The widely acclaimed Peregrine Honig takes her underwear obsession on yet another adventure.

Panty Raider 

The widely acclaimed Peregrine Honig takes her underwear obsession on yet another adventure.

Page 4 of 10

Beneath the crude photograph, a caption reads "Hermaphrodites in Art -- the work of Peregrine Honig."

"Peregrine Honig is my sort of artist!" raves a blurb.

We live in a place of free speech, Honig says. People will interpret her art as they see it.

"People will project sex onto a can of Coke," she says.

At the same time, she knows that some viewers struggle to understand what she's doing.

"I think people want an easy explanation, like, 'I'm a feminist' or 'I have an eating disorder,'" Honig says. "I wasn't sexually abused, and I don't have an eating disorder. I've had to deal with assholes in my life, and I've had to talk my way out of shitty situations, but I haven't been raped against the wall by a stranger. If I had, my work would probably be a lot different than it is."

Still, it's not as if Honig's childhood was ordinary. When she was three years old and living in San Francisco, her parents gave Honig a sketchbook. The child's scribblings (she shunned crayons, preferring to draw with a pencil or pen) quickly surpassed those of her toddler peers.

Honig's faces were attached to bodies, complete with fingers and feet. Her female figures carried grinning fetuses inside their bellies. She drew breasts with nipples. Little Peregrine sketched a baby attached to a placenta and dangling between two spread legs.

These strange renderings captured the attention of Constance Milbrath, a child psychologist who is now a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of California-San Francisco and a senior researcher in that university's division of adolescent medicine.

Back in 1979, Milbrath had already studied several talented children for a research project she planned to publish. Milbrath found her newest prodigy in Honig, a reserved child who seemed content to sit and draw all day long.

Milbrath had met Jordan Honig, Peregrine's father, on a visit to Project Artaud, an artists' colony in San Francisco's Mission District. He showed his daughter's sketchbooks to Milbrath and encouraged her to study his talented daughter.

"Peregrine's dad was trying to be an artist, and her mother was also a free spirit," Milbrath recalls. "She was very much into letting Peregrine explore her art on her own." Milbrath visited every few months, from the time Honig was two-and-a-half until she was fourteen, studying the drawings and directing her to draw more. Peregrine was polite and happy, extremely bright and articulate.

"She was definitely highly talented," says Milbrath, who documented her findings in Patterns of Artistic Development in Children: Comparative Studies of Talent, published by Cambridge University Press in 1998. "Peregrine was using line in a very different way than other kids her age."

Whereas less talented children shaded in the spaces for people's clothing in their drawings, Honig drew folds in the fabric. The faces on her figures conveyed emotion. Other children copied drawings they'd seen in storybooks, but Honig created her own. At age four, she drew a figure of a whimsical girl wearing a skirt of leaves and playing a harp. She sketched a couple of female fairy-tale figures, princesses with flowing hair and billowy hats, reaching out to touch each other's fingertips as they floated on the page.

Growing up near Castro Street in the 1980s, Honig had plenty of visual stimulation. Gay men openly expressed their affection for each other just outside the window of the family's house. At Project Artaud, the mood was live and let live. There was Big Ken, an aging porn star whose claim to fame had been his ability to give himself a blow job. And there was J.P., who had bought a generator at an Army auction and climbed in the bathtub with it to perform bizarre experiments that frequently blew fuses in the old building. Moonies congregated across the street in Jackhammer Park.

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