Los Angeles-based street artist and “L.A. Hope Dealer” Corie Mattie didn’t grow up in Orlando. But it is where she came into her own as an artist who embraces the inescapable politics of everyday life. The City Beautiful is also where Mattie came to terms with her sexuality as a gay woman.
And today, she’s not apologetic about either her sexuality or her overtly political art, which can sometimes err on the side of raunchy: “Leaning in,” she says, to conservatives’ over-sexualization of what it means to simply exist — to live, laugh, and love — as a LGBTQ person.
Her artwork, blending activism and socio-political commentary, has been highlighted by publications such as the New York Times, LA Times and The Guardian.
In June, Mattie ventured back to the City Beautiful to plaster prints of art from her “Say Gay” campaign — trolling DeSantis and his allies, as HuffPost reported — on various spaces throughout downtown Orlando.
Last week, Mattie returned for “DeSantis Is a Drag,” a night she organized with local drag performers at Southern Nights, a bar and dance club in the Milk District, near downtown. Landing on a Wednesday, offering a midweek reprieve from the tumult of Florida’s daytime political landscape, the event (for ages 18 and up) featured Mattie’s art installations, in addition to a drag show, as the name of the event suggests.
Orlando Weekly caught up with Mattie last week, a couple of days after the event, at The 808 in Thornton Park, the site of her new mural. “Love Is Love” depicts three couples: a man and a woman, two women, and two men. The phrase is painted just above them, a symbol of equality and a reminder that no couple of two consenting adults is wrong or abnormal.
Our interview with Mattie has been edited for length and clarity.
OW: So how would you describe yourself and the work that you do?
CM: I am a street artist-activist in Los Angeles, also known as “L.A. Hope Dealer,” dealing hope. It came up during the pandemic, I did a mural, “Cancel Plans, Not Humanity” that was covered by the LA Times, and then I kind of spearheaded, you know, painting on all the boarded-up shops. From then on, I went into, like, literally living at the corner of art and activism. So, like George Floyd happened and then I started doing other things that are out in the streets. And then it turned into this like, political …
[Mattie pauses, then continues]
It’s easier for people to digest heavy things through art, you know? And so I found that niche, and I think I’ve mastered it.
And what’s your history with Orlando? Why is it important to you to come here to put on these events [like “DeSantis Is a Drag”]?
CM: I mean, [Orlando’s] Southern Nights is where I realized that I was like, permanently into women. I think it was interesting because I grew up on the East Coast, went to Maryland, graduated from Georgetown, and then I lived in Orlando for a year. And that was the year — it was a pivotal year for me because I started drawing more and I started coming into myself. Even though it was only a year, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t make this move first.
Like I said, L.A. Hope Dealer wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for my time here. That’s why it was important for me to throw the drag show at Southern Nights. It was like coming full circle for me. It’s like coming back here with a different lens and experiences.
I think that some people might not get the opportunity that I did if they moved here, you know what I mean? With the current social climate. It’s like, it’s 2023. I did this 10 years ago, it was 2014. It’s a shame that people can’t feel more comfortable in a place that they should be able to.
There’s been a sort of back and forth here in Orlando about whether the city can be considered a safe place for LGBTQ people to visit and live, considering Florida’s political landscape and new laws restricting the rights of queer and, especially, trans Floridians. The advocacy group Equality Florida issued a travel advisory, warning of the risks of visiting or relocating to Florida if you are a LGBTQ person. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think Orlando is a safe place for LGBTQ people to be?
CM: I do, actually. I came here in early June and I was like, expecting the worst. I did that mural and I kind of went rogue. When I put these posters up, “Say Gay” and stuff, I was expecting a lot of backlash. And I know I’m like, in the progressive bubble of Orlando, so I think it would probably be more dangerous if I went into places that, you know. … But for the most part, I didn’t feel unsafe at all.
I think there’s parts of anywhere that has, you know, bigotry and hatred, even in Los Angeles. Glendale is 10 minutes away from f-cking LA, and there are [anti-LGBTQ protesters] doing the same thing — protests of Pride Month. And like, L.A. is the most progressive city in the United States, along with New York City.
I don’t think anywhere is a safe space. You know? Women’s rights are stripped, LGBTQIA+ rights are stripped, education is being attacked. That’s everywhere, and Florida is the epicenter for sure.
And what do you think makes a safe place? What makes a place feel welcoming?
CM: Well, I think self-expression is very important. I think places that do allow drag, [where] you’re allowed to express yourself. That’s an art form, you know? It’s not the devil’s work. Being able to express yourself in the way that you want, to feel and be seen. Drag, art shows, music concerts: Those are all things that should make people feel safe because they can kind of express themselves in any way they want. But, I mean, it’s impossible to feel safe.
