by | May 21, 2023

Taylor Hengesbach also known as  Ette_Art is a New York based artist from a small rural town in Saginaw, Michigan. Stemming from a long lineage of farmers, this small town girl has come face to face not once, but twice with sexual assault. The inspiring artist sits down with Gurus magazine revealing the dark secret from her childhood that fueled her art and the decision to reveal the predator behind her whistleblower solo show in New York City. 

Ette grew up on a dairy farm with her parents Khris and Pat and younger sister Charley. “I lived there until I went to college,” says Ette. “Whether it be stacking the hay bales in the rafters or turning the hay or finding the calves born in the field, that was a large majority of my childhood.” Named after her grandmother, Ette’s artistic ability comes from the matriarch of her family. “My grandmother is my favorite artist in the world.” She recalls, “I was always obsessed with drawing when I was a kid. She was an artist, owned a pottery company, and was an illustrator for newspapers before photography was widely circulated.”

After her grandmother passed, Ette, who was born right handed eerily began to emulate her grandmother’s left-handed ability. “I’ve been writing right handed my whole life. I played basketball for Michigan State University. We won the big 10 Championship when I was there and I have shot the ball right handed,” she continues. “After my grandmother passed, I decided I was gonna change my art name to her nickname for me, Ette. Subsequently I tried painting with my left hand. I called my mom at 3am because I was freaking out because it just looked so much better than my right!”

Ette, who studied graphic design in Michigan State University, was never trained as a painter. “Where I grew up, people don’t really buy paintings, sell paintings. It wasn’t something that you’re told is possible. I thought I could monetarily make money with graphic design and then paint in my free time that that was going to be a good life for me.” 

After she graduated college, Ette moved to New York in 2017. Her first city job was at Risk gallery located on the same block of her first apartment in Brooklyn, New York. After two years at the gallery, gallery owner Lindsay Risk featured the young artist’s painting. Ette recalls, “One day she said to me, ‘I’m not necessarily firing you but you take off more work these days to do shows and paint then you are at work. If you need money, you can come back in for a few days.” That was the catalyst that pushed Ette to paint full time.

Ette describes herself as a shamanic painter. Her shamanic abilities allow her to channel the spiritual realm and tap into spiritual energies to guide her through her artistic expression. This ability allows Ette to transient into an outer body experience delivering works that call deep to one’s soul. This trance-like state pulls from a very dark place for the artist. A place full of deep emotions, a subconscious secret buried within, that the artist didn’t face until she was assaulted for the second time as an adult.

The first assault happened when Ette was nine years old. Her childhood best friends’ sibling, who was in college at the time, allegedly molested her. “It was the end of eighth grade. It was in the basement where we were watching a movie,” says Ette. “I remember we were under the blanket. They put their hand on my leg and then between my legs and I just remembered this kind of freeze response.” The molestation continued for two years. For a young mind, she thought she was in a loving relationship. Her abuser told her they were in love and not to share their secret because no one would understand. “It was quite confusing. I have a lot of work and a lot of poems about how it was very confusing to think that that was love,” says Ette.  

The relationship ended soon after young Ette started growing pubic hair. Her abuser asked her to cut it. “I didn’t know how to do that,” says Ette. “So I just used little kitchen scissors. They stopped seeing me after that and I didn’t know the reason, it was confusing,” says the artist. “How confusing it is for a little girl to think that she had lost love just for growing up.” 

As years passed on, the artist never told anyone about her childhood abuse, instead she poured her trauma into sports. “I put all my energy into basketball,” says Ette. “I would sleep at my trainer’s gym, on the couch. They all knew something was kind of going on but didn’t know what. They just let me sleep on the couch in the morning before school workout after school.” Unbeknownst to her, Ette adopted an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with her childhood pain.

Upon graduating from college and moving to New York. Painting became her next obsession. “When I graduated college, I moved to New York. I stopped having basketball as a form of release. That is when I found painting.”  Ette continues, “I am a shamanic painter. I would feel when I needed to make a painting. It would ramp up my energy, and every couple of months I would have a mental breakdown and paint anywhere.” This unhealthy cycle would start at any time in the day or night. “From 12a.m to over a day at a time. My roommates  would have to stop me to eat,” says the artist. “I would go non-stop. I wouldn’t even clean my brushes afterwards. It was so horrible. I wouldn’t sleep for a few days after I finished the painting. I was exhausted. That pattern continued until I was raped by Harif.” 

