January 31, 2014

Spotlight: Faye Orlove

Cartoons, feminism and Potty Mouth. You're welcome.

One of the things I like best about Faye Orlove and her illustrative mind is the specific aesthetic that binds her work together. She creates illustrations and comic, pins and portraits, music videos and webpapers, all of which contain her individual mark. I feel sometimes like in viewing her different pieces, I'm seeing the honest representation of the things she loves and is passionate about. She has created a world where her work is both referential to the recognizable pop culture world around us and is autobiographical to her personal experience within that world. I feel now that I could pick her work out of a lineup - she has a style that is all her own and one I can't help but need to see more of.

I first got the chance to meet Faye in October of last year. My band was playing a show in Austin, Texas and through a serendipitous twitter moment - realized that my friend Rachel was going to be in Austin (for one night only) on the very night we would be there. Rachel and Faye came to the show and for me, made a night that had become uncomfortably emotional into something that was both positive and puro magic. The three of us met up the next morning for breakfast and talked for hours about art and relationships, feminism and life choices, and their current move to Los Angeles. In the months since, I've found myself on more than one occasion completely geeking out over Faye's work as a visual artist and have been drawn in time and time again on all the new things she's creating. Sometimes I even see something and wonder how it would look drawn or re-created by Faye. I got the chance to email with Faye about one of her first drawings, her original love for film, Lisa Simpson, the new Potty Mouth music video and so, so much more.

THE LE SIGH: If I can be honest with you, and I'm going to be, I want you to know I feel a little overwhelmed to be talking to you about your art because there are so many things I want to ask you. The pins! The illustrations! The comics! The music videos! The Media! Can we just start at the beginning and work our way through it? Was there a specific moment you can remember when you created your first piece of work? 

Faye Orlove: Okay! My first piece of work? Hmm, well I remember my mom used to let me bring my Gameboy and markers to synagogue when I was really little because it was the only way I'd go without screaming. I have a really hazy memory of tuning out this Reverend Lovejoy-esque sermon going on around me while I colored a picture in my lap. I drew this girl on a playground eating a lollipop. And I remember looking at it, I was like seven maybe, and I felt proud. So that's the first memory I have of "making something." Did you want me to go back that far?

TLS: That's exactly the type of moment I was hoping for. It sounds like your personal Aha! moment. Like, okay, this is something that not only makes me feel good, but in turn, has the power to make other people feel good about receiving it. You might have only been seven at the time, but it makes me feel hopeful to hear that an artist feels proud of their work, instead of only seeing the flaws. Do you think that's something that has stayed with you? Do you still feel excitement when you create something new? Have those feelings of pride continued to grow?

FO: It's weird actually, because writing that out and realizing it's one of my earliest memories is FrEaKy because I think feeling "proud" of myself is still the biggest driving force in my desire to create things. Maybe it all started in that cold, withholding synagogue.Yes! It's a constant struggle because I am always seeing the flaws in my work but it's because I know when I'm capable of better. Nothing is finished for me until I'm proud of it in the same way I was when was seven. LOL VIRGO. But, I do think it's good to see my flaws to an extent (both in my art and in myself). It makes me challenge myself, knowing the distance between where I am and where I want to be. Sometimes I cry for a thousand hours because I suck and I'm talentless and other times I cry for a thousand hours because I just drew a really cool Miley Cyrus portrait that looks just like that little freak! Either way, I'm almost always crying.

TLS: I have to go back to your Reverend Lovejoy reference for a second. You are a Simpsons fanatic, aren't you? I saw the Joan Didion Simpson-esque pin you made and your tumblr picture is of Lisa Simpson... I'm just picking up the clues as I see them. I was talking to a friend of mine last week about how my original feminist icons all originated from cartoons, specifically Wendy Testaburger from South Park and Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons (Powerpuff Girls... etc). We talked about how before we really had exposure to strong women in art or music, we first had TV. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth but did you ever feel that sort of connection to the show? A connection that went beyond the pure entertainment and joy of being a kid watching a cartoon? Did you ever feel creatively or intellectually inspired by the show or I am reading too far into this? 

FO: YOU'RE LITERALLY READING THE PERFECT DEPTH INTO THIS. I've always felt a really strong connection to television middle children. Have you ever noticed how they're always the angsty-est? DAT'S ME. Lisa Simpson, Darlene Connor, Dawn from Welcome to the Dollhouse. I could go on. But, I really do love The Simpsons. It's one of the most popular shows of all time and their entire aesthetic is pink! Their whole house, their lamps, their bedsheets. There are strong female characters, Patty and Selma are totally rockin' independent ladies and Marge is such a good mom! Like when Bart says "UGH, MOM, YOU CAN ONLY HUG ME WHEN I'M SLEEPING" and she says "I ALWAYS DO!" Ugh, so cute. Oh, and I will always argue that Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy from season five is the most important piece of feminist literature available (only half kidding). It's important to me because it is one of the only shows I've ever watched and have been watching since I was young that has no "gender." And I don't mean to reaffirm a binary or anything, it's just so rare to see a show I neither have to defend my interest in (well I only like America's Next Top Model ironically OKAY!?!?) nor do I have to make excuses for (like I know America's Next Top Model is advocating societally normative constructs of beauty, but like, at least there are women of color!).

