Young moms breastfeeding in a park; women in burkas and Acne tees drinking beer in the sun; Trump watching the statue of Lincoln shoot himself in the head; a dad with blue fingernails painting his son’s nails red on father’s day. These are some of the most recent images Laura Breiling has uploaded to her portfolio—a German illustrator who often combines her skill for realism with a disconcerting color palette, or surreal backdrop, to create her distinctive style of contemporary political cartoon.
“I love to depict everyday situations with a touch of oddness, to confuse or even affront the viewer,” says Breiling, who uses her art form for feminist self-expression. Originally she studied graphic design in Mayence, Germany, but now lives in Berlin where she works for high-profile clients Die Zeit, Pitchfork, and Bloomberg Businessweek as well as female-led independent titles Riposte, Missy, Double Dot, and BBY. Her portfolio shows a special focus on feminist and gender-related topics, but also a commitment to global politics and science. Other recurring visual themes reveal her playful nature and personality—there’s plenty of parasols, luscious-leaved houseplants, and great outfits to be seen.
More engaging are the political themes that Breiling injects into her work at will. “Sometimes I still have discussions with art directors about the body shapes that I depict, or the wrinkles, but these discussions are becoming less frequent,” she says. This is of course an unsurprising shift in a landscape where the body positive movement is pervasive, to the extent that there are now even Dove soap bottles for different body types. Yet pick up many mainstream women’s magazines, and you’ll notice that the bodies represented, on the whole, still do conform to an ideal. For Breiling, this is a situation that improves with each day.
“I’m really observing that shift and appreciating it, but there’s an upswing in terms of all different forms of diversity. I try to show a wide range of different people, and most art directors I work with are okay with that, and even book me for that reason.”
Laura Breiling, Beach Body.
One of the things you’ll notice with Breiling’s drawings is that many of her women, regardless of the commission, have underarm hair. “I actually recently uploaded some illustrations that pictured female body hair, which led to positive feedback on the one hand, and a small shitstorm on the other,” she says.
“It might sound absurd, but we can benefit from that hate. It highlights what’s wrong in our society, and optimally it could lead to the formation of new movements. People who are pissed off tend to be the most politically active. Sometimes something simple like showing a woman with armpit hair in an illustration might activate, as it’s still such an uncommon image for many people. All in all, we have some way to go, but we’re on the right track.”