When tweets from an old Twitter account of the Atlanta-based artist known as “Squishiepuss” surfaced online earlier this month, it caused a social media firestorm and led to allegations of inappropriate behavior. Now some members of the local arts community are distancing themselves from the artist.
Multiple women took to social media to accuse Ray Geier of sexual harassment and misconduct, as was first reported by Creative Loafing.
His work — a bright pink bulldog with octopus-like legs — once adorned the exterior walls of several businesses in the metro area, including Hodgepodge Coffee House and Gallery, Homegrown restaurant and J. Sherman Salon. Now there are blotches of paint or new works going up in places where Squishiepuss once appeared.
On Jan. 5, the Beacon, a new retail development and creative space in Grant Park, posted a message on Facebook noting that it had terminated its relationship with Geier, who had planned to open a gallery/retail space called Squishieland.
Since then, the Beacon has announced the Feb. 14 opening of “If I told you …,” a group art exhibition and public programs “focusing on female artists and those who identify as female, to discuss issues of sexual harassment and violence in our community.” The Beacon did not respond to the AJC’s request for comment.
In an email, Geier responded to an interview request from the AJC stating that he had retained legal counsel. He would not provide the name or contact information for his attorney. “I have been advised not to comment further,” wrote Geier. The artist, who is 39, according to public records, has not been charged with a crime.
It was the impending gallery opening that prompted several Atlanta women and artists to publicize the artist’s social media posts. “I thought it was going to be (Geier) using his power to prey on women who were trying to break into the art world,” said artist and model Kayleen Scott.
Scott, 27, met Geier in 2012 when he contacted her after seeing her artwork on Instagram. They developed a friendship, but over the years, Geier’s behavior changed and Scott said she felt the need to distance herself from him. She began to hear allegations from women that were increasingly disturbing, she said, but she had no idea what to do about it. “No one would listen to me and no one did anything,” Scott said.
She discovered his old Twitter account with tweets from 2011 and 2012 under the handle “Rayspitsongirls.” The feed had degrading comments about women and foreigners. “I was so upset,” said Scott, breaking into tears. On New Year’s Eve, she posted several entries from Geier’s now-deleted Twitter account to her private Instagram account.
A few days later, fellow artist Aliya Smith, 26, of Decatur shared the Twitter image publicly as well as her own history with Geier on Instagram stories. “He said things like ‘you can’t spell raypist without ray’ and ‘Sometimes I have trouble telling if someone is foreign or mentally retarded,’” said Smith, who kept screenshots of the tweets.
“In the first 24 hours, I got 30 to 40 stories about women being harassed (by Geier),” said Smith. Women continued to send her messages on Instagram as the story was shared. “I feel like when one person was comfortable saying what happened, more people felt comfortable saying, ‘I thought I was alone.’”
Smith said she first met Geier in 2017 through a weekly drawing group. That same year in an interview with “The Late Night Start Up Show” podcast, Geier shared that he decided to become an artist during a period of homelessness. He began drawing a French bulldog modeled after his own pet, but his lack of drawing skills resulted in the figure having octopus legs instead of a dog’s body, he told TUC magazine in 2016. He would later paint various versions of the dog without legs and develop branded merchandise such as stickers and pens, which he sells online.
Last summer, Geier invited Smith to participate in an art show, but after Smith began hearing stories about Geier’s behavior, she removed her work from the show. When she learned about the tweets, she agreed it was time to do something. “Women deal with harassment all the time. I thought it was important for a woman to come forward,” Smith said.
Geier posted an apology video on Jan. 4, but it was quickly removed after it drew even more backlash. Smith expressed concerns about many of the comments posted publicly to Geier’s apology video, particularly one from a 17-year-old who said she felt uncomfortable with Geier’s sexual advances toward her but did not know how to tell him, Smith said.
The artist’s social media accounts have since been shut down, and many online stories from media outlets that had profiled him and his artwork have been removed.
“This happens in every industry, but this is the first time in the seven years since I have lived here where there were real consequences,” said Susannah Caviness, 31, founder of Tower Press. Caviness has known Geier for more than a decade though they are not friends. After she shared Smith’s original post with Geier’s tweets, women began direct messaging her with their stories about the artist.
The attention comes at a time when the national arts community continues to grapple with allegations of sexual harassment and impropriety among its members, while at the same time questioning if and how to separate an individual’s creative work from their personal conduct. On Jan. 9, a federal judge in California dismissed Ashley Judd’s claim of sexual harassment in her lawsuit against producer Harvey Weinstein for the second time, though the remainder of the case, which includes a defamation claim, is moving forward. In Atlanta, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office reportedly began interviewing witnesses that alleged sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of singer R. Kelly.
Last year, the art world was left reeling when several women accused artist Chuck Close of harassment. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., postponed an exhibition of Close’s work, according to a story in The Washington Post. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) did not remove Close’s work but added an exhibition to encourage conversations about power, gender, race, sexuality and access.
“We are in a much different day and age now than we were even five to 10 years before. I think that people have just had enough. How many times do we have to deal with this before we start taking allegations seriously?” Caviness said.
Now members of Atlanta’s arts community are also looking for ways to move the conversation forward. “It is a very triggering time when someone who is a member of a small community like the arts community in Atlanta is exposed to the degree that (Geier) was and continues to be,” said Michelle Khouri, 30, founder and CEO of FRQNCY Media.
Khouri met Geier several years ago at a gallery show and later invited him to come on her “Cultured” podcast. When she learned about the allegations earlier this month, she thought it over before reaching out to Geier’s detractors for interviews. She plans to replace his episode with an episode in which she allows women — four at last count — to tell their stories.
She also sent Geier a text message. “I said, all these women are coming forward, you have hurt a lot of people and you need help. This is not OK,” said Khouri. “I’m not sure if Ray fully understands the hurt that he has caused such a large group of women and in such a wide variety of ways. My hope is he realizes that he does need help and there is someone available to be on his side and help him.”
WHY IT MATTERS
It has been just over a year since the #MeToo movement caught fire, with women across the country breaking their silence about sexual misconduct and abuse. The response to the allegations against artist Ray Geier is the first time in recent memory that many locals can recall the arts community rallying together to bring actual consequences for alleged misconduct.