Joan LeMay’s joyful debut edition puts The Pill on a pedestal.
This isn’t just Joan LeMay’s raucously joyful debut edition. This is an exercise in enthusiasm and acceptance, an ecstatic homage to a daily dose. This is a story about something small but immeasurably mighty. Arguably the most important scientific advance of the 20th century. So good Loretta Lynn even wrote a song about it. That game changing linchpin of progress, that powerhouse of prerogative, that prescription pre-requisite of emancipation: The Pill.
As a shout out to Women’s History Month we’ve exclusively lined up releases from female-identifying artists (incidentally, not a novelty for us) and packed our March newsletter sched with cool women. What better way to kick things off than LeMay’s colorful ode to oral contraception? Behold, Birth Control Portrait I. We’ve also been referring to our newest limited-edition print as the Wheel of Extremely Good Fortune, ‘cause ever since LeMay's starring subject cleared FDA approval in 1960 it’s been a literal and figurative lifesaver for so many people. Painting it with proper revelry is a gesture of well-deserved appreciation, as is hanging this poppy print on your walls.
LeMay has been painting medication portraits since 2018, starting with a tribute to her very own “ass-saving” asthma inhaler. She quickly recognized the profound value in praising the medicines that help people thrive, the remedies that give folks a fighting chance at leading healthier, happier lives. Birth control, SSRIs, acne treatments, drugs to address thyroid disorders, anti-anxiety meds—by putting these prescriptions on a pedestal, giving them the portrait treatment, and portraying them with effusive joy and positivity, LeMay subverts stigmas. She replaces shame and reticence with gushing gratitude and vibrant, extravagant extroversion.
Birth Control Portrait I elevates its subject to a status befitting a saint, a savvy sort of anthropomorphization that gives The Pill its due. The classic birth control wheel hovers like a holy object over a festive floral background. LeMay’s interest in religious iconography subtly comes across. Could we also read the red blossoms as a reference to menstruation? We wouldn’t put it past this artist, and surely the metaphor of flowers as vaginas isn’t something that eluded her. All of this is at play in LeMay's exaltation of oral contraception, and the effect is equal parts respectful and lighthearted. Fact is, you can't look at Birth Control Portrait I and feel glum.
If you’re smart enough to follow LeMay on Instagram, you’ll be served a glorious cornucopia of animals and snacks and people and patterns and flora and famous folks and no shortage of bright, happy-making hues. And if you like what you see there (how could you not, tbh) we highly recommend giving this episode of I Like Your Work podcast a listen, during which you’ll discover what we’ve also learned: that LeMay is as downright delightful as her artwork. Apropos of nothing, she’s also the mother of a terrific 48-year-old turtle named Sheldon who enjoys eating sweet potatoes. That just seems like something worth sharing. Now go collect Birth Control Portrait I!
With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200