Lacey Bryant

Lacey Bryant’s curiously innocent demeanor, cloaked in an army jacket and paint-spotted boots, does not convey the depth of her talent or the grandeur of her paintings. San Jose is privileged to have Lacey and her work so accessible. For art enthusiasts, she is someone not only to watch, but also to get to know.

Your work has been described as “cute and creepy.” How did that style come about?
I guess I like contrast. I think things are more interesting when there is a duality to them. If it is just one or the other, I would be done thinking about it pretty quick. I like that kind of tension between things. I am not necessarily trying to make things hyper cute. I like drawing things that are pretty, but at the same time, that’s so boring to me. The “weird” is always something that I have been interested in, and it took a while for that to come out in my work because I thought, “Oh, no one wants to see that.” But since I have been putting out more of the things that I think are great and weird and cool and I don’t care, people have actually really responded to it.

The elements of your painting include innocent characters and then things like birds flying out of their faces or berries that are like blood. What’s your creative process in doing that?
Oh, dang, that’s a hard one. A lot of them are just images that sort of pop into my head at random. I use a lot of imagery over and over again—things that I think are interesting or kind of symbolic of many things at the same time. It makes it more interesting, I think. The more things something can mean, the more interpretations the painting can have, and the more people are going to think, “Oh, that’s me.” So I like birds a lot; I like fruit a lot. Fruit is so cool. It means so many things to me, but when you combine these things in certain ways, they just become so much more interesting.

How intentional are you in that? Are you trying to say that you want the contrast, or do you think, “I enjoy this”?
Where does that little nugget of inspiration come from? Or is it art school?

Haha, no, it’s not that. It kind of evolved naturally with things that I like, but at the same time trying to make paintings that say a little bit about life and emotion. My paintings are very emotional. A lot of times, it’s just about a feeling of expressing some sort of longing or mourning and changing or shifting, just different feelings. A lot of things are hard to put into words. I try to put them into pictures instead. People can see the picture and get the words for themselves.

So the images communicate more of the emotion but not necessarily a story.
Yeah, but they feel like a story to me in a way. You can look at them and wonder what just happened, what’s about to happen, what’s going on in this image. You have all you need to say, “Okay, I could leap from this to this.” It’s more interesting and reaches more people if they can bring their own context into it.

So when you come to a painting, you’ve got your canvas, and you’ve got your paints, and you’re sitting down…do you have a story that you are coming into it with, or is it more like how different artists talk about how the canvas brings it out? How do you come to that?
I usually spend a lot of time in my sketchbook. I draw a lot of little tiny drawings. I will fill a page with just a whole bunch of things, and I’ll have an idea. Right now, for instance, I am interested in things with two figures. I’m interested in their relationships and how they are interacting; a lot of them end up looking like two of the same person. I’m not sure if they are twins or if they are just different aspects of the same person or if it’s all in their heads. I guess I usually don’t really know what’s going on because I don’t want to pin it down. But I’ll draw a whole page of something and pick out the ones that I think would be really interesting to take further. And with paintings, too, a lot of the time, I’ll make a small painting, and it will really work, so I’ll make it bigger so I can get more into it.

So you go down a path of noticing that something is interesting and then go on from there.
I definitely notice things a lot. I go hiking once a week with a couple of friends, and I’m always out there taking pictures. I have a huge fascination with crawling things like little bugs, so they make it into my work a lot.

Do you think in your paintings it is just a curiosity that you have or a fascination or a longing/searching…or all the above?
Yeah, it kind of goes back to the whole contrast thing because there are so many bad things that happen. The world has so much horribleness in it that we focus on that a lot. But if you get down to these tiny little crawling things, you get this sense of awe like, “Oh my God, there are these little teeny tiny things that survive somehow and are really magical.” And even things that are often thought of as ugly—for instance, cockroaches—I think they are fascinating. I think spiders are really cool. People think that’s the creepy stuff, and I think it’s really cool. There is this whole other side of things.

I think that’s what I love about your work. It has tons of emotion, and it tugs on so many different levels. There is such playfulness. Do you find yourself returning to some of those figures out of security or out of habit or out of more to grow in that area?
Usually it’s about taking an idea as far as I can take it. Then once it gets a little stale, I will move away from it. If I really like a painting, I will want to do it again but in a slightly different way to see if it still works. A lot of times I will repeat it on a larger scale so I can get more detail. A lot of ideas that I had and did in a simpler style, I want to bring back and try with a better background. You can change the mood so much with just changing the setting behind someone.

I have actually been doing the people in my paintings a lot older lately. I did the kid thing for a while and now am more interested in a slightly older mentality. The commission piece I am working on now was actually a guy that came in who saw a bunch of my paintings and said he would really love me to paint him as a kid, so he brought in a picture of himself as a kid. Most of the time when I paint people, I don’t have a model. I usually just make them up, and, for the most part, I can kind of fake a face, but they all end up looking like me a little. So I have been trying to explore other faces. I have actually been bothering people that I meet and asking them if I can get a picture of them.

You are exploring. What do you feel that you are proud of that you have done recently? And then what is it that you want to explore more?
I am not sure. Adding background and adding space, paying attention to the whole picture and not just the subject, has been a big step for me. It’s really something that I think has made my work more interesting to me and hopefully to others. I am using more actual people. A lot of the times when you are making people up, you still have to go to the mirror and see “how does the elbow bend like this?” and see how things actually work. To some degree, I like a bit of distortion in my images. So if you go and measure them, they are not quite right. But I like for things to be a little off sometimes. It’s interesting to me, and it gives it a bit of character when you let things be more exaggerated. But I am starting to move in the direction of using actual people. It’s kind of hard for me because I’m not super outgoing about going up to people and saying, “Hey, can I take pictures of you?” But I am getting to where I am doing it just to bring in more faces and more people.

I want to keep going in that direction right now. I am really interested in pushing the humanity of my characters a little bit so that they feel even more real. Not necessarily “real” as in realistically painted, but just real emotions.

Interview and photography by Daniel Garcia

Article originally published in Issue 3.1.

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