Known across the web for giving food porn a whole new meaning, Stephanie Sarley is the American artist unleashing the sexual potential of fruit and veg. Her art can be so raunchy that her hugely famous Instagram – featured in our 10 Artists Trolling IG’s Nudity Policy piece – has oftentimes been taken down.
Coming from a family of artists, Stephanie has always had the freedom to experiment with both food and sexuality; a fact which led to her becoming a self taught artist who has dabbled in tattooing, printmaking and has even published a smutty illustration book. When she’s not on the ‘gram, she also paints and draws equally sexy drawings of feminine genitalia, as well as making films. But don’t let the sultriness of her videos distract you from her strong political message of liberty and open-mindedness.
We caught up with Stephanie to discuss her peculiar love of fruit, how she fights against meme accounts stealing her work, and which is the food that most awakens her desire.
So how did you start fingering food?
In late 2014, I was doing a series where I put fruit on my crotch and I would dress it up with different fabrics and stuff. I also did collaborations, one of them with my boyfriend Jacob. And that was the first time I fingered fruit. I was really curious that night. It was really fun and spontaneous.
It's almost like a children's game. Did you play with food then?
I did! I loved playing with food. I come from a family of artists, so playing with your food was okay and being creative was okay.
Were you also sexually curious as a child? Teenager?
I was a really wild teenager, actually. I was really in the local Bay Area punk scene and still am, but I was going to shows every weekend from the age of 13. I was sexually active at a younger age than a lot of kids.
Your Instagram has been censored for being too raunchy. Was that the first time you faced censorship?
My first art show was at this little cool café and there was this self-portrait I did. It was a face in green and there was an eyeball, flat colored; very pop-arty. In my mind, it wasn't grotesque or too much. The café seemed pretty open-minded; punk chicks worked there and you thought they would be cool with it.
But I get a call from the owner when she comes back from her trip and she told me to get my art off the wall because it was really offensive. She literally said, “I just want to vomit”. And also, word for word: “You could put a piece of poo on a canvas and call it art”.
I remember this and it broke my heart. And I still have an ego, because I know I'm good at drawings, so I was like, “Oh, fuck this shit!” So, unfortunately, there’s always been a little controversy surrounding my work.
And then it happened again with Instagram when your account got taken down. So what have you changed in the way that you work with Instagram? I mean the fact of having your account taken down, it's almost kind of the same type of bullying, right? So how have you moved on from that, what have you changed in the way you work with Instagram?
It was deeply, honestly, really hurtful at first when it happened. I had just passed 10,000 followers, and the famous art critic Jerry Saltz had followed me. And then I had other really cool people following me and I felt like I was starting to get a community with artists to develop my career entrepreneurially – that's what Instagram is really good for.
So, it was super heartbreaking and I wrote them a bunch of letters. They were like, “We took it down for sexually suggestive content.” So I got in touch with the business bureau and they enquired as to why Instagram was abusing me, basically.
On top of that, there was this teenage boy who was posting my art like crazy with watermarks on it. And I was like, “Wow, I cannot handle this shit right now.” Luckily, there is a lot of support in the art community and the media. That's when I feel like it became more than just fingering fruit.
The censorship itself started a movement with other women who connect with my story, and other men, too. I think art is meant to be seen, not all kept away privately for the fancy galleries or the art school people. You want people to see art, to be able to experience art and be inspired by it too.
Do you still see it as a valid platform for your work?
Not totally, that's why I held back a lot of my work. I don't post as rapidly as I used to because I experienced a lot of disrespect. But, at the same time, I've gotten a lot of credit for it and that's been amazing for me.
So yeah, in a certain sense, the positive has outweighed the negative when it comes to copyrights and stealing of ideas. Also, I've been contacted by really amazing companies and developing other projects outside of it and meeting great connections. But you have to really take it outside of [Instagram], that is really the key.
Is the fruit fingering series a reflection of your personal life or sexual preferences?
I'm a sexually open woman, I've never experienced my body totally comfortably around other people and with myself, so expressing that with food has been really fun and interesting. But honestly, it's connected to emotions a lot of the time.
I don't come up with an idea by thinking of a sexual act. It's actually more fluid than that. It's not even connected necessarily always to a body part.
What is the most sexual fruit or vegetable for you?
Probably a citrus and also melons. Now when I go to the grocery store, I'm obsessed, I'm hunting down things.
Can you look at fruit the same way?
No, I don't. What's interesting is that when I eat the fruit that I've sexualized the most in my art or experienced most, the texture is more flesh-like, to be honest.
Your art has a very strong feminist stance. What's the difference if a male artist was to do this?
I like to stay open-minded because of the unique characters and very different types of men and women. I'm not gonna say that men can't practice fruit fingering and that the implications are different.
Have trolls and rogue meme accounts made you change the way our work?
I haven't let it change the way I work. I still do whatever I want to do and I'm going to keep doing it, but it's hell of annoying.
I just put up the picture of that strawberry with the cream pie recently, and I got a lot of likes, so that caused people to meme it and I had to take down a bunch of the memes. They just say the dumbest shit like, “When your girl's on her period but you're a freak”. It's just like, 'Ew, stop!' I did not do it so you guys can make fun of vaginas.
That's the internet for you.
That's the thing, that's the unknown, but then I put it out there. So I just learned how to cope, honestly. I never post my higher quality films actually. But I do painting behind the scenes, I do all this film.
As you're saying, is Instagram the best platform for that? No, it's not. So I'm actually right now developing a lot of projects in the background.
So what’s next for you?
I'm making some new films and a book with a mix of photography and paintings, those fun crotch drawings, and some stills of my fruit art. It should be released in the coming months.
Next up on Highsnobiety Life: here's why you should re-think those twerking workout classes.