Choppin’ It Up: Lexi Bella

596: Congratulations on your successful solo show “Lipgloss and Tears” at LowBrow Artique last Friday night. I initially thought a real good lipgloss can help stop the tears when I read the title. How did this show come about and how did you come up with the concept? 
LB: This show concept actually started after I had my daughter about 2 years ago. I only had a small one bedroom to work in and wanted to start painting again after the baby (I had only been drawing for the late part of my pregnancy) I bought a few small canvases and started painting lips and eyes in the literal corner of my apt I carved out for myself. I wanted to do a show called 1,000 Lips & Eyes of all small paintings exploring that subject. Maybe I will someday at Brooklyn museum of Art lol. Anyway fast forward a few years and I started doing these works playing with spray paint and acrylic and lipgloss, and eyes dripping and when I spoke to Bishop (the owner of LowBrow and an amazing artist as well) he really likes to show smaller works of street artists, so all of the sudden I had an opportunity to do my lips and eyes show!
Then I began really delving into the work and as always in the studio, the work starts to reveal things to you. I became really interested in tears from the eyes and drips from the lips, and was interested in the dichotomy between the feelings drips from the eyes invoked (sadness) versus the lips (desire). During the time these were created I was going through a lot of ups and downs emotionally in relation to a lover and I started to see my work reflect that, but was fascinated by the process and my ability to analyze it through my work. The crystals started showing up in my work earlier this year and became something I really enjoy painting. I actually love meditating with real crystals, Im somewhat of a collector, and I think they became symbols of healing and grounding between these extremes of emotion and remembrance of higher self. 
 596: A majority of your work is based on women capturing their strength, beauty, and conveying a powerful social message to the neighborhoods your murals are based in. Last spring you painted the “Bring Back Our Girls” mural at Welling Court in Queens (with Danielle Mastrion) and “The Lower East Side Heroines Project” for Centre-fuge in the lower east side, and several murals of influential women. What is your mission as an artist? What is your process when planning your murals and paintings? Why is it important for our communities to see this imagery?
LB: My mission as an artist always starts as a compulsion to express my truth and inspire others to live their truth. I find myself often returning to the theme of exploring the female experience, empowerment, beauty, mythological symbolism, goddesses, angels, saints, archetypes from folklore and stories to help us learn how to be our truest selves and have an amazing journey in this life. This has recently extended into my exploration of role models and historical figures in my mural projects. For The Lower East Side Heroine’s Project I researched important women throughout 200 years of Lower East Side History and all the many different waves of immigrants that came through and created portraits of women who represented each culture, right up to modern day with my daughter, who was born in the Lower East Side, representing the future. That was amazing because people from the neighborhood would walk by and tell me about their stories with the women I painted that they knew. Then when Danielle Mastrion and I did the 8 Greats Yankee Project it was so fun because not only were we highlighting these amazing baseball legends around Yankee Stadium but people weren’t used to us solely focusing on men and their roles as legends and role models, so it was a great way to expand my subject matter and do something that spoke to the community at the same time.
My process really varies depending on the subject matter and breadth of the project. If Im applying for a grant like with the Lower East Side Heroines Project then its a lot of research and specific outlining of the project, if Im just invited to do a mural like at Bushwick Collective I will let it be a little more organic though I do create prep drawings or paint studies 90% of the time. Its a basic thing all great muralists have done just so you understand your lines, proportions, and sometimes color.
Murals in communities, especially ones that highlight role models and bring history, or dreams for the future help to educate and uplift. They create an environment of beauty and knowledge and inspiration in the bleakest of places, and I believe get energy flowing where it was once stagnant. I really love painting images of people who came from a community within a community, especially within areas that are really in need healing and inspiration because what you see every day affects you, so if you wake up and see beautiful murals, especially of someone who came from where you are from who did great things, it helps unlock ones unlimited potential whether your 8 or 80. I also think that its not exclusive to portraiture, beautiful art in general will do that but I just happen to love doing relevant portraits!
596: Obviously you haven’t put down your paint brush and canvas, however over the past couple of years you have been painting more and more murals while using spray paint as your medium of choice. How and when did this artistic evolution begin? Was it a difficult transition?
