more autobiographical than what I usually do, or at least I say that because it’s, it is easy to spot what what’s going on there. But I think, I don’t know. I can’t help it. Even if I look back at the things that I used to do back before I even came out and everything. It’s still very. If I had paid attention more to my art, maybe I would have realised something earlier, but I didn’t. So I can’t help it. I tried to keep it anonymous in the sense that I would. I don’t want to tell my story because first of all, I don’t think it’s that interesting, you know. And second, that’s a bit too personal I think to just then show friends –that terrifies me. I can show strangers. There’s this is great post online, something about like here’s something I made and I’m happy to show the entire world and every stranger on the planet except my close friends and family. You stay away because it’s, I don’t know. It’s very, very personal. Sometimes maybe reveals what I really think of some people, so not great. But I think since I started to know myself better, my art has gotten better because I include also biographical things about me in it, and that’s good. I think it is good. And I used to think, well, nobody cares about my story, but then. I guess they do.
D: Where do you see it going. Where do you want it to go?
E: Well I would like to do longer comics or graphic novels, something like this. Realistically, I would also honestly just like to work for an author, like as an illustrator. I have done this. I’ve illustrated a young adult graphic novel with a writer in California who I’ve worked with several times, it was good. It’s a great collaboration. I love him and he writes stories and one of the books I illustrated for him is already out and it was really cool. It was, that happened last summer was like, oh, this is an actual book that is like, you can buy it on Amazon and everything and I illustrated it. And that is, I hope you know I’ll find there’s several projects that sometimes you know just ideas and maybe yeah, you can illustrate this and this, and sometimes something comes to fruition and it’s great. And I’m working on my own thing. That is, of course, you know, between work and hard work that I need to pay my bills. There’s obviously, like everyone has this project right that eventually will be a longer thing. That is my comic, graphic novel story that I illustrate as well. And then I guess I’ll self-publish it or I’ll try sending it to publishers. Let’s see. I don’t know. You know, there’s an option just like, Löwenherz in Vienna. That things like that. That’s what I would try.
D: Yeah, there’s Löwenherz, there’s o*books, there’s ChickLit. All these are queer bookstores in Vienna. So it’s pretty cool.
E: So you know, as soon as there’s something like a Part One finished or something. I do that. No. So between that, I just love. I do enjoy working full projects of other people’s creative visions. This is great. Like people come to me like, OK, can you illustrate this thing that I want for my book cover or whatever? And then they have. But they’re not visual artists that are like, you know, it should be. The vibe of whatever, this and then we work together. And then in the end, they’re like, oh, this is exactly what I imagined, but I never thought it would look like this. It’s like, yes, this is great. You know, it’s like album covers and stuff like that. I’d like to do.
D: Yeah, I love graphic novels and I love the way that they’re able to tell stories, in this very, like poetic and lyrical way, it’s more like a song than an actual story in some ways.
E: And there’s also the, my like Scott McCloud I think is the name of the author who writes about comics, and it makes like how to make comics, comics. And it’s always, it’s more than the sum of its part, right. There’s the images, and there’s the text, and if you put them together there’s more than just the two extra things when it comes together. That’s so cool because few other media can do that. That’s what I love about it. And that’s, when I but then when I say I make comics right, other people are like ‘Oh yeah, you wanna work for Marvel?’. It’s like. No, first of all, I couldn’t. I mean, you know, I wouldn’t say no. I mean, like if Marvel suddenly came like ‘you want to work for us?’ like, sure I will. But you know, it’s not the kind of comics, you know. It means cool, but that’s not what I do. I don’t really. It doesn’t. It’s not really that fit. Also, I can’t, I mean. I never draw a superhero I don’t know, but. There’s so much more, that it’s such an open field that I can do anything with it seemed amazing. Zines and short graphic novels of like amazing artists. That is, that are very far away from what I what people probably assume when I say I draw comics and that’s so cool. The possibilities are endless. Love it.
D: OK, it’s just dawned on me. That I forgot to ask some boring autobiographical things.
E: Go ahead, you can. You can cut this. And put it in the beginning.
D: So focused on the fact that you’re an Aries. Where are you from?
E: I’m from Vienna. I was, I was born in Vienna and then I grew up kind of part time in Lower Austria. So half rural on a farm, which was great. But I am from here, yeah. And I’m still here.
D: You’re still here? Yeah, that happens to Viennese people a lot, right?
E: It does because I think it’s an Austrian thing because there’s only, there’s one big city, right? And a lot of smaller cities. So it makes sense to go if you want to come here to study, you come from all the places. But I’m, I’m already here. And I spent a year in Australia and New Zealand and stuff. So like I went away for a bit thinking I will stay away, because like if you want to have like the international idea of like, yeah, I’m going to go somewhere else where it’s cooler than here. And when you go to places and it’s amazing. But I came back and I actually realised, hang on. I mean I don’t, you know, I don’t have to go far away to find whatever it was that was looking for, which was I guess, community and inspiration, you know. Because just because I didn’t see it as a kid doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And also it’s a reality, I mean, I can’t just live somewhere else, I need health insurance. And it’s support, you know like.
D: Sorry, I’m American and we don’t believe in health insurance because we believe in freedom.
E: Oh, oh, sorry, sorry. This might shock you.
D: This might shock you, but some of us have health insurance.
E: It’s difficult enough as an artist. You know, if your self-employed, you’re like, OK, but I need health insurance. Somehow. Like, please. Insurance.
D: Yeah, I mean, and I think, I think. That the comfort of Vienna presents all of this opportunity for people that in a lot of other countries would be very much on the margins and be actually, very preoccupied with their own survival, in a way that you don’t have to be as preoccupied here.
