Lacey Lewis moved from Syracuse, NY to Kansas City in 2003 and founded Red Door Studios in 2006. She studied drawingwith David Kassan and Robert Liberace, and painting with Steven Assael, Max Ginsburg, Daniel Sprick and Romel de la Torre. She was recently honored as a Rehs Gallery Finalist in the 2014/2015 Art Renewal Center’s Annual International Salon and her winning painting traveled to the MEAM museum in Barcelona, Spain. She also received the Ruth Katzman Scholarship for a residency with the Art Student’s League of NY which she completed in June 2015.
Tell us about your current series.
Five years ago I started a series of paintings where I explore the personalities and alter egos of various performers. I’m intrigued by people who transform themselves in one way or another, whether in character, costume, or through body modifications such as tattoos or scarification. Over time this series focused on burlesque artists in particular. Something about these performers, their lifestyles, and their general outlook resonated with me deeply. While we typically think of women in jobs that are in any way related to sexuality as being helpless victims, these are bold, independent women who live according to their own rules both on and off the stage. By painting these artists, I vicariously experience a feeling of freedom and empowerment that I hope to share with the viewer.
How do you find your models?
At first, I happened upon my subjects because they tend to work as life drawing models as a side income to performing. I got to know a couple models in particular and learned about what they do, and was inspired to paint them in costume as their on-stage personae. Soon I started painting other co-stars in their local troupes, and also contacted performers from out of town when I saw they were coming through Kansas City. Over time I’ve become established as a painter of burlesque artists and have an extensive network on Facebook of performers all over the world, so this has become my primary tool for discovering and connecting with new models.
How are you going to use this subject as your entry for the FREAK OUT! Exhibition next year?
I see a lot of parallels between the early ‘70s disco scene and today’s underground neo-burlesque culture. Both originally attracted marginalized people, emphasized self expression and sexual freedom, and included extravagant and sometimes futuristic fashions. While much of my work has focused on classic burlesque aesthetics, I’m using this opportunity to explore distinctly modern costuming with a futuristic feel in club-like settings. I anticipate that my painting for this show would be equally at home at The Loft as it would at The Slipper Room.
Do you use photography in your work or do you work from live models?
I do studies from live models and incorporate them in my work, but always have photographic references for my formal paintings. These compositions tend to be more thought out and take a long time to complete, sometimes with poses or costuming that would be very difficult to hold. For this painting of Dirty Martini, for example, I worked on a portrait study from life that captured colors I am unable to see in a photographic reference, and we spent a lot of time chatting so I got to know Dirty on a more personal level during that sitting. However, the portrait didn’t express her presence as a performer the way I could when including photo images taken during our session.
Do you ever incorporate the male figure in this body of work?
I have, but it’s been a few years since my last painting with a male included. One painting featured a male and female couple who perform burlesque together, another was a fire dancer and a juggler, and I’ve also painted a drag queen and a transgendered man. Moving forward, I do want to expand my repertoire to include a wider range of performer types and gender expressions, though I suspect the female form will always be a major theme in my work. As a cisgendered female this reflects my own psyche, so I feel most familiar with and able to speak from that point of view. GLBTQ issues are close to my heart and though I do want to touch on these issues in my paintings, my main focus right now is the idea of feminine sexuality as empowering. We are bombarded with images of women who have been objectified and merely serve as props in a story or advertisement, and sometimes it feels like the only way to be a valid and whole human being is to strip yourself of sexuality and/or take on masculine characteristics.
In fact, it was recently suggested to me that my work merely portrays women as sexual objects, and that in order to convey my ideas I should also include women dressed in more masculine ways, or women dressed in natural objects rather than feminine clothing. While I understand the criticizer’s point and perhaps even partially agree, this very notion that the feminine is not enough on its own and requires masculinity to be valid is something I’m currently struggling with.
How do you see the current state of the art market in response to your body of work? (Is there a demand and is it selling)
It’s been slow and steady, as has production. There have been some major shifts in my life over the last several years which have just recently calmed, and that slowed my studio practice for a while. Previous to that I found that my work was especially well received in Australia. My hypothesis is that burlesque is a new, contemporary phenomenon there whereas we in the US have retro associations with burlesque imagery. They say that figurative paintings are the most difficult works to sell, and my market is further narrowed because it’s not a painting of a woman sleeping nor is it ironic. However, I’ve been lucky to have a strong base of collectors who find resonance with my work and its message.
Do you also work on commissions of portraits and pets? Or do you just stay with the series at hand and not look back?
I usually take on a commission or two per year; Enough to help support myself but not so much that it distracts me. Sometimes these are for portraits that hold a lot of meaning to the people commissioning them and it’s really gratifying to be a part of that. I’ve also had commissions related to my small still life paintings, and even some that are fit in my current series. For example, last year I was commissioned to do a painting that was similar to an existing sold work. The client loved a certain shade of blue in the existing painting, and wanted something larger but with the same color scheme and overall mood. Shortly after I was commissioned to paint Mallowmars and incorporate the same blue in the background. Basically, I am happy to take on any project that falls within the parameters of my painting and drawing style and my usual media.
What has been one of the highlights of working in this series?
What sticks out in my mind most when thinking of this series is the people I’ve had the honor of working with and the affect they’ve had on me personally. I love getting to know my models, and they always have a world outlook that resonates with me. I’ve never met a more sex positive, feminist, independent and shameless group people! Creating in that atmosphere is incredibly freeing in a way I sometimes don’t appreciate until I’m exposed again to the “real world.”