“Transcend: Transgender Voices” portrait series comes to NWTC
Non-binary artist shares life work
By Janelle Fisher
A temporary exhibit coming to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) April 5-7 aims to celebrate transgender and gender-nonconforming people through a rainbow of color.
“Transcend: Transgender Voices” is a series of portraits painted by non-binary artist and cancer survivor Rae Senarighi, whose paintings highlight those who may otherwise not see themselves represented in the art world.
A self-proclaimed appreciator of the arts, Senarighi said he realized something was missing in the art he was seeing.
“I love going to art museums and galleries and things like that,” he said. “I just had this realization that I’d never actually walked into an art museum and been in the painted portrait gallery and seen a person like me. And so I thought well, you know, I can do something about that.”
Senarighi said he started painting exclusively trans and non-binary folks about five years ago after battling cancer.
“I realized that I needed to make art that I cared about,” he said.
Surviving cancer, Senarighi said, gave him the push he needed to reconsider his priorities and find his passion – something he hopes others can learn through him.
“One of the decisions that I made was just not trying to get up and lecture people, but really just speak from the heart and tell people my story, and how I started doing the work that I’m doing,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with surviving cancer and kind of reworking what my priorities were in life.”
In addition to his artwork being on display in NWTC’s Unity Cultural Lounge, which is located in the Green Bay Commons, Senarighi will give a presentation from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. April 7 about his experience and what led him to creating his art.
“That is a big part of what I talk about,” he said. “Reprioritizing your own life around making space for the things that bring joy. It can be really hard, especially now, when everybody’s drained and we don’t have any energy, but finding the time and the space to do the things that bring you joy is worthwhile, and we only have this one life.”
Senarighi said it’s the determination to pursue something worthwhile that sparked his passion for painting colorful portraits of trans and non-binary people.
“One of the things that’s unique in my signature style, in the work that I create, is all the people themselves, the people’s skin and hair, is all done with just rainbow colors,” he said. “No natural skin tones are used. I work from black and white photography and then I translate that into how our eyes perceive color on the rainbow spectrum. So, every piece that I do, even though I’m using the same color palette, is kind of its own little puzzle, and it keeps me interested, and it also harkens to the rainbow flag, which is long been used to represent the LGBTQIA community.”
Senarighi said the significance in his paintings is in the details, from the colors he uses to paint his subjects, to the background he paints behind them.
“You’ll also notice that there’s a blue sky background behind all of the portraits that I do and that really is about reclaiming space…,” he said. “That blue sky background is just a representation of us (trans people), being able to live our lives out in the open, and take up space.”
In addition to his portraits, Senarighi said he also creates other forms of art.
“My portraits take me anywhere from a couple of months to six months to create, so they’re kind of a longer project,” he said.
For these quicker responsive works, Senarighi said he turns to typography.
“I’m a graphic designer and I’m also a fine artist, and just really trying to raise awareness about trans issues, and let people know that we are human, and that we lead pretty normal, sometimes boring lives,” he said.
Senarighi said he’s realized that perseverance and being open to new experiences has been just as important as the work he puts into his art.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s also just been kind of a willingness to say yes to opportunities that came out and really just kind of keep pushing and keep getting myself out there, however I could,” he said. “Now, that’s kind of snowballed and it’s taking off in some ways that are really cool to see.”
Even with the successes he’s had, Senarighi said he feels his work will never truly be finished.
“The portrait work, I feel like it is truly a life calling,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ll ever be done doing that work, because even if I spend the rest of my life doing it, I’ll barely make a dent in the lack of representation that’s out there.”
Senarighi said the exhibit at NWTC is an especially exciting one for him, as this will be his first in-person show since the pandemic began.
“The most surprising thing about my art that I love, has been traveling with it and meeting people because every place that I’ve been with it, I’ve gotten to meet just incredible people,” he said. “That human connection was something that I didn’t expect or anticipate, and it’s something that I’m really excited for.”
Senarighi’s work will be on display at NWTC from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 5-7.
Janelle Fisher is an intern from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. She writes for The Press Times and Green Bay City Pages