The art world is full of torrid tales and romantic stories when it comes to male artists and female muses — Édouard Manet and Victorine Meurent, Salvador and Gala Dalí, and Picasso and Dora Maar to name a few. It is also quick to ignore the fact that many of these women were artists themselves. The muse of the female artist is also rarely discussed (for decades women weren’t even allowed to observe the male nude in life drawing sessions and in schools — if they were allowed to attend at all). And those considered are examined with a sensationalist eye, focused on tempestuous relationships like that of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Brooklyn-based artist Lissa Rivera longed for an intimate muse, which she found after listening to the confession of a dear friend. He shared that he had dressed in women’s clothes for some time, but was struggling to feel comfortable exploring that side of himself lately. The tender photography series Beautiful Boy was born, in which Rivera and her muse — who became her romantic partner and collaborator — explore identities, their own complicated relationships with femininity, decadent fantasy, and vulnerability.
In a published conversation on The Ones We Love, Rivera’s partner “BJ” shared his feelings about their collaboration:
The project really freed me to understand that gender is not necessarily this deep-seated, static identity, but that it is actually something that I do. My gender can constantly change and evolve, and it is it totally coherent and consistent to explore many different ways of presenting gender. It really freed me to relax and be myself and be in my own body without worrying about how it all fit together, just going with it and trying to do things that feel good or look beautiful or are exciting to me.