TLS: Yes! I remember the Malibu Stacy episode so well. It also, almost undoubtably, inspired the Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset episode by South Park that would come out ten years later (and would deal in a similar way about the "role models" society provides to young girls, in this case Paris Hilton). When I think of it that way, with the Malibu Stacy episode coming out in 1994 and the Paris Hilton episode coming out in 2004, it makes me kind of sad. The themes are so similar it almost feels like our cartoons are the only things addressing these ever-present issues. Like, Wendy and Lisa are the only ones who have the sense to try and create new and better role models for young girls... Sometimes I feel like my own reluctant appreciation for pop culture has lead me down a radicalized path. Pop culture can certainly be mind numbing anesthesia, only meant to distract us from the real issues, but I feel like it also has the power to be inspiring when done well for those that are paying attention. 

I noticed you recently made a print of Katniss Everdeen. Did you feel radicalized after watching the most recent movie? I was in the move theater just completely enthralled, drawing all the obvious parallels to life in America, and shocked that something as corporate as Hollywood could inspire that. Do you ever feel like your work as a visual artist touches on these sorts of realizations? Do you find yourself creating illustrations, comics, or videos just based on a desire to create something beautiful and that's pleasing to you, or do you also see it as an opportunity to showcase your personal politics? Do you feel like your work gives you a "voice" you might not have had otherwise? 

FO: I was so against the Hunger Games at first! Just like you said, I've always had a sort of reluctant appreciation for certain pop culture and it lead me to ignorantly believe that any young adult novel was going to be submissive crap (i.e Twilight). But all my friends were going to the midnight screening of the first Hunger Games so I went just not to be home alone. And holy s**t!!!! I cried and I laughed and I felt TOTALLY RADICALIZED BY THIS MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY. I immediately read all three books (three times!) and now I'm truly obsessed. I drew Katniss as a gift for my little sister. We both love Katniss! She's eleven and I want(ed) to try to infuse in her positive feminist values early, so hopefully she can be a lot happier than I was when I was a teenager. I like to make her things because I feel like if you can mask "lessons" as "gifts" then they're more likely to make an impression.

I made her her first punk vest when she graduated 5th grade. I lined it with giraffe print because it's her favorite animal and made her a bunch of pins of her favorite things to put on it. And in the card I told her about Riot Grrrl and that if she wore the vest she'd be INVINCIBLE. Because that's what punk is to me. It's being in control of how you feel about yourself. Not letting social constructs dictate your worth, or beauty, or value to society. I want my little sister to be punk as hell! So, I do think creating things gives me a voice. It helps me connect to people when I can't think of the right way to phrase "Hey, you're going into middle school and you're a young girl and it's going to get so hard and so sad and you're going to feel really worthless a lot of the time and you're going to feel ugly and unloved and I know you will, but I promise you none of that is true. You are special and you are perfect just the way you are." But like, what eleven-year-old is gonna listen to that crap?

TLS: I wish you were my older sister! I really could have used you in middle school. I think my mom tried a similar thing. She let me dress myself from a really early age and it felt like this important gift because at the time it was the only way I thought I could express myself. But really I looked crazy and in the land of Abercrombie & Fitch, I was relentlessly teased for being a full on freak (literally the outfit I wore almost everyday in 3rd grade was white and flowered doc martens, ripped jeans, a RAINBOW vest over a printed doctor shirt - think the tuxedo shirt but for a doctor - with a backwards troll hat on top). It took a while for me to feel invincible in the way I imagine your sister will. 

Speaking of incredible punk vests, there are quite a number of them in the new Potty Mouth video! Congratulations! I love the blend of animation, individual expression and performance. I'm assuming the rooms in the video are the girls real bedrooms? It felt like something intimate to be a part of: watching a girl get dressed and being given a key to peak inside their rooms. Can you tell me about how the concept of the video was worked out? I also felt like the video provides a "required reading" aspect to it... with the animated cuts to different books, pieces of art, and mementos that were in each bedroom. Can you comment on that as well?

FO: OMG that outfit sounds like a dream. You are my hero. My mom always let me pick my own outfits too, so we coulda been freaaaakz together. I've always felt like bedrooms and clothing choices are a really important part of self-expression and I think that's how the Potty Mouth video idea came to me. I think a lot of time Potty Mouth (and a million other bands) are classified as a "girl band" or "riot grrrl" or "female-fronted" or some other phrase that is NOT A GENRE. I wanted to make them a video where it was as obvious as it is to anyone who knows them, that they are all very different. That "girl" is not a personality, it's not a genre, and it's not a look. And yeah, that video totally serves as a "required reading" list because they all had the coolest stuff in their rooms. Phoebe's tarot cards! Abby's Powerpuff Girls patch! Ugh gimme gimme gimmeeeee.

