“I love women with fupas! Fupa season!” Elena Redmond recalls a man coming into the small Tchotchke Gallery, located on the Lower East Side. Redmond wasn’t in the studio at the time but the man’s proclamations of how much he loves “women with this body type” only confirmed the necessity of her first solo show "She’s A Cow". “That’s what the paintings are about; it’s someone coming in here and screaming about the body type. That’s how I feel every day,” she said sitting on the wooden gallery floor. “That’s how I felt when I was nine.”

Redmond is a Brooklyn-based visual artist originally from Pennsylvania. In her work, she explores femininity, the human body, and the difficult balance of private and public lives, especially with the rise of social media. In "She’s A Cow", partly inspired by meme culture (think Doja Cat), art history, and nostalgia in the form of early 2000s Disney animation, she asks more questions about the way we represent ourselves and the underlying patterns that make us stick to these representations.

In "She’s A Cow", Redmond links the bodies of female-identifying people to the way cows are commodified, exploited, and overused. “A lot of it has to do with how we treat cows in America,” she said. “I was really interested in size and shape [as] a symbol for the feelings that come with feeling like that piece of meat or prey.” Through her work this dynamic of prey and predator, meat and consumer gets blurred and, like the bodies in her paintings, distorted.

Nowhere is this difficult relationship between spectator and subject, predator and prey, more evident than in her work “Two Birds, One Tiger”. Naked and exposed, with skin in hues of gold and orange in front of a bleak blue sky, the painting’s subject looks back. She holds your gaze as if to challenge you to a staring contest. Who will look away first?

“They are kind of aggressive sometimes, like the poses and phrases,” Redmond said, letting her eyes trail along the walls. “The eye contact can be really aggressive.” Her solution to this potential aggression is humor. In past interviews she said she structured her paintings like comedians structure their jokes. “Most of the titles have this kind of hint of joking,” she said.

When you do, eventually, look away from the piercing, almost pleading stare of the yellow face framed by dark stringy hair, your eyes will trail along the white walls to more, equally colorful portraits. “They’re definitely self-portraits but I’m really attracted to the idea that we get to build what it looks like,” she said.

Sitting on the wooden floor of the shoe-box-sized gallery space, Redmond wears a pink tie-dye Power Puff Girls shirt, high-waisted jeans, and faded Nike Air Force 1s. If you didn’t know that they were self-portraits, you might not recognize her and Redmond wouldn’t mind that too much. It's important in some ways but not critical. “I’m building the version of me that I’m showing.” She compared the figures in the paintings to avatars of social media. “To me, my paintings are like characters more so than they are my exact body.”

This is partly because distorting the human body and face plays a major role in her work. The desire to distort was amplified by the same painting, yellow and confrontational. “This painting was mainly about sexting,” she said, nodding to “Two Birds, One Tiger” hanging on the wall opposite the entrance.

She noticed how similar the nudes she shot were to the photos she took as references for the painting. “I was taking all these pictures of myself and I was like ‘wait a minute, I’m taking these pictures for art as well,’ she said, “and they don’t look that fucking different [from the nudes].” Where was the difference? “The intention is so separate that I was really caught up in the similarity of what they looked like.”

This realization and desire to make viewers see it as art first and nudes second pushed her towards more distortion. “That’s when I started to really get into distorting the body more,” she said. “I thought about [this difference] the most during this show and it made me want to distort things more and the actual images to be even less ‘fancy-ified'.''

She prefers to work from questions and is more comfortable asking than answering. Her favorite painting “Clapping With Questions And There’s Lighting” is the very last piece she painted. The whole collection, made specifically for this show, was painted in just under three months during which she would work on multiple pieces at the same time. "That one was the most unplanned emotional for me. I was making it at the end and I kind of wanted it to be the [like a] watchful eye," Redmond said.

The blue face stares back at the viewer and the other six paintings. Unlike "Two Birds, One Tiger" this stare doesn't feel like a challenge, more like a question: What do you see? What do you see first? Art of nudity?

It's okay if it's the latter. In a lot of ways, you seeing nudes first would only confirm the need for this collection. "It's always proving the point," Redmond said, laughing. "Always."

"She’s A Cow" by Elena Redmond│In-person through Friday, April 15 at the Tchotchke Gallery on the Lower East Side, New York and online through May 10; info@tchotchkegallery.com