“I don’t get it! It’s 2015. And yet I’m still a ‘female painter.” Meet Alice Lancaster, New York’s portrait Princess.
Standing in her apartment which doubles as a studio, on the border between Bushwick and Ridgewood, Alice Lancaster gestures to an imposing canvas propped up against the wall. “This is the biggest painting I’ve done so far,” she says. “I’ve had four paintings on it already, it was red at one point, then it was all black. Yesterday, I was trying to work on it again but I couldn’t get the colours right and I ended up just scraping everything off. And that was my accomplishment for the day… destroying a painting. Now, I’m looking back at photos of how it was to begin with and it was alright!”
Lancaster grew up St. Louis with an artist father, who, while imparting his creative sensibility, didn’t push her to follow his lead. “He just allowed me to figure it out for myself,” she explains. Although she dabbled in various mediums and even did a stint at art school, it wasn’t until she moved to New York three years ago that Lancaster started painting full time. “When I moved [to NY] I really had to question why I was here. Being here motivated me. I made so many bad paintings at first, but I realised that was part of making work. It wasn’t until I came to New York that I started to make work every day and take it seriously. It was scary to commit to it in that way, but I knew it was the only option for me. It’s all I could do to not go crazy.’
While Lancaster is often referred to in the same breath as other contemporary female artists, and especially painters whose work deals with the representation of the female body, she’s uncomfortable with her work being understood within these narrow parameters. “I don’t get it! It’s 2015. And yet I’m still a ‘female painter’,” Lancaster protests, and rightly so. “I feel like a brat saying it, but I don’t see how questions of gender or sexuality come through in my work, or at least that’s not my intention. Obviously I believe in feminism and equal rights, but I don’t set out to put that across with my paintings. I wouldn’t describe my work as feminist. Even though I paint female bodies, I don’t feel like it would even be commented on if I were a man.” Equally baffling is the perception of her work as inherently sexual. “A lot of people seem to want me to talk about my work in those terms, but I don’t see my work as sexual!’’
Moving away from portraiture, Lancaster’s most recent work is figurative, depicting bodies in a way that, through concentrating on contours and lines, imagines the human form as ethereal and strangely gross all at once. “I’m so glad you think there’s humour in my work! Humour’s so important to me and I’m very conscious of trying to translate my sense of humour into my art, but it’s something I struggle with.” Rather than a desire to shock or provoke, Lancaster’s paintings are grounded in a sensitivity to form and colour that is at once rich and restrained. “Often when I’m making work, it’s just coming out of me and I’m not sure what’s happening. So I’m always curious how people describe it, or of their impression of it. I try not to have a larger concept, or ‘vision’ because I don’t want to overthink, or let it feel contrived. I never set out to convey any particular message.”
Photographer: Ben Rayner.$
Fashion Editor: Yohana Lebasi.
Words: Cressida Greening.