bushwick

alice lancaster

 

Her controversial ‘Period Power’ t-shirt for American Apparel made waves across the art and fashion worlds but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this incredibly talented artist from St Louis. Alice talks to us about the evolution of her early portrait work, the abstract style that’s landed her an amazing new opportunity and the artists that inspire her.

 
 

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Do you remember your first week in New York?
I stayed in my sister’s apartment for the first night; she lived in Brooklyn right off the Myrtle-Broadway stop. It was right on the corner, classic Brooklyn.

It was a weird place to wake up. It’s super loud, right under the train tracks, crazy people selling weird shit everywhere. I thought “where am I?” It was a culture shock coming from St Louis.

I moved to Chicago for 5 years, and moved back to St Louis for 5 months before moving to New York.

What brought you to New York?
It seemed like the next place to go. Chicago was a transition. St Louis is pretty small, so Chicago was a step up.

I thought that it was probably going to be New York or LA, but I don’t like to drive … so New York!

How have you found being an artist in New York?
It’s the best place to be definitely. In terms of meeting people. If I still lived in St Louis I wouldn’t be able to have studio visits like I do now. It’s not the same just looking at a website, you need to see the work in person.

What sort of work do you do at the moment?
For a while I was just painting whatever, then literally about 3 days ago I got a call from a fashion designer and I’m helping design their resort collection.

Shit! That is amazing!
I still can’t even believe it.

 
 
Once I moved to New York I realized that I can’t have a normal job, that doesn’t work for me. But being an artist seemed so ridiculous and impossible. To be able to live off my art, that just seemed crazy.
 
 

How the fuck did that happen?
Instagram. It changed everything for me. I follow this designer, and one day he posted something from his runway show and I commented with a bunch of hearts. I guess he was on Instagram at that moment and he saw it and clicked on my profile, and liked a whole bunch of my photos. He re-posted something of mine and said, “I love @ragingleisure”. I freaked out, it was the coolest thing.

A week later I got a call from his assistant, she said he wanted to meet me and do a studio visit. He came all the way out here, which seems so far for someone so amazing. He looked at my art. I would have been satisfied with just that, but then he invited me to his show, which was incredible.

I sent him a letter with a drawing, saying “thank you so much, the show was amazing”. Then 3 days ago, he called and said that the drawing was so inspiring and that he wants to work with me.

Phenomenal! So what does this mean? I’m also blown away that this came about through Instagram. It’s such a different world now; if you’re somebody on Instagram you’ve made it.

[Alice shows us her work] This is the original painting for the designer, and then we’re breaking it down and making it more abstract. I’m creating a panel for a dress from one of these.

Are you scared?
Oh yeah. He told me all these dimensions to work with, and to keep going with this pattern. I was thinking “I’m not a designer, I have no clue about patterns”. I sent them my preliminary stuff and they liked it.

 
 

When did you become a full time artist?
It’s maybe been a couple of months where I’ve been doing my art full time. It’s amazing.

When I first moved here I was doing odd jobs, I worked at a thrift store in Chelsea. It was so bad. My most recent job, I worked at Maryam Nassir Zadeh. She has a beautiful boutique on the lower east side. Now I sell my drawings there.

Was your goal always to be an artist?
Once I moved to New York I realized that I can’t have a normal job, that doesn’t work for me. But being an artist seemed so ridiculous and impossible. To be able to live off my art, that just seemed crazy.

My dad is an artist but he doesn’t do it full time. He has a real job, and then spends all of his extra time in his studio.

Does he paint?
He does everything. He’s a sculptor, a painter, photographer... He wrote a musical a couple of years ago.

What?
He’s so crazy. He puts all of himself into everything, he just wants to make stuff.

He built a boat once. After talking about wanting to have a little boat, he got a book and made one.

Was he really happy about you being an artist?
He just let me do my thing and never pressured me.

Do you think your art has changed since becoming a full time artist?
It’s changing all the time. I used to only do portraits, and then I got super sick of them. I started doing figures, and then I got sick of those, so I started working more abstract.

This is a kind of in between phase of doing figures, but wanting them to be abstract. My newest pieces are much more abstract, I love that you can’t even tell it’s a figure.

