GREEN BAY – You might recognize their work from around town and online.
Maybe you’ve seen the high-contrast portraits by Megan Deprey, the warm colors of Alyssa Lentz’s photography, or the colorful aluminum wire sculptures of Dannah Piippo.
These artists have more in common than a talent for expressing themselves through their work. They share perspectives for healing, love and compassion. And they all identify as LGBTQ+.
For Pride Month the Green Bay Press-Gazette interviewed nine local artists and learned what inspires them to produce the work they do for the community. Their responses are as unique as their creations.
Green Bay-based photographer Alyssa Lentz believes love is art. While she photographs many people for a variety of occasions, she is most involved in wedding photography. Her images are often suffused with golden, warm light, lending an ethereal quality to her subjects.
Her guiding vision: “I think my broader goal any time that I’m shooting is definitely more representation, particularly in the wedding industry because that’s sort of where I’m the most involved. Trying to show fat bodies being represented and queer love and things like that that we don’t see represented very often is, on the big scale, my guiding principle.”
When photographing queer couples: “I think it’s really important to me when I’m working with other queer people that I’m just being cognizant of the fact there can be a lot of trauma, and I kind of take … almost like a trauma-informed approach to working with people and people who may not be super comfortable with their bodies, or may be nervous about being affectionate with their partner in public, or even being in front of another person — and just being sensitive to those things.”
Liz Brinks is a nonbinary writer who has lived in Green Bay for five years. Brinks recently started a newsletter called “The Gender Issue,” where they talk about transgender and nonbinary issues.
Brinks started an online platform creating Instagram content and resources in January 2020 but expanded to writing a newsletter, blog, and articles at the Curvy Fashionista, a site dedicated to curvy & plus-size fashion commentary. Brinks started out online because they felt passionate about transgender and nonbinary issues.
Why they started the online platform: “It’s really important to me that there be people who can be loudly trans and nonbinary and exist, if they’re comfortable, in those online spaces. Because I know what it meant for me to have nonbinary and trans people who were hyper-visible, especially in Wisconsin and especially in Green Bay because those people made me feel safe and they made me feel like I could not only explore my gender identity but also be sort of loudly trans in the community.”
On educating others about trans culture: “I’ve received an overwhelming number of questions and people wanting to know a lot about trans culture and nonbinary people. … It felt like a lot of people were interested in what felt like basic or even very 101 level things. Like people were really confused and curious about how to use pronouns for people who use multiple pronouns, people who might use he, she, or they pronouns. There have been a lot of conversations — I’ve created a couple of graphics. … The other thing that has really been asked of me, especially with more local people, is the best way they can really be an ally to trans people.”
Dannah Piippo is the artist behind the business You Are Loved Creations, where she uses aluminum wire, upcycled and recycled materials, and scraps of wood to make miniature sculptures.
Discovering aluminum wire as her main medium was unexpected — 10 years ago she’d been gifted a bouquet with a scrap of 12-inch aluminum wire. She simply bent and twisted the wire to say “mom” as part of her mother’s Christmas gift and shared a picture of it online. Everyone loved it.
Since then, she’s been taking custom orders, which often involve making inspiring gifts to remind people that they’re loved.
Piippo’s mission: “Just trying to give things that feel discarded a new purpose. And that’s for scrap material and that’s for people. Like I want people to know that they are just so important to this world, even if they’re not feeling it in that moment.”
Her most memorable pieces: “There’s two that come to mind. The first one is for a cancer survivor. I took the words ‘I’m a survivor’ and repeated them twice and turned them into a cancer ribbon. It was in a light pink, so for breast cancer. And just getting the feedback on how much that meant to the individual that had survived — I actually started marketing them for other people and donated 15% of the profits to a local cancer organization. So it was really neat to be able to do that: kind of turn something that was so negative and so difficult into a positive.
The other one was a little memorial statue for a woman to put on her son’s grave that had passed away. And that really resonated with me because I’m also a bereaved mother. My daughter passed away when she was 12. So, it was just connecting with that person that had made the order and being able to put my energy into making that for them was really, really incredible.”
E.J. Miller-Larson is a queer, nonbinary, Two-Spirit artist in Green Bay. They are a member of the Oneida Nation of Green Bay and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. While they have been creating art since high school, the real journey of creating art to explore culture started this past year. During the pandemic, Miller-Larson ended up going on an introspective journey to connect with their culture.
Art to explore culture: “A lot of my art is finding pieces of culture that I didn’t have in my life growing up and exploring them. Also exploring lots of themes that are kind of tough: we have the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit. We have the boarding schools. We have a lot of intergenerational trauma. And I really enjoy using my art to reach out to people in my community and kind of commiserate over these difficult instances.”
RELATED: Tribal nations have recognized ‘Two-Spirit’ people since ancient times, an early sign of LGBTQ+ appreciation
On being queer and Indigenous: “I don’t see that (being Indigenous) as being different from my queer or LGBTQIA identity. I see the two of them as just parts of who I am because queer people have always been here and will always be here, and we were a part of cultures long before America.”
On finding beauty in ‘tough stuff’: “I feel like we see a lot of tough stuff in the news relating to pretty much everything. Having an outlet where you can take that and put it into something that’s beautiful, that other people can see beauty in, I think is a really great part of being an artist.”
