A piece I wrote on Lydia Emily for the KCRW blog, which can be found here.
Lydiaemily is an L.A. street artist, part of an adventurous movement comprised mostly of graphic artists that manipulate Photoshop. But Lydiaemily is a folk artist in this scene and has risen up by analog. She doesn’t even own a copy of Photoshop, relying on Kinko’s to convert her iPhone photos of finished pieces into B&W images. Once converted, sheets are printed, painted over and tucked into the trunk of her car, next to sticky paint brushes and a bucket containing a coagulated water and flour mix. Later it’s all whisked away on a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, chaperoned by Lydiaemily to be pasted up across the city in the wee hours of the night.
Lydiaemily paints oil on canvases sizes 24”X36” with the backgrounds covered in meticulously cut slices of the Sunday New York Times. These are then glazed on to her canvases, framing her realistic portraits of world political players and political themes. In one sentence, written across the base of the image, floats to-the-point commentary calling out their political deeds. They are bold statements and have the effect of personal and social alarm as Lydiaemily paints the news stories behind the news stories. She forces a challenging political commentary onto a public canvas.
Although a gallery artist for over 15 years, it was rare when a gallery would hang one of her political pieces, traditionally selecting her images more pastoral and innocent. Her political portraits were protests but were often misunderstood. Not long after a wary gallery owner took down an early version of her portrait of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad amidst complaints from collectors, his image painted on top of the words to his disturbing 9/11 UN speech, did Lydiaemily take her first walk into Kinko’s, introduce herself and leave with several bundles tucked under her arm of 11”X14” and 8-1/2”X11” color copies of her portraits of Ann Coulter, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamid Karzai and her powerful, “The Truth May Not Set You Free,” portrait of Julian Assange. Each of them went up on the street. After that, Lydiaemily as a street activist went viral and she became known. Today, in only a matter of months, the galleries want her back, she’s up in new ones and she’s receiving international accolades, including her participation in the upcoming Milan show, “Inner-Walls,” the first women-only world wide street art exhibit in Italy.
The on-the-edge method, the accessibility and response to her messages and the support within the street art community have been a positive experience for Lydiaemily. She’s saddened by what she observes as unnecessary factions in the community, insider arguing between different cliques. “There’s a very serious street art community. Most people really look out and really hope that each other will succeed. Some don’t,” says Lydiaemily. “Take any group of beings and put them in a community where they’re all trying to have spot on a wall, where there are no rules, and there will be fighting.” She believes if the artists unify, they could rise to great heights, “If we’re all hungry and excluded and taking our money and time and we’re all risking our freedom in the eyes of the law and breaking out onto rooftops – if we all have this same type of goal, what is there to fight about? …[we] could be worldwide, the amount of work that we could get done would be unstoppable and what keeps [us] stoppable is the arguing. The type of pieces the community could do would be incredible.”
To date, Lydiamily’s been in street scene shows both locally and nationally, including Lab Art Los Angeles’ most recent, “Miss Danger On the Loose – A Female Street Art Exhibit.” Over 600 people attended opening night. By the end of the evening, empty spaces spotted the walls, representing the sales of Lydiaemily portraits that went home with collectors. She participates in collaborations with her peers, trading work with each other with what she refers to as, “the same excitement as kids trading baseball cards.” Her Winston Churchill portrait garnered attention from Churchill’s estate and a print now sits with hisfamily. For Lydiaemily though, the inclusion of one of her Obama “Hope” Bombs in a Huffington Post L.A. street art pictorial has been her greatest thrill.
Lydiaemily is presently on view at Lab Art on La Brea through August 18 and will be participating with solo and collaborative pieces in the, “L.A. vs. War,” show, recognizing the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as well as Milan’s upcoming first ever women-only world wide street art exhibit in Italy, “Inner-Walls.” Her art is also on view throughout the streets of L.A. and San Francisco and the web site, http://www.lydiaemily.com/.