Bad Habits exemplifies Lisa Yuskavage's ability to brazenly explore issues of desire, lust and sexuality through images that at are at once seductive and deeply disturbing. Painted in 1996, this curious coterie of distorted females presents two highly sexualized, provocatively posed nudes on either side of a figure whose body has been choked out by an unrelenting, high-necked nightgown. Like so many painted nude women throughout history, they perform as allegories, forming a nightmarish inversion of the Three Graces in order to parody the trite stereotypes of the prude and the promiscuous "bad girl." In the extended wake of Feminism, Yuskavage seems the ultimate provocateur, delving into the human psyche to illuminate the complexes that lie behind female sensuality, whist her subject's deformities prey on women's fears about losing control over their bodies. Yet, for all the gender politics that seem to simmer in her work, Yuskavage is primarily interested in painting, and dares the viewer into transcending content to focus on process.
Yuskavage revisits classical techniques of modeling, perspective and light, building up the canvas surface with the utmost care and deliberation. Her painstaking methods involve numerous preparatory drawings and the creation of figurines so as to observe the refraction of light, which in turn lends her fantastical images a convincing level of realism. Indeed, Bad Habits forms part of an important series of paintings that also includes Asspicking, Foodeating, Headshrinking, Socialclimbing, and Motherfucking. In each composition, Yuskavage repeats the same trio of female protagonists.
A further clue to understanding this fusion of serious painterly concerns with imagery that courts the absurd lies in the title of the present work, which was borrowed from a 1970 painting by Philip Guston. Yuskavage has explained that the conviction behind the elder artist's radical cartoon imagery provides a constant touchstone for her own work, stating: "I have been in love with Philip Guston's late work for a long time now, and rely on a lot of what he said about his own practice: 'There is an ongoing battle between the form and the subject matter'" (L. Yuskavage, quoted in C. Gould, Lisa Yuskavage, exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary, Philidelphia, 2000, p.12).