Kassie Corroy is an experimenter at heart. The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay student has worked with all kinds of materials and old artifacts including but not limited to: an old baby doll (that she beheaded for its eyes), an old typewriter and a raccoon skull.
Shining brown cicada shells frozen in resin. Or a mouse trap with the wire coiled and a tiny blue first-place ribbon. Or borax crystals clinging to an aged, yellowed book on fire, curling under its own weight.
In addition to exploring with different materials and objects for sculpture, Corroy is primarily a printmaker. Not small prints, but big, time-consuming prints. She strives for ambitious projects — in the project’s scale and its contents.
On the art of experimenting: “It’s always really nice to just play around with materials and not have like a set kind of thing … because sometimes I don’t really like being told what to do. It makes me irritated. So if someone gives me a prompt like ‘Oh, will you draw me this dog?,’ like, absolutely not. But if I’m just kind of free doodling or just experimenting with the material, I usually get a much nicer product than when I’m actually focusing really hard on trying to make something really interesting.”
On using unexpected objects or material: “My favorite thing to do is juxtaposition, and also working with unpredictable materials. So like with animal remains, you can turn that into something people won’t be expecting. You can pair it with something that wouldn’t really make sense and it turns out better than you think it did.”
Over the past year, Jess Beyer has been getting serious with her dream: growing Landmermaid arts so it can one day be her full-time business. She was laid off for four months during the pandemic, and it gave her a taste of spending all day every day working on art.
Beyer loves to draw pin-ups, foxes, and fan art. Many of the women she draws have a third eye, antennas, or fantastical elements to them. Her art is also colorful with bright, often neon, colors. People have chosen to tattoo her art, and she hopes to create more for the tattoo industry.
On drawing female pin-ups: “Around that time I started drawing a lot of pin-ups, I was in a really bad relationship. I had a really bad relationship with myself, but through drawing and everything it really helped me learn how to love even myself. Pin-ups are powerful.”
On creating art for tattoos: “I’ve been obsessed with tattoos since I’ve been little. And I like the concept that it’s permanent. Once it’s there, it’s there, and you can’t lose that piece of artwork. … It would be rewarding for me to put my own artwork onto someone else and for them to have that forever.”
You might see Megan Deprey‘s portraits around town — at The Gift Itself in Downtown Green Bay and Toast and Co. in Ledgeview, for example. She paints high-contrast portraits with acrylic and chalkboard paint. Her family has always been in the arts — her father is a band agent, her siblings in dance, visual arts and writing. Deprey and her siblings were always encouraged to be in the arts.
On how she started painting portraits: “I always kind of doodled a little bit, but my wife and I got into a pretty bad car accident where neither one of us were able to go back into work. So I had a lot of free time and needed to pay the mortgage somehow, so I started doing portraits for people and it kind of took off from there.”
On a new gig with musician Dani Maus, who sings as Deprey creates portraits: “Our very first one, I did it of her while she was singing. To me it was super fun to get that reaction and to have an actual (live reaction). People are able to see what I’m looking at and are able to reference it right offhand. … My back is facing the crowd the vast majority of the time. I never really knew that people wanted to see how I did things and watch things progress.”
Storm Grace, 17, is a graduating Bay Port High School senior headed to the University of California Irvine this autumn. He’s excited to move to California where there’s more of an arts scene. With all the changes he’s embarking on right now, he’s hoping to share his art more often with the world.
Storm loves putting together stories through his digital artwork and hopes to do more oil painting this summer. His summer project will be painting his favorite spots around the Green Bay area.
What he explores through character design: “I like playing with kind of religious, or divine-type, themes in my work because I have a complex relationship with religion, and I guess philosophy in general. I’m a little bit of a nerd for pondering existence.”
On exploring Green Bay scenes with oil paintings: I’ve had my ups and downs in this town and it’s like, at some point, I’ve kind of had a bitterness because I’m queer, I’ve had a lot of complex interactions around here that have been less than favorable. But at the same time I’m trying to look forward to the future and move past that a little bit and take a little bit of pride in where I’m from, and trying to look for the more nice things rather than just reflecting on the little bit of the bad past that I’ve had.”
Green Bay’s Sly Chou is an artist of many mediums, including jewelry making and photography. They couldn’t tell you where they found the passion for art — no one in their family is particularly artistic. But they are entrepreneurial, and Sly says that’s how they got to selling their art as a business. They love being an entrepreneur in addition to being an artist.
On donating money to address mental health in the LGBTQ+ community: “It definitely is (an issue in the community), especially amongst the transgender community. Just having to deal with discrimination, having to deal with family that doesn’t accept you, or having to hear what’s going on in the news about trans rights. It can be very taxing on people’s minds.
“For me growing up very Catholic and kind of raised in that sort of rigid environment, I definitely struggled with depression at a terribly young age because of all that. I saw the effects of not embracing mental health as a real health concern.”
On finding inspiration from nature: “It just ties into my personal brand of spirituality where I just feel like we’re all connected, and I just feel like …everyone connects with nature because we are nature. And I think that it heals us to be in nature, to appreciate it, to embrace it.”