Growing up, New York-based artist Lala never drew anything from their imagination—Lala would repeat images and cartoons they’d seen over and over again, until they mimicked the image perfectly, using conventional and canon illustrations as an aesthetic guide.
But, in 2020, overwhelmed by the pandemic and the political landscape in the United States, Lala started drawing blueprintless subjects from their own mind, working out their own feelings of rage and isolation in their parents’ home in Pennsylvania.
The result was a eye catching and surprising tableau of feminine characters who don’t give a fuck about how they’re perceived: fat rolls, body hair, bloodshot eyes, protruding features and all.
“My art is speaking on womanhood in society and the idea of radical self-acceptance,” Lala said. “It’s the rejection of ‘everything is beautiful’ messaging—you don’t have to be beautiful to be valid, you don’t have to be productive or anything other than a living breathing human being to be as valid and deserving of joy and respect.”
“It’s the rejection of ‘everything is beautiful’ messaging—you don’t have to be beautiful to be valid, you don’t have to be productive or anything other than a living breathing human being to be as valid and deserving of joy and respect.”
The facial expressions of the 28-year-old’s subjects span burlesque mocking, frenzied anger and aching, frequently exploring female expressions of “conventionally masculine” emotions, they said.
“As a woman, it doesn’t feel like I am given respect and my humanity is not honored so I am constantly painting this experience, giving it dimension, showing the ugly parts of it, showing the shocking parts of it, in order to say ‘I’m here, I’m taking up space, and all parts of me get to take up space, not just the pretty, pleasing parts.’ That’s my way of protesting.”
“I initially planned on working as a federal investigator, but I’m glad that didn’t end up working out and I never worked for the government,” Lala said. “I’m going where I’m pursued.”
All of their portraits have a surrealist and exaggerated quality, though the topics Lala deals with confront reality—the inspiration for some of Lala’s characters comes from their previous studies and experiences with violent female offenders in forensic psychology. “I initially planned on working as a federal investigator, but I’m glad that didn’t end up working out and I never worked for the government,” Lala said. “I’m going where I’m pursued.”
And Lala is certainly being pursued. After quitting their hedge fund job and on the brink of leaving New York for a years-long road trip, Lala got an email requesting their presence at a two-week residency at Found.Wonder studios, which is directed by artist JJ Pinckney. Lala was discovered through Instagram, where they regularly posted artwork they drew. The residency turned into a two-month collaboration and encouraged Lala to make art their full-time pursuit.
Lala has also used their art for good—they’ve hosted two portrait booths so far which have benefitted GrowNYC and Von King Woodstock, the music festival that takes place in Bed-Stuy’s Herbert Von King park.
In many of Lala’s paintings, eyeballs are a prominent motif, appearing as the focal point of each image, or as a third or fourth eye, as nipple covers or even entirely seperate from the subjects body, floating in the foreground.
“Everybody wants to be seen. But, there’s an anxiety that comes with being looked at and examined.”
“It’s about being perceived,” Lala said. Self reflection, the male gaze and the desire to feel seen all fall under this umbrella. Above all, Lala’s art is confrontational—it’s art that looks right back at the viewer. “Everybody wants to be seen,” Lala said. “But, there’s an anxiety that comes with being looked at and examined.”
Lala had their first gallery show this past January, and since then has been featured in Brooklyn and Manhattan group and solo shows all over the city—ranging from galleries to tattoo parlors—and even in collaboration with street artist Robert Blanco at Art Basel in Miami and as set design for a musical performance by Rosie Yadid.