Facebook   Twitter   Instagram
Current Issue   Archive   Donate and Support    
The Girls in the Mirror

The Girls in the Mirror


Jacquelynn Perkins’ solo show, Self-Portraits of My Sisters & Andrea Dratch’s accompanying film & performance piece, Shame on Me premiered at downtown Loveland’s artworks on April 12, 2024.

“We had these girls in the mirror and we would sit and talk to them. They looked just like us and they were sisters.” Artists and sisters Jacquelynn Perkins (43) and Andrea Dratch (41), who were born in Denver and Longmont, sit in Perkins’ Loveland studio in overstuffed, red chairs discussing their art opening on April 12th. And more specifically, the journey that landed them here.

Perkins’ studio is almost unrecognizable to those who have followed along on social media as she’s painted her way to physical healing. In the shared photos, brightly colored, large-scale paintings cover every surface of the space. But on this day, when Yellow Scene Magazine had the privilege to sit down with Jacquelynn and Andrea, the paintings were all on exhibit at artworks in downtown Loveland. Jacquelynn’s solo show consisted of a body of work completed primarily within the last four years – when she was home-bound and bed-bound with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. This solo show, her first, is a declaration of survival.

At the gallery downtown, the flow of the installation was experienced as a rebirth. Jacquelynn and Andrea did this unintentionally, only seeing the poetry in it after everything was installed. It would not be inaccurate to identify the last handful of years as a rebirth for Jacquelynn and Andrea, individually and together, both struggling with autoimmune diseases and coming to terms with life in their female bodies, viewed and critiqued as if they themselves were living exhibits.

Andrea, an actor and performance artist professionally trained at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, debuted her film and live performance piece, “Shame on Me.” As viewers, we entered the show through the side door of the gallery, where we were confronted immediately with the film playing on a loop. In the piece — running just under 7 minutes — Andrea’s character Estelle, peers at herself in the mirror. The audience can hear her inner-critical thoughts playing like a soundtrack. Estelle never speaks.

“Decompose” painting by Jacquelynn Perkins. Photo by Brooke Austin.

“Your boobs are so big. Your teeth are so big. Who’s watching your children? You think you’re so important.” The dialogue continues with actual commentary Andrea has received throughout her life. We watch as Estelle, garbed in a vintage bra and girdle, smears makeup over her face, sits down to a meal of lettuce leaves, and cries, overwhelmed by negative thoughts — until she breaks, replacing the lettuce with a pair of turkey legs, feasting upon them as juice squirts from the drumsticks and ligaments dangle from her greasy cheeks. And then SCREAMS into the camera, a blatant rejection of the feminine cultural narrative.

After taking in Andrea’s untamed vulnerability, the space pushed the viewer through a hallway flanked with stills from the film accompanied by language describing the effects of the inner voices we carry through our lives. One of the stills was a close up on Andrea’s C-section scar, another on her lifeless expression as she tuned into the unsolicited criticisms.

Emerging from the hallway, we came to a 48 x 48” painting of Jacquelynn’s, “Who Still Licks Envelopes,” in which Andrea — who modeled for many of the works — stood nude on a playground carousel, C-section exposed, wearing the same hollow expression from the still in the hallway. Turning the corner, we were confronted by the real-life Andrea in costume as Estelle, standing behind a frame hanging from the gallery ceiling. Viewers were invited to release the damaging judgments they’ve received throughout their lives onto Andrea. While YS was at the opening, there wasn’t a moment when someone wasn’t standing in front of Andrea vocalizing their critical inner voices onto Estelle. Many were in tears, seeking the comfort of loved ones after unburdening themselves.

Then it all opened up as we moved into the light-filled space holding Jacquelynn’s paintings — assertions of beauty, liberation from the predefinition of the female body, and freedom. Jacquelynn’s paintings are large, colorful, and feminine in a sense of the word that is rare because it’s true, saturating the viewer with love and self-acceptance. We had been disarmed by the vulnerability of another, presented with the opportunity to unburden ourselves, and invited to dance in the halls of radical self-love.

“Soap Dish Envy” painting by Jacquelynn Perkins. Photo by Brooke Austin.

One theme across Perkins’ paintings is that of animals, primarily native to Colorado, often in settings where they are breaking free or behaving in ways outside the scope of human expectation. We asked her to elaborate on the meaning of animals in her paintings. “I was thinking about expressing feminine energy and power, and then thinking about different energies and spirits that have been oppressed on this earth. How it was striking me in my work was comparing animals being domesticated to women being domesticated. And putting them in these domestic interior settings that they’re breaking out of… I think the animals also represent this wildness in women that we’ve been told to tame down.”

