Jayne County is both legendary and ignored; the kind of artist who has been around forever and yet not long enough.
First famous for being a part of proto-punk as a singer for New York rock bands like Queen Elizabeth, Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys, and Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, she is credited as not only the first out transgender rock singer, but also having inspired glam and punk rock peers like Iggy Pop, The Ramones, David Bowie, and Lou Reed. Songs like “Fuck You” and “Are You Man Enough to Be a Woman?” were not commercially viable, but well-recognized in late ’70s and early ’80s New York. (Caleb McCotter portrayed County pre-transition in the 2013 film about CBGB, a venue her bands frequented and helped establish.)
The Georgia-born artist was a frequenter of Stonewall and Andy Warhol’s Factory, as she appeared in Warhol’s play Femme Fatale at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, one of two plays she’d come to co-star in withPatti Smith. She also appeared in films, like the 1978 cult classic Jubilee and The Blank Generation, a compilation of home movies following some of the aforementioned punk icons before they achieved notable status. In 1983, she starred alongside another Warhol favorite, Holly Woodlawn, in a stage production of Les Girls.
Yet despite these being just one tiny part of her resume, County is frequently left out of discussions on the early punk movement, a seminal time in not only rock ‘n roll but American culture. It’s especially significant in that County is and was unapologetically transgender. In 1995, she detailed her experiences in all facets of the art world in her memoir Man Enough To Be A Woman, the same year she appeared in Wigstock: The Moviewith luminariesRuPaul and Lady Bunny.
Having since moved to Atlanta and keeping a relatively low profile, County has now re-emerged with a career retrospective of her artwork in New York: “Paranoia Paradise.”
Curated by Michael Fox, who took some photos of County for BUTT Magazine in 2008, “Paranoia Paradise” will feature 80 of County’s paintings, “inspired by County’s fantasies, rage, notions of beauty, and thoughts and feelings on culture and political figures.” Photographs of County’s career will accompany her work, including images shot by Fox, Bob Gruen, and Leee Black Childers.
“I have been fast friends with Jayne since the moment we met, when she offered to buy me a drink at Squeezebox in the mid-90s,” Fox tells INTO. “She has been a mentor and muse to me, and I am happy to help to facilitate her wish to have a serious exhibition of her art for the first time.”
Fox says he finds that County’s work “is most certainly coming from the heart and soul of a person who has spent her life as a pioneer of queer rights, and that will be evident to the viewers of this exhibition.”
“Jayne’s body of work over her lifetime has been to protest the societal norms by which she has never been constrained,” he continues.
“Being gender fluid adds to my unique way of viewing the outside world,” County tells INTO. “The normals and the solids are all around me but I can create my own world or bubble with my artistic temperament mixed with my gender fluid personality to form my own world that is separate from the boring outside world. Then I create my art.”
County has been creating transgressive work in many different mediums, but has yet to receive her full due for her influence and trailblazing at several pivotal politically charged eras. “Paranoia Paradise” will, in no small way, offer a celebration of her five decade-long artistry and influence, which should be more widely commemorated in her respective industries and communities.
“Some people are at odds with the world and they become serial killers,” she says in a press release, “and others become artists.”
“Paranoia Paradise” will be at Participant INC in New York City from February 4 through March 11, 2018.