E: I guess not as much. It’s hard enough. So it’s like, we love Vienna because it’s cool compared to like. The options that we have here is great, could be better. Yeah, could be so much better. Let’s put this caveat here.
D: Yeah, yeah, April 16 showed us that, right.
E: Yeah, yeah. It doesn’t mean I don’t have to tell this to you, or probably your audience, right? But like we, we all know because I guess we hear a lot from the outside like, oh, but in Vienna, these things don’t happen. And you’re so lucky that you’re in Vienna is like, yes. Yes, I am lucky. I am lucky to be Austrian. But also, it’s not as great and like solved as you think it is. We know this. I get so angry sometimes. Especially because like they tell it to me. I’m like, yeah, it is comparatively easy for me because I’m white, and I am, yes I am trans, but I’m transmasculine, I use he/him pronouns. I am perceived now in Vienna as a man, which is great for me because it’s true, and yes, but that just because, like extended family, and cis people, and they see me, ‘ah you, you’re doing well’ and it’s easy for you. It’s like, yeah. Yes, but also that doesn’t mean, oh god, we’re not all done.
D: Yeah, I think of it this way that. I’ve never seen, Like my status of how things are going never begins and ends with how I’m doing. And I’ve like dedicated my life and all the things into a community-based project. And that’s because it has always been for me about how we are doing, and my we is very expansive, right. But I think that there’s so much toxic individualism, and that how things are going is really for a lot of people just to question about how am I doing? And I absolutely love being in community with people who are much more concerned with how we are doing.
E: You know, so I think. I don’t know. Maybe it happens to us, a lot of queer people at some point in their lives. That because we have, we have a lot of work to do to think about ourselves, right, because there’s so much figuring out that is happening and then you have to fight for yourself and for your rights, that for a while it seems like ohh. But you know I am. It’s me and my fight against everyone, because if you can feel like this and I think the moment when you realise it’s not an either or thing, it’s actually you know. It is combined in the community like you say, it’s, that is the point, and it’s much easier. It’s not ohh I have to care about myself and also what everyone else is impossible. It’s the other way around, isn’t it? Because the moment you think about us, in a very expansive sense you don’t have to fight for yourself anymore. It’s not on top of that, it’s that, it’s more like if you realise that if you fight for our community, then that’s the only fight you really need cause then, it helps you. Both in the sense that you have a community and in the sense that we know this, I mean, if there’s no, just, you know, save my one thing that my label is here and the rest. We know this.
D: We know this.
E: Yeah, we do know this. We know this.
D: OK so I can’t have a 2 hour long podcast. But I would love to, so I’m going to stop you there because then I have to like edit it down just a little. Bit, but gosh I could talk to you all day. It has definitely been a pleasure. Thank you so much. Do you have any questions for me?
E: How long has this been going on? How many people have you interviewed?
D: Thirty years. How long has the podcast been going on? So I recorded over 100 episodes. Then I paused in 2018, spent the summer in Norway came back, opened this in 2019. And then I’ve been consistently trying to restart it since, so I have all these episodes that are recorded that now I’m going to do this whole footage and I have so many back recorded things that I’m actually going to be in the beginning doing it like weekly, just because I have all of the recordings. That’s pretty cool. But I mean, it’s like my 5th project, right?
E: I mean, if you are creative, you are creative, and you want to do stuff. I’m not surprised.
D: Yeah. Yeah, right. Yeah, the ADD got me. Like I try my best, I try my best. Like it’s a superpower, actually. But you know, sometimes it means that like, sometimes I have to put down a project and then, like, pick it up because like the last four years has been has been such a whirlwind. I open up and eight months later there’s corona. We survived corona, right? Through grit, grit, grit. And then we come back and we’re doing stuff and we have like three street festivals and we started the Activate Queer Youth Club we started queer mutual aid fund. We sustained so many artists and organisations. We’ve had over 150 Drag Queens that have performed through here, you know. We have about a dozen organisations that meet here regularly. So it’s just. It’s like one of those things that’s like, OK. And then that podcast. Remember that podcast?
E: Well, you know, I know how it is. And sometimes when it doesn’t want to be, you know, worked on, you need to pause it. Later pick it up again. You can pause it.
D: Yeah. So I’m picking it up again. I am picking it up again. And yeah, I’m really excited about it. There was something I wanted to ask you that was going to be like my through line because it is a podcast. What is your queer truth?
E: What is my queer truth? Oh my God.
D: On the spot.
E: It’s. I trust that I know who I am and in the same way. If it’s, if it feels right, it’s, it probably is, right? And took me way too long to you accept that. That you know, I don’t need to know why. If it feels right, it’s probably right. And it’s true for more things in my life, actually. It’s very vague. Vague, isn’t it?
D: It’s great
E: And with all the things that I have to come to terms with and think about and wonder, you know, if it feels right. In the end, yeah, probably is right.
D: How do we find you?
E: I am on Instagram. @zebrakrebs_ Yeah. Zebrakrebs.
D: Z-E-B-R-A-K-R-E-B-S, there’s an underscore after it?
E: Yes, underscore. Yeah, but yes, yes, it’s underscore after it, but you’ll find me anyway. And also if you, if you Google Erik Pekny with Erik with a K, Pekny, I come up pretty soon because that that’s a rare name. Which is pretty cool. And I have a website as well as erikpekny.com.
D: Yeah, got it. Awesome. Thank you so much. I hope that you had a great time.
E: Was great, great fun. No idea what to expect.