An artist’s image is almost always glamorous, whether it’s one of lofty success or romantic rock-bottom. The mundane, every day-ness is a story less told, but it’s the in-between lifestyle of paycheck to paycheck that’s most common. New York City based painter Alice Lancaster, who earlier in the year put twists in a bunch of knickers with her American Apparel x Petra Collins collaboration, talks about the illusion of the art scene, how watching TV all day is sometimes necessary, and why vaginas aren’t always a feminist statement.
“I’ve been painting my whole life. My dad, grandma and aunt were all artists, so it’s in the family. But I didn’t start taking it seriously until 2 years ago when I moved to NYC. Before then it was like, I guess I can paint, but I don’t know if I can make big paintings. Painting on something bigger than a piece of paper was a crazy concept to me. I used to draw on shitty little scraps that I’d find, like the weird paper you find between placemats to absorb moisture. In some ways I didn’t feel as though my work was worth using nice paper for—it took me a while to gain confidence and actually paint properly. Moving to New York City changed that—I was like well, you’re here now, you have to do something. You can’t just live in New York City, hang out and be successful doing nothing.
There’s definitely an art scene here. I try and stay away from the scene itself, but it’s still important to get out there and meet people. I don’t have a natural tendency to go out and socialize, but I know that I should. I do find it difficult to walk up to people and talk about myself—it feels a bit weird to me.
My work gets labeled as feminist all the time, which is funny, because I never thought of myself as a feminist artist. I like to paint figures, but I never put clothes on them because I hate painting fabric. It’s my worst nightmare. I remember in figure drawing class doing pencil drawings of draped fabric, thinking fuck, this is going to be the worst 3 hours of my life. That’s why I don’t put clothes on people, because I can’t draw clothes. That’s not to say I think of feminism in negative terms, but a lot of people do turn it into a negative thing. Feminism just means equal rights and the belief that we can do anything a man can do. It’s simple.
It doesn’t mean you hate men—I love men.
For most women living in the US, we don’t have as much to prove compared to women in other parts of the world. While inequalities still exist here, it’s women in other countries that are truly struggling. In comparison, we don’t have much to complain about.
It’s true that the idea of being an artist doesn’t always match up to the realities of it. I can’t pay my rent just by painting, I have a day job. Unless you’re some big name, it’s really rare to live off an artists wage. I want that to be my world one day—I’m determined to make that happen. Right now I’m working for Maryam Nassir Zadeh, a beautiful boutique in the Lower East Side. I’m there 3 days a week which still leaves me time to paint, but it also means only 3 days of money. I have to hustle! At my last job I worked 4 days a week, which still sounds like a lot of time off—but I like to have a full day where I just watch TV and do nothing. But I can’t do that anymore, I need to use that time to paint. It’s such a battle because I’m so lazy, even when it comes to doing things I like. The things that you enjoy doing still take effort.
It’s a myth that just because you have a creative outlet it flows out of you.
A lot goes into it and when I’ve finished a painting I’m like Yeah! I did it! Awesome! That said, while it can feel like work it’s not a painful process. When you’re younger it’s easy to assume you need to create from some shitty experience that you had. For me, if I’m in pain, painting is therapeutic—it doesn’t matter what it is I’m painting, it’s the act of doing it.
Above all it’s really important to just keep going, because you produce a lot of horrible work before anything good. I guess what keeps me going is a feeling of knowing that this is what I’m supposed to do. I might not be a doctor saving lives, but this is what I can do, so I do it.”
As told to Amy Woodside, May 2014
Photographed by Amy Woodside