The collaboration between the two sisters has been life-long, and also a choice. As a deliberate statement against the powers-that-be who preach that women are at odds with each other, they choose to celebrate the unique value in each other’s work. “If there’s this group of people that you want to oppress, tell them that they can’t work together. Then they can’t gain power as they join,” Jacquelynn told YS at her studio.

Andrea’s house is less than a block away; her dog sometimes escapes to play with Jacquelynn’s dogs. “And I’ve noticed recently, more and more women over these last couple years smiling at each other, being kinder to each other out in public. And truly feel it is women starting to think about this for [themselves]. Plus there’s this intuitive communication that women have that is so strong, so I think for Andrea and I, we’ve always had that. This almost telepathic way of communicating.”

The two women spoke of a time when they were at odds, unsure what to do with these new versions of each other, both experiencing personal expansion and self-discovery. During this period, Jacquelynn was working on “Soap Dish Envy” (60 x 48”), which portrays both Andrea and Jacquelynn standing in a bathroom, at unease, listening in on the criticisms that have been spoken in this private space. Initially, only Andrea was in the painting, but Jacquelynn felt a pull — candidly a jealousy — to put herself in the painting as well. As Andrea expressed the healing she experienced through being painted by her sister, and seeing her body in a new light, Jacquelynn began to reach for this level of self-acceptance for herself.

It had been many years since Jacquelynn had painted a self-portrait. In the depths of depression and anxiety brought on by postpartum and then chronic illness and pain, Jacquelynn’s connection to her art and herself had worn thin. But while painting Andrea into “Soap Dish Envy,” she began to feel a pull to paint herself into the piece, which led her to remember that she had created her own likeness countless times as a young artist at The Rhode Island School of Design. Realizing that she desired to see herself in her work again, she boldly painted herself into the piece. In the painting, the sisters look fraught but are joined, bodies overlapping in the space. In that moment of uncertainty, they still reached for each other for support.

“Who Still Licks Envelopes” painting by Jacquelynn Perkins. Photo by Brooke Austin.

In the most recent painting in the show, “Decompose” (48 x 48”), the sisters sit side by side, peering confidently out at the viewer. Their bodies are positioned as mirror images, yet there is space between them, each having stepped into their own individual power. Still a constant support and unending psychic connection, they no longer lean on each other as they have.

YS asked Andrea what it was like to receive the weight of the public’s inner negative thoughts. Her initial goal for the performance piece had been to stand behind the frame for two hours, but she ultimately held the position for three. “It was crazy. People were in front of me the whole time… And I didn’t want to take that away from anyone.” In tears, Andrea explained the other-worldly feeling of taking on the pain of others – over one hundred people who spoke to her within a few hours.

“We’re just all really hard on ourselves. And a lot of the things said, I’ve said to myself. I knew I got myself into a place in my life [where] I could do this. And it just felt so amazing and so draining at the same time. I can’t really…I guess I just cried to show you how it felt.

“It was amazing to allow my body to actually have that many negative things thrown at it – it just is so empowering, too, to come out on the other side. I didn’t slip into a depression,” Andrea said.

Jacquelynn described the unique energy of the space the night of the opening: “It was a surprise to me, and we feel like a big part of that was the film — it’s right when you walk in and it is in your face… And then coming down that hall and seeing my paintings – people were already in this more vulnerable [state]. I felt a real openness, a real curiosity, and a real respect.

“I feel a respect for men. I see how this patriarchy is hurting men. [And] I really felt like their eyes were open, I mean their body language was open. I had no one give me a look like ughh, or an eye roll.

“I have a vulnerable piece of me sitting naked (“Evaporated Milk I,” 60 x 40”) That piece is really about birth and also about being a human sitting on this earth. And I feel like the men, after looking at it, were…getting a deeper kind of understanding. Because I did not want this feeling of ‘this is all about women and screw you all.’ Once they [were] standing in front of you with this level of vulnerability…it was to me one of the most beautiful things.”

The creative lives and successes of Jacquelynn Perkins and Andrea Dratch carry a feeling of purpose. Looking out past the horizon, they envision a more authentic way of life. What did the sisters see in the girls in the mirror, nearly forty years ago? A bond and a purpose that would live and grow within them for the rest of their lives. And a reality in which they could break free, together.


Brooke Hamilton-Benjestorf
Brooke Hamilton-Benjestorf lives in Loveland, Colorado with her husband and two young sons. She is a novelist, short-story writer, and freelance journalist. In her free-time, she lives at the kitchen table working on creative writing projects, reading, meditating, and climbing down rabbit holes. She also enjoys mushroom cultivation and horror movies. But most of all words.

Leave a Reply