Love Poems, Now in Doodle Form

Apr 29, 2014 at 8:38 AM ET

For every Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem on love and loss, visual artist Rita Gomes has an unbridled, modern doodle. “Fuck (off) on the first date,” she scrawls in one. “Too busy not giving a shit about you,” she writes boldly in another. Her scribbles are punky, counterculture, often angry and always brutally honest. And while they started as a therapeutic side project—a way of feeding her feelings to loose-leaf paper—they’re now her entire career.

Between two upcoming shows (May 10 and May 16 in Le Havre and Paris, respectively) and a recent partnership with Converse, her emotionality is officially going mainstream. “It’s not difficult to find something to complain about or write less sympathetic words about in a world like ours,” Gomes, 26, tells Vocativ. “There are ugly things in the most beautiful things and beautiful things in the most ugly things. That fascinates and keeps me going.”

Born and raised in Portugal to New Jersey-native parents, Gomes studied visual art at the University of Porto’s fine arts school. A self-described “refugee,” she’s previously lived in China and Germany, and now lives in Lisbon. But her real home is on the Internet, where she goes by Wasted Rita—not because she’s perpetually drunk, but because she worries about wasting her many talents.

Gomes’ “super power,” she says, is her ability to take fragile, emotional and often unstable moments and translate them into equally transient-looking pieces, many of them “crude” scribbles in generic artist notepads. And for the most part, they’re crass, expletive-laden takes on what she’s feeling at a given point in time. “I am not a fan of visually beautiful things, so I easily refuse any kind of art that doesn’t make me think, rethink or feel something different,” she says. “This defines the line between art and all other things.”

It’s art, but it’s also commerce, and for Gomes, who calls herself an “observant overthinker and natural wanderluster,” there’s little difference between the two; both involve a producer and a consumer. She markets all of her pieces (both originals and copies) in her own online store and at Society6, blurring the line between thoughtful visual artist and commercial designer for the Urban Outfitters generation—angsty, visually inclined over-sharers who live on the Internet like she does.

It’s no surprise, given her audience, that many of her scribbles address her own romantic quandaries. “I don’t fall in love easily, but when I do, I make sure I fall for those rare few beings that can be even more complicated and obnoxious than me,” she says of the “dark wounded souls” who interest her. Her series—“breakup letters,” “the art of flirtingness” and “late-night writings”—are her own “lustalicious thoughts,” inscribed in everyday notebooks:

These doodles, she says, purposefully call attention to the flaws and affectations of mainstream culture. “I get very suspicious of role models or putting people on pedestals,” she says. “Especially people who are more likely to be products than real people, like celebrities.”

Her latest pop-culture subject is the cult following of Beyoncé, a mindless mental herd she terms Beyoncé “hypemism,” or “Beyoncémania.” Late last year, she transformed part of a concrete wall in Lisbon into her own billboard, recasting Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” to fit the pop star’s fame:

“The only thing I’m trying to say with ‘Be the Beyoncé’ is for people to be their own best, to be the things they adore to praise, to practice their values and to do it in their own lives,” she says. “If she really is such an empowered, independent, talented and focused human being, then be it yourself.”

This sort of functional art—the kind that deconstructs in-the-moment trends—is something a variety of other artists are currently exploring. There’s Anna Gensler, known on Instagram as Instagranniepants, who sketches her most uncomfortable and offensive Tinder chats with men in Baltimore. And Emma Koenig of famed Tumblr “Fuck I’m in My 20s,” who documents her thoughts in to-do lists, sketches and comics. Likewise, Gomes refers to her own work as a radically honest “teenage diary,” citing that “everyone has a teenage inside.”

While she’s cultivated a large Facebook following of 20-something fans, Gomes is careful to distance herself from trite providers of millennial-friendly advice like Thought Catalog. “I just can’t stand these kinds of articles that supposedly know more about your life than yourself,” the artist says. “Who wants to know the ’21 things everyone should know by their 20-somethings blah, blah, blah’? Could you please stop screwing the beauty of the already few unexpected things of life for everyone?”

Instead, the whole idea, per her artist name, isn’t to blame or judge, but to get her fans to quit wasting time. “People who don’t do anything and/or have no aim in life easily annoy me,” she says. “It’s your life. Just wake up and be something. Don’t let yourself become another insignificant being.”