TLS: The idea of "girl" as a personality is really interesting to me. I don't think I'd ever thought of it that way but it seems so obvious when you say it. I think those distinct personalities come through really strongly in the Potty Mouth video. To me, it feels both cohesive in a way that speaks to what it means to be a "group," especially highlighted in the shots where they are all playing together and clearly enjoying being with one another but it also highlights the individual in a way that most people overlook when talking about a band. Mostly, the video really makes me want to hang out in their bedrooms with them, listening to records, flipping through books and trying on clothes. You know, friendship. Speaking of friendship: you just started to make yet another music video with some of my favorite people in the world: Slutever. How did the filming for that come along? Will it be stylistically different than the Potty Mouth video? 

FO: They are my favorite people in the world! Well, you know I live with Rachel and when Nicole came to visit I actually asked them if I could shoot a video. We went to Venice Beach and dressed up and invited some friends and it should be super cute. I can't wait until I have some time to work on it. I haven't even looked at the footage yet! Stylistically, I'm gonna do some similar stuff, like drawing on top of film. It's one of my favorite things to do because my first love has always been film while drawing has really only been a thing I've done since I finished college. Around Summer of 2012. I like combining the two mediums a lot. The Slutever video is going to be full on color though! Like, super bright colors, California vibes, lotsa stickers! I mean, it'll fit the Slutever vibe just like how I think the Potty Mouth video fit their vibe. Which I guess goes back to the whole "gender is not a genre" thing because these are two all girl bands and I literally could not visualize them more differently if you paid me to!

TLS: Let's talk about California. How has the transition from Boston to Los Angeles been for you? Do you feel like a California girl at heart? Are there things you miss about the Beast Coast?

FO: I definitely don't feel like a California girl. The move has been really hard, to be honest. I miss my family and my friends. I miss the familiarity of streets I'd memorized and being on every guest list (LOL THERE I SAID IT!). I mostly miss knowing all the places to avoid on weekends and where to go to watch cable TV. You know, stuff that comes with living in a place for 5 years. But California has been really good to me. I'm writing right now from my new computer at FOX ADHD (I'm taking a quick break from drawing a gif of Madonna melting). THIS IS MY LIFE NOW.

There are so many more opportunities for me out here than there were in Boston. Like, I'm literally getting paid to make pop culture gifs, that wouldn't happen anywhere except LA. I'm pretty homesick but I think the payoff will be worth it. I bike around a lot here, and I see a thousand new things every day. Which I really love. Going downtown and seeing all the Old Hollywood architecture is so dreamy. I cried the other day biking to work because there were palm trees everywhere and I passed the original United Artists theater and I just felt so much history around me and I felt so small in the best possible way. Like in that way where you don't feel insignificant, but in that way where you feel like you're part of something so huge and so great and so magical. And you look down and wonder if someone amazing had once stood exactly where you're standing at that very second!!! COURTNEY LOVE HAVE YOU STOOD HERE?!?!?

TLS: Has being in LA made running The Media any more difficult or do you feel like being in California has made you something of a "west coast correspondent"? Are there still plans to produce The Media into a physical copy or will it remain to be the greatest bi-weekly webpaper of our time?

FO: Haha! Working on The Media has definitely been more difficult since moving. But that's mostly because I'm super busy (!!) and Liz is always traveling. We published 4 issues while she was in Europe! That was crazy. Especially since we work on every issue with my brother who lives in Virginia. So a lot of times we're putting together issues from 3 different time zones. WHHHAAAAT!? And yes! We do have plans to turn it into a physical paper. We want to release our first 25 issues as a bundle by our one-year anniversary in May. That's the goal! We're working on it.

TLS: You seem like you have your hands in all the best honey pots: web papers, illustrations and comics, music videos... like you're just constantly creating cool stuff that I want to look at and feel ~feelings~ about. It's inspiring! Last question and then I'll let you go because I know you're busy! Are you planning on having any exhibits or art shows in LA this year or in the possible future? I saw the photos from your shrine/art show Are You There Courtney? It's Me Margaret... I wish I could have been there to explore it in person! Any plans to do a west coast version?

FO: I don't have any plans for a west coast art show at the moment. I really only felt brave enough to have the Courtney one because I had so many friends and such a solid support system in Boston. My mom even came! I don't think I'm ready to like, expose myself like that over here. I don't know the city well enough. Plus, I don't have a lot of free time right now. But I'm working on a zine, and I've had this canvas sitting on my floor for months that I've been dying to paint some sort of Miley Cyrus portrait on! One day. I kinda had a panic attack about this interview last night. I was freaking out LIKE WHO CARES WHY AM I WASTING PEOPLES TIME!? I just felt like there were a thousand people you could talk to about their art, why me why me why am I good enough? You know, normal, crippling self-doubt. But sometimes it helps me to know that other people are connecting to the things I make, because I get down on myself a lot for not making more or for not being better, but I don't know. Maybe someone will connect to my art, but maybe someone else will connect to that feeling.

Check out more of Faye's work here.

Written by Marisa Dabice