The complementary photographic series is a lovingly rendered portrait of Opie’s protagonist—whose greasy, center-parted hair, cheap white tank top, and impishly dangling cigarette suggest a 21st-century Steve McQueen. In Artist #2 (The Modernist) (2016), we see Pig Pen in the midst of making a collage—news clippings juxtaposed with their own fiery, orange scrawl. They show off a full sleeve of tattoos on their arm: bands of geometric shapes on the bicep, skulls circling the forearm, an insect on the back of the hand, block-lettered Xs and Os on the fingers. The ceiling above Pig Pen catches a delicate shadow of their arm and the writing implement. Opie’s camera suggests that the body—and not the collage—is the real artwork here.
Such a sustained mediation on a single personality makes sense, given Opie’s longtime association with portraiture. She often focuses her lens on queer and BDSM communities and practices, insisting on greater visibility for chronically underrepresented and marginalized figures. Her camera captures them not as outsiders, but as friends. The career-launching 1991 series “Being and Having” comprised headshots of a coterie of young queer women (including Opie herself) donning faux facial hair. Two of her best-known photographs are self-portraits that spotlight cuts that she’d requested be carved into her skin. 1993’s Self Portrait/Cutting shows a bloody rendering of a couple standing in front of a house, scratched between Opie’s shoulder blades; in 1994’s Self Portrait/Pervert, we see Opie sitting with needles woven through the skin of her arms, a black mask over her head, and the word “PERVERT” emblazoned across her chest.