In one of Liana Finck’s cartoons, a man and a woman sit at a bar. “I want to be upfront with you. I am a more or less functioning alcoholic,” he tells her.
“He is so self aware!” the girl with heart-shaped eyes thinks to herself, smiling.
If you read The New Yorker or The Awl, you’re probably familiar with Finck’s sardonic observations about relationships and our urban malaise. Now 80 of her slice-of-life cartoons that originally appeared on her popular Instagram feed have been collected for “Passing for Human,” Finck’s first solo exhibition at the Equity Gallery.
Finck, 31, has been drawing since she was a baby; it allowed her to communicate in a way that her shyness would not. Studying fine arts at Cooper Union, though, wasn’t as gratifying as she expected. “I wanted to be a comics artist but I thought it wasn’t highbrow enough,” she said. “I was brainwashed into thinking it was better to be highbrow.”
She applied for grants, and one of them allowed her to publish her debut graphic novel, A Bintel Brief, which in turn led her to have her cartoons published in The New Yorker. She chatted with Bedford + Bowery about the liberating power of Instagram, the meaning of art, and her current projects.
I started doing “the Instagram” about 18 months ago, I am very timid and self-conscious and I’ve always drawn very uninhibitedly, but whenever something is for publication, I just completely freeze up. When I started drawing for Instagram, it was the first time I ever felt uninhibited in something I was showing to people. It was incredibly therapeutic to be able to get past my terror at least in one area. I think what’s changed in the past year and a half, as I’ve been working on it, is that the extreme thrill of having something new and cathartic has worn off a little bit. Which is so sad, I love starting new things and there’s nothing like it, and I am not great sticking to formats.
I think I’ve gotten more measured and thoughtful, maybe I’ve gotten better in some way to make up for the freshness becoming less, I’ve become a better storyteller. The Instagram has gone through periods of different moods. When I am going through a breakup, it tends to be about breakups. When I am dating, it tends to be very angry because dating really sucks in NYC right now. After the election I lost a lot of followers because I was grieving: it wasn’t processed, it wasn’t pretty, maybe it wasn’t that relatable but now I have a boyfriend, I am more boring and calm. It’s become more autobiographical, less angry and more slice of life. I don’t care or know if it’s good, but that’s how it’s changed lately.
I don’t always, and it’s really weird. Instagram is great because I am not paid for it, so I don’t need to post when I don’t have anything to say, but sometimes I put really dumb stuff on The Awl because I have a deadline. I tend to do sometimes good, sometimes bad when there’s a deadline. If I really don’t have something to say, I have really bad judgment and I cannot say if it’s good or bad when I make it.
I think the system for getting art into the world is not designed perfectly. Art is communication, and the way art gets into the world has a lot to do with money, and it messes up with what art is supposed to be. You have to make sure you’re not falling into those traps.
Instagram is a great format— just images, not really words. I think that’s why I love it. I do New Yorker cartoons, if I had been born 30 years earlier, I would have been able to make a living just doing single-panel cartoons because so many magazines used to carry them. Now it’s just The New Yorker and they just have 17 slots per week and hundreds of people try to get their cartoons in, and it’s just one pretty rigid style. Instagram was just open and great, another way to do that kind of cartoon.
It’s not hard, you just need to keep coming back. They kind of haze you. I would go once every couple of years, I would get really discouraged, but then I decided to keep going. It took me four months and I finally sold one then I kept submitting for another year and then I sold another and I finally got comfortable with it.
I am finishing a pretty rough draft maybe 5/6 of a graphic novel that I have been working on for the past five years. It’s called Light and Shadow, it’s a feminist memoir/fairy tale. It’s all autobiographical besides the idea that I lost my shadow when I hit puberty, and each chapter takes a different angle on what my shadow was and why I lost her. The premise of the book is that if I can figure out why I lost her, then she’ll come back to me.
“Passing for Human” runs through August 5 at Equity Gallery, 245 Broome St., Lower East Side.