But it still has figurative elements in it.

I showed it to a friend, and explained it was a girl stretching and he couldn’t even see it, which is funny but I’m glad that he couldn’t see it.

 
 

What’s your process when you’re working like this? Are you basing the painting off a photograph?
It’s a photograph. This one is of a girl named Alexandra Marzella, she does a lot of nude selfies and this is based off one of my favorite ones.

Is she on Instagram?
She is but she gets kicked off all the time.

Nipples?
Well, she blurs them out but they still delete her accounts.

That’s so stupid, it should be a free space.
And they have the most violent images on Instagram that don't get removed. I came across an account that was called “Boston Marathon Bombing”, and the whole thing was just photos of that.

Who sets up an account like that?
And who follows it?

How is that acceptable? What is the deal? If you put a painting up with nipples in it do they take it down?
I did put one up and it was taken down. I got a notice saying that it was inappropriate. It was a painting! I had to start cropping some images so that they were just the face. It wasn’t worth getting my account suspended.

Do you mainly work in acrylic or oil paint?
Mainly acrylic, I work really fast. I like to use it because it dries so fast. I can make many paintings in one sitting. I don’t have a lot of patience.

 
 

Do you have an idea of how a painting is going to turn out?
I have an idea. I start with a photograph, found photographs. I find them online, and then I’ll crop and rotate it. You’d never know the source of the painting. I’ll make a bunch from one photo. I make about 10 paintings from one photo.

Do you make work every day?
I feel terrible about myself if I don’t paint anything. But I realized recently it comes in waves. It just sort of happens.

I had collaboration with Dev Hynes. He was composing music and I was painting, and people were filming it for a really long time. I had the pressure to keep making things, so I think I made about 6 paintings during that session.

This current style is out of my system. I’m waiting for the next wave.

And in the meantime you have this amazing design work. It must be a whole different kettle of fish; you must have to keep a business mind. How do you start to value your work in monetary terms?
It’s so hard. I’ve had people who I’m close with tell me my work is underpriced. I’m getting better at it. I could just doodle something and want to throw it away, but someone will think it’s great. I sold a print to someone and on the packaging I made a little doodle. She was like “oh my god, I got two drawings for the price of one”.

No one else can do what you do.
You have to keep that in mind.

I wish I could paint, I have zero skills. I go to the art store every couple of years and buy a whole bunch of paints and I fail. Such a waste of money. It’s so sad that I can’t do it.
I feel that way about singing. I wish I could sing.

So you live here with your sister, on the cusp of Bushwick and Ridgewood. How do you like this area?
It feels a little bit far from Manhattan but other than that it’s good. It’s clean, there are trees, and it’s quiet except for the honking in the morning. I got a sound machine and some earplugs.

 
 

Do you have any favorite places in the neighborhood or in New York?
I spend a lot of time by myself in here. I don’t really go out very often.

It’s weird. I totally related to what Fiona Apple said in an interview, she said “I’m alone all the time, I stay in my house until I feel crazy and I have to go out. It has to be an urge.” That’s how I feel. I can spend a week or two only seeing my sister.

Do you think that’s conducive to creating your work?
I’ve kind of always been that way. I’ve always forced myself to be social; it’s not something that comes naturally. I’ve always been a homebody.

I do really like Sweetwater in Williamsburg though. It used to be a punk club. You’d never know because they completely renovated it.

Do you exhibit your work?
I’ve been in a few group shows. I have a solo show at Ten Over 6. It’s a store in Dallas and LA. They’re having a show in Dallas first and then it’s moving to LA. I won’t be there though.

Do you have goals with what you want to do in the future with your work?
I would love to continue doing this kind of stuff with designers. A solo show in New York would be great.

I love your work, it’s awesome. Who are some artists you admire?
I love Eddie Martinez, he started off doing a lot of faces, and now he’s all abstract. A little like me in a way. Lots of bright colors. I do some work inspired by his color palette.

I love Matisse … Basquiat … Alice Neel.

My painting knowledge is bleak!

We always like to finish off on our last question, what do you think of when you think of New York
The first thing that popped into my head is subway stink. [Laughs]

That’s valid!

You can follow Alice on Instagram @RagingLeisure.

 
 

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