The 20 or so minutes it takes me to walk from my apartment to artist Lisa Yuskavage's studio in Brooklyn are pure agony. I am the most nervous I have ever been. Why do I do this to myself?, I repeatedly mutter under my breath. I've loved her work for a long time. I have a vivid memory of looking at her work in the pages of a magazine as a teen. Even then, I knew her work was controversial to many people. Her paintings of naked female figures catch your gaze, while you're probably distracted by their bare breasts. Even the ones whose eyes are looking away from you still make you feel guilty because you're gawking. Weeks before we meet, I am organizing a pile of magazine tear-outs from God-knows-when when I find an image of her iconic work Little Day, Little Night among old tax forms and cut-out fashion editorials.
You should never meet your idols, I think as I approach her studio.
She greets me at the door, asking, "Would you like some tea?" For some reason, this puts me at ease, and my fears dissipate. Soon after, it's just the two of us talking like this isn't the first time we've met. She walks me to a table full of her childhood memorabilia, which is part of a massive archival project of her own work. She has put a lot of that work on her website already: you can search by subject, by year, by dimensions, even by color. It's remarkable, all the more so because it seems rare for an artist of her stature to have such a robust website.
Lisa picks out a junior-high report card from a messy bunch of papers on top of a folding table in her studio. Her grades are all satisfactory, and there is a note from the teacher: "Lisa needs to talk less in class." She also shows me a special report she wrote around the same time on the overpopulation of pets, which is hysterical in its seriousness, especially because she collaged the folder with images of things like dogs in outfits and advertisements for pet-cemetery plots (the undeniable proof there's a pet problem). The irony, she says, is that when her dogs recently passed away after a long illness, she told her veterinarian, "You just lost your best client."
Finally, we walk into her main workspace. It is bright and airy, and there are three paintings in various stages of progress, all on opposite walls. The studio is glamorous in that it's so bare-bones. The middle of the room is mostly empty. There is enough space to have a party, maybe roller-skate a bit, but there is an unremarkable black office chair and a stool right in the middle of it all, and that's where we sit to begin our formal interview. We've already been talking a mile a minute, but I haven't yet started recording, so it feels like it doesn't count. We talk about going to an all-girls school, discovering feminism through dream prophecies, and Madonna songs, all with the constant hum of the aboveground train in the background. It's a beautiful day.