LB: I’ve been painting with a brush since I can remember probably 3, and then I went to Graduate school for art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philly and specialized in oil painting and acrylic. When I was in Philly I started painting live in bars and clubs and kept on when I moved to NYC after Grad school. This led me to Art Battles, where I was Battling a lot of graff artists. I was actually the first woman to win a Battle against men at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2010. Anyway I started getting respect and eventually they were like (especially the European artists cuz you know the NYC boys be territorial) “Lexi you should pick up a can” and so I went up to my roof in the LES in 2011 and banged out this big piece and fell in love with it! I haven’t put the can down since and now I can’t work without it in my studio either. I love rocking a huge wall with cans, but Ill use cans on canvas or wood with oil and acrylic, or in my collages. I will use whatever I need in my studio to get the desired effect.
596: What other mediums would you like explore and why?
LB: I’ve always been into collage and showed a few at my show at Gallery Bar 2 years ago in the LES. I imagine those wall size at some point. Ive been toying with photography lol (don’t judge) but I have ideas of huge installation pieces from found objects too.I have a list of installation ideas. I also once upon a time in college had to choose between painting and ceramics as my major and even ran the ceramic studio! I was in charge of the kilns and everything. Then after I picked painting that just fell away so I would LOVE at some point to do a ceramic residency or something and experiment with painting with glazes on ceramics and porcelain. Also glass. I literally have a list of all the projects I have thought of doing through the years, maybe 15 or 20, and just crossed off 1. So I would love to try any and all mediums. I have always thought of myself as an all around ARTIST not just a painter.
596: You and I have quite a few things in common, one really big one is single-motherhood. You have beautiful 3 year old, Roxy. How has being a mother influenced your art? And how has your art influenced your daughter?
LB: I can honestly say I would not be as successful as I am today if I hadn’t had my daughter. When I found out I was going to have her it made me focused and serious about what I wanted to do. I always preached that a person can create their own life and manifest their own destiny and opportunities and it was the universe testing me like- ok then do it already! So many people want to impose their beliefs on you and what you should do, especially if your little blessing is a surprise and your living with a bunch of roommates in Chinatown lol, so I started meditating and read a book that changed my life- Deepak Chopra’s “The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire” and I was like- ok if all the answers are within me Im going to go get a 1 bedroom in the LES and find a job in the art world and have this baby (her dad and I were together so I wasn’t solo at the time) and within 5 months thats exactly what had happened. I don’t think I would have tested myself like that if I didn’t know I had a little person to take care of. More than that I was like, “Who am I to give this little lady instruction in life if Im not being the best most amazing version of myself making my dreams come true AND supporting her!” I downloaded “Im Every Woman” put that shit on repeat and never looked back.
596: What difficulties have you had a woman in the art world? How do you overcome some of those obstacles and convert them into something positive?
LB: Well I get my period every month, and being bloated and hormonal can really make painting murals frustrating. But Im hoping Platex will sponsor me soon and that tampon money would really make it easier on me. Besides that its such a boys club, especially in street art and graffiti so its great to have a girl gang, I have made really terrific friends with other female artists in NYC, Miami, and the West Coast as well as other creatives, DJ’s, photographers, writers, and its really important to be friends and build each other up and share opportunities. Also Ive just learned to be tough, not take criticism too hard, but into conversations tactfully, and be persistent and charming and those things have helped me move in circles that are mostly men at times.
 596: I tend to believe every artist has a shtick for getting their creative juices flowing. Whether it be music, books, movies, fashion, magazines, museums, studio visits, etc. What motivates your creativity? and how?
LB: Definitely magazines, wine, new paint and canvas or walls and some good music. Also a good documentary and Ill scribble and sketch watching a good movie or doc.
596: You’ve had a quite a productive year thus far, with a little over two months left, what do you have lined up?
LB: I have a group show coming up in Novemeber coinciding with a piece Bleu Magazine did on me & my often partner and best friend Danielle Mastrion as well as the graff and art duo UR NewYork Mike & Ski, then in December its Miami Art Basel! Im going down with Danielle and bringing Roxy actually! Ill be doing some walls and have some pieces in shows so Im excited! Then next year we are planning on going to London and Berlin in the spring for a few months, maybe even Paris & Grenada. Hopefully end 2015 on the cover of Juxtapoz or Vanity Fair…
Sounds like a plan! Thanks Lexi!
For more Lexi Bella:
Twitter: @lexibellaart
Instagram: @lexibellaart
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