So how was “DeSantis Is a Drag”? How did that event go? What was the vibe?
CM: I made 14 images of conservative politicians in drag but made it a coloring book, so that everyone could go in and color it. I had art installations but I wanted people to feel a part of it, too. And I had a lot of fun, sexual things, like stools that [say] “Sit on my face instead.” It’s almost, sex is such an act of self-expression as well. In my head, I’m like, OK, let’s lean into it. Let’s lean into it. I know it’s vulgar, but I did the Disney Minnie and Daisy, and Minnie’s going down on her, and it’s a mural on Southern Nights — people are like, “Oh I don’t know, I draw the line on that.”
Where I’m like, no, that’s the whole f-cking point. Because they describe us as animals. And I’m like, great, then I’m going to be as vulgar as possible. You know what I mean? Maybe I’m proving them right, but I should be able to do whatever the f-ck I want. It’s not harming anyone else. It’s allowing me to express myself, and I am, you know, sexual. Most people are. So it’s like, why does that have to be hidden, and why can’t I express that in my art form?
How did people react? What was the reaction from people at the event?
CM: It was pretty emotional. I think it was interesting because I don’t know if any of the drag queens have ever done something like that. And it wasn’t like they had to dress as politicians. But it’s like, this is politically based. So it’s almost like giving them a prompt and seeing what they did with it.
I’m able to express myself painting … So why can’t they do the same thing in their art form? I think people really, really enjoyed it because I took a piece of L.A. and brought it here. I don’t know if people are used to those installations. Like, I had a whole Barbie tower where they’re having sex. It was weird. I was just like, let’s just f-cking f-ck this shit up. Actually there were no negative reactions. I didn’t raise that much money, but sometimes the message is more important than the money.
Was there anything about how it all went down that surprised you?
CM: I guess maybe towards the end, I didn’t realize how many people were going to be there. Because at first I was like, no one’s here. You know, Orlando is always late. But I was just like, when I got up to turn around, I was like, “Oh f-ck!” And this is a f-cking Wednesday.
It’s kind of proof that sometimes this is what they need. Yeah, there’s hella drag shows everywhere here, but are they politically based? Or is there a way to have a night that you can kind of have this emotional release of what’s going on? Maybe that should be a thing. Maybe not just in Orlando. I think it allows people to feel less frustrated about what’s going on.
Going back to your personal history with Orlando, what was that year you did spend here like for you? What’s your story? And how was that a kind of life-changing experience for you, coming to terms with your sexuality?
CM: I think [Orlando] just gave me more confidence because you know, where I lived in the Northeast, it’s still friendly. But … it wasn’t as open-minded. Or, maybe it was my own environment. My parents were accepting, it’s not like they’re not accepting, but maybe I was able to explore more of myself because I was so far away. I think maybe it was more location-based.
I didn’t have that many friends because when I moved here, I didn’t know anyone. So it was also a year of observing, and [to] be like, Oh this is accepted. And people aren’t looking at me f-cking weird. I think the queer community in Orlando gave me that confidence.
What is it like returning to Orlando from out of state, during a period where Florida (based on legislative action, at the very least) is feeling more hostile towards queer people?
CM: I think it’s hard because you can see everything that’s on the news. But then when I’m here, everyone is very accepting of me. But it’s also like, I don’t see the root of the problems because I don’t live here.
What would you say to other queer people living here who may be trying to find themselves, but aren’t sure if it’s that’s something that’s possible in this political climate?
CM: It’s interesting because my setup, at the drag show, I was like, Pride started with a riot. But what’s interesting is that a group of lions is called a pride and they are family and they protect each other and they fight, and I think that that’s the queer community. You know, it’s like the Mexican proverb: “They tried to bury us, didn’t know we were seeds.” So even if we’re in this epicenter of hate and restricted rights, it almost motivates people, and I think it shows that there’s still pockets of safe spaces, like Southern Nights, like the drag shows in Thornton Park where people can still go and express themselves. And perhaps maybe all from all the hate, more opportunities are created, you know? Where they’re like, OK, let’s make this more accessible to people that might not feel safe. So I think, the silver lining, which if there is any, is that the community is strong.
You’re also working on completing a “Love Is Love” mural in Thornton Park, on the outer wall of The 808. Can you tell us about that?
CM: I mean, it was only two girls kissing, and then it said, “Love Can’t Be Banned.” And then I was like, we should really … I love going big. It’s nice because, you know, there’s two women, a straight couple and two men, and now it’s “Love Is Love.” So it’s like, let’s remind each other, if you’re straight or gay, still love one another.
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