Harif Guzman, a famous artist from Venezuela, was one of the first people to get Ette to open up about her childhood abuse. Guzman, who began making art in the 1990s using photographs and paintings of eroticized female subjects, has exhibited internationally. In addition, his works have been featured at the Whitney Museum, MMOMA, the GR Gallery in New York City and at the Paul Fisher Gallery. His work is collected by Tommy Hilfiger, Uma Thurman, and Dag Cramer. Guzman has collaborated with companies such as Ralph Lauren, Volcom, and Burtons, but more importantly he allegedly preys on young female artists and allegedly rapes them in his studio.

In 2020, Ette was introduced to Guzman by her then boyfriend, Jonathan Normolle. The couple hung out a few times with Guzman. Always in a group setting, Ette recalls the first time she felt seen by the artist. “He had given me this clothing as a gift when I was at his studio. He tried to help me put it on and I pulled away,” says Ette. “He asked, ” What happened to you? Why don’t you like being touched; something happened to you as a kid?” Taken aback by this response, Ette was stunned but felt seen. 

The budding friendship appeared supportive and nurturing. As a novice painter, Ette revered Guzman as a mentor. Their conversations empowered Ette to share her childhood trauma with her family. A week later, Guzman, Ette and a group of friends met up again at Guzman’s home. Ette, thankful for Guzman’s advice, whom she now confided in as a friend, was eager to share what she’d told her family about her childhood abuse. “He told me he was so proud of me,” says Ette. “I thought when he asked me to go into the studio with him the night of the rape, I thought we were gonna to paint together.”

Alone, in the studio side of Guzman’s home, Guzman allegedly offered Ette cocaine. Ette shares she would occasionally use recreational drugs to self medicate. She accepted the offer but claims she was given ketamine. Ette goes on to describe the rape, “I was sitting on the bench in his studio in front of his remastered painting of the famous Klimpt painting, “The Kiss” “He said, you’re gonna fuck him (referring to my then boyfriend) but you don’t want to fuck Harif Guzman. I turned around and I scoffed because I didn’t know how to react.” Ette alleges Harif was blocking the door, exposing his genitals. Ette continues, “I got up to leave the room and he wouldn’t let me,” alleges Ette. “My head was in a dissociative state because when he was assaulting me, I literally made no noise. I always loved to imagine that I would scream. There were people in the other room. But I didn’t yell. I didn’t make a single noise. I don’t know, my vocal cords felt like I didn’t have a throat.” 

After the assault, Ette left the home. She confided in her then boyfriend and three other individuals. The responses were lackluster at best, sharing they know he is weird with women. The same week Ette told her family she was molested as a kid she had to also reveal she was raped. “He raped me a week after he asked me to tell my parents about the childhood abuse,” says Ette. “It just opened up all these subconscious boxes that I had no idea I had compartmentalized in my head. I actually climbed over my penthouse balcony edge and dangled myself; considering to end it.”

In June of 2020, she decided to seek intensive therapy, Ette has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety, major depressive disorder, and CPTSD. “It took a long time to love myself,” says Ette. “My therapist had to teach me how to literally go outside. Because I would pull from really, really deep and dark places. I didn’t have the healing knowledge of how to paint in a healthy way.”

Ette did not get a rape kit in May 2020 nor did she report the alleged rape to the authorities. “No one would help me because I didn’t take action right away,” says Ette. “I felt hopeless. I was just so frustrated. It also felt so minuscule to authorities. I didn’t know that the statute of limitations was up on it. Like that’s how little questions I feel like I was being asked by some of these law firms.” Now, three years to the date from the allegedly rape, Ette guided by therapy is taking her abuser to the court of public opinion. 

Last night Guzman’s crimes were exposed in a daring and courageous exhibition, Ette deemed The Whistleblower. The raw show featured a violinist, an interpretive dancer and Ette in a crystalized nude bodysuit sitting on a mattress. The charred mattress which had been burned by Ette in her hometown backyard, was the very mattress she was molested on as a child. It laid center stage in front of a 20 x 20 canvas displaying her poetry. Ette opened the show by sharing one of her poems. She proceeded to climb on the mattress, cutting and then shaving her head in silence as the audience witnessed the heroin act of bravery. At the end, Ette stood up and revealed her rapist name on a 10 x 10 cloth written in red paint with the words, “Harif Guzman is a Predator.”

Editor-in-Chief: Derek Warburton
Written by : Ashley Foster
Photographer: Hamish Gardner

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