Western Alumni

Body of work

Drawing nude self-portraits exposed Quinn Rockliff’s talent as an artist and advocate

By Keri Ferguson

Quinn Rockliff

Quinn Rockliff (Photo by Whitney Smith)

Quinn Rockliff was never one to pick up a pencil or paintbrush to process her feelings – until she came to Western.

Examining events involving consent and assault through a critical lens inspired her to draw her naked body repeatedly, reclaiming a part of herself once stripped away. She also uncovered her artistic talent, launching a career as an interdisciplinary artist well before her convocation.

“I arrived at Western with one idea about who I was and what I wanted, and left as a completely different human,” said Rockliff, BA’17. Courses in feminist theory and media studies challenged her thinking, uprooting past hurts and violations.

“It was an overwhelming and big experience to unpack all these interactions, learning about consent culture and how it fit with my coming of age,” she said. “Rather than talking about it, or whatever people do to cope, I just began drawing myself again and again.”

Quinn Rockliff
Photo by Whitney Smith

At first, Rockliff unconsciously drew the idealized female form, before embracing and sketching the body that was uniquely hers. She spent most of her free time in second year in her dorm room drawing, with professor Atle Kjosen’s third-year alternative media project pushing her to explore her craft more fully.

“I painted nude portraits of myself and other women I knew to make a book where you could flip through and unveil their pages. It explored notions of consent and empowerment through self-representation. After that, I started to take my art seriously.”

Her studies also challenged her use of social media, with her posts shifting as she shared her art and raw truths about her lived experiences.

“I didn’t necessarily know why I was doing it; I just knew the more I drew my body, the more I felt in control.”

“It was terrifying because I went from having my social currency of wanting the attention of men and being validated online by my peers, to someone posting drawings of herself naked and talking about feminism, toxic masculinity and consent culture,” she said.

Although she lost a few followers and friends through her fresh approach, she found her voice and a wide community of support.

“I started having conversations with other young women about the things we were experiencing, the expectations placed upon us, and how the impossible double standards of being desirable – but not giving too much of yourself away – was a game we would never win. It was just so fun to admit and reject wholeheartedly,” she said.

Untitled self-portrait
Untitled self-portrait
Worth saving
Worth saving
Album concept art
Album concept art

She also began selling her work online, attracting more followers and fans; among them, a representative from Rethink Breast Cancer asking Rockliff to design t-shirts for an education and awareness campaign aimed at young women, in collaboration with clothing chain H&M.

“To have an organization and big company wanting my depiction of the body was a really validating moment for me,” Rockliff said, though she admits to suffering from imposter syndrome, despite having also worked with other national brands, including Knix and Mary Young.

To combat those doubts, Rockliff took advantage of time during lockdown to hone and expand her craft.

“Because I was so successful early on doing commissions for people and selling prints, I never really took the time to create a body of work for myself. The pandemic has caused me to slow down and do that,” she said.

Now her practice includes painting on silk, with her signature single-line technique the foundation of her work.

“The single-line drawing evolved as a need to abstract my body from my expectation of perfection, and to look like people I didn’t look like,” Rockliff said. “As I started drawing myself more and more, using it as meditation to work through things, I needed a quick way to get myself, my body, down on paper. The best way to do that was to do it quickly and not lift my pen from the paper.”

She continues to create new pathways to represent who she is by drawing herself every day.

“It’s a great way to ground myself and be present with my body – how it’s changing, and also finding new parts to explore and appreciate.”