Artist of The Week: Lilliya Scarlett

Self-taught artist and model Lilliya Scarlett is no stranger to blood and gore. With most of her paintings including unusual and uncomfortable imagery, Scarlett sticks to her “body rot palette”: shades of reds, browns, and yellows. We caught up with this young artist in her studio in Venice, to talk about cooking, jazz, and reoccurring dreams.

You were born in New York but grew up in Montana. What was it like growing up?

I lived in Montana until I was seven. My dad is a writer, and he ended up having to be in LA full time to work in television. We moved back and forth but we wanted to be with him all of the time, so we ended up spending the school years in LA. I’ll forever value the early childhood I had in Montana surrounded by nature and writers.

Did you start painting when you were in Montana?

I used to draw and make art projects all the time when I was very little, and then I became really interested in cooking. I thought I wanted to be a chef. So, I worked at restaurants for two years from when I was 14. Then I decided that I didn’t want to have a career on the line of cooking. I started to paint constantly, and between that modeling and school, I was forced to faze out the restaurant.

In Montana, there’s a lot of open land and nature. Did that influence you at all?

Montana continues to influence my art. It’s definitely my favorite place to work because it’s quiet. Every time I go back, the work just spills out of me. There’s just something about it.

Both of your parents are writers, how has that influenced your realm of creativity and what you’ve been interested in?

I guess that’s what always made me interested in writing. I read a lot. I’ve pretty much been immersed in the arts my whole life. They’ve always taken me to museums and galleries, and my grandpa is an artist. He’s actually my main inspiration.

Is there a book or a poem that is vital to who you are today or that sticks out to you?

I really love The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I also like The Stranger by Albert Camus…

Montana continues to influence my art. Every time I go back, the work just spills out of me. There’s just something about it.

What kind of art is your grandfather involved in?

Mostly his work is abstract and architectural — paintings and constructions. It’s all beautiful lines and color work. His wooden constructions are my favorites.

You sculpt as well, right?

I do a little bit. I really prefer to work with paint, but sometimes I get these crazy ideas for installations or sculptural pieces.

How would you define your work?

Well, most of my work is just images in my head, but sometimes I’ll just get on with the paint and create something without origination behind it. It’s just flow. A lot of my earlier work was a reflection of experiences and growing up in the world of Los Angeles. Now, it’s more about images. It’s like I am manipulating and digesting the outside world to a greater extent and what is coming out has gone through a greater deconstructive process.

When would you say these images pop up?

They are triggered quite randomly. It comes and goes in waves. Sometimes I’ll be inspired, paint for days on end. But of course, there are periods of time where I don’t paint anything and maybe just revert to pencil drawing.

Do you listen to music when you paint? What’s an ideal environment for you?

I like when I’m alone, so there are no distractions. I get distracted very easily. Sometimes, I’ll turn on the TV for white noise, or I listen to some music. However, that often distracts me because I decide I don’t want to listen to a particular song anymore and then I am distracted by finding the perfect thing to listen to. Sometimes I’ll over listen to music which can be an issue.

What music do you listen to?

Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon. Just depends on my mood. I like Alice Glass and babymetal, lots of different stuff. But I’ll always love the country music that I grew up listening to like Merle Haggard, and Loretta Lynn.

You had an opening at ChainLink in Los Angeles. What did you call that series?

That was a collection of everything that I had made; pieces I had liked but hadn’t shown since I was thirteen.

In what time frame was that series created?

Well, a lot of the pieces were from two or three years ago. What’s painted on the walls was done just four days before the show. That was stressful, but I loved it. I loved having the white walls and space to do whatever I wanted. Ultimate freedom.

How did you get involved with Chainlink?

I first met Cheryl who owned the gallery at a party. We connected on Instagram, she messaged me and we hung out. First, she helped sell one of my pieces, and then after she offered me a solo show!

Was that the first time you sold something?

It was the first time I formally sold something. So, that was really cool. It was to an art collector. It was really exciting and unexpected. I met Cheryl again, and she told me she had a month left on her lease for Chainlink. She told me she was doing a show but offered me a space to do whatever I wanted. So, at first there was a lot of art there that I had to work around, but then we moved everything out, and I was able to go crazy. It was really fun.

You’ve painted on clothes and shoes. Are you interested in the fashion aspect of art or do you like having different canvases?

Often I paint on trash. I usually paint on things that are made of wood. It’s usually doors I’ve found in my alleyway. I do like painting on clothing because it’s something you can wear everywhere. Also, I think it’s kind of funny because most people wouldn’t wanna wear bloody limbs. So, I guess it challenges people and what they’re comfortable with. Sometimes I’ll paint with aesthetically pleasing colors, but that’s mostly because I’m drawing with reds and pinks. Then, there’s other colors that people don’t like seeing together like, browns and yellows. Just dirty shades. I like to call it the the body rot palette.

Do you wear the pieces you paint?

Sometimes. I have a few pieces that I have in my closet that I’ve painted. I go through phases of not wanting to look at my work at all. I’ll put it away, and that goes for most of my pieces. I really like them for a bit, but once I look at them for too long, I’ll hide them. I guess that’s how my process is. I’ve worn them a little bit. I’ve given pieces to friends as gifts.

A lot of your work features teeth. When you see people is that what you first notice?

I guess I do!

Where does the fascination of teeth stem from? Horror films or the human body?

I was randomly thinking about gums a year ago. Then, I became fascinated with teeth because I was drawing a mouth on something and I just started looking at pictures of teeth. I became kind of obsessed with them for about a year. I’m slowly moving out of that phase. I liked to look at a lot of medical photos of surgeries and procedures. They inspired me.

What was your reoccurring dream about?

Well, it was just a certain face that had teeth.

Do you have a name to it?

No, I can’t really go into detail. It’s hard to explain now. It sounds like a nonsensical, wild image. I guess it’s just kind of fear and paranoia.

You’re turning 18 this year, what would you say to other young artists? 

Constantly going out and partying is not that exciting in my opinion. I think if you get caught up in high school with just having a good time, you miss the free opportunity to try out different interests.  I worked a lot of jobs in high school and tried on different vocations which ended up narrowing my focus and getting me a started out in the real world. My advice is to keep in mind that you can start your career whenever you want. You don’t have to go to school before making something happen for yourself. I tried to cultivate a lot of opportunities early. I worked in a kitchen at an adult’s job for two years. I did that just by emailing someone. I’ll meet people who are older than me, and they’ll ask how I got into working at Animal and Jon & Vinny’s. There’s a lot of power in asking to do something. It’s an opportunity, and people really respect you for asking. People want to teach others, and I have benefitted from that. I’ve had such valuable experiences by working hard and focusing.

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned working in culinary arts?

I love cooking. So, I’ll always know how to do that. I love cooking for people it’s definitely something that brings me pure joy. I did learn how to multitask and handle many things under stress. Multi-tasking under stressful conditions is something that I’m pretty good at doing now and is definitely the number one thing you have to learn in a professional kitchen.

Since you’re going to London next week, is there anyone in particular you’d love to work with or anything specific you plan to do while there?

I’m definitely going to go to the Tate Modern. I really want to see the art there. I think I’ll be inspired by the architecture. I love English weather, too. So, I’m excited. Hopefully, I’ll have time to draw a little bit and bring some material to the museums in between modeling jobs. We’ll see. I might look at some art schools.

If you were to go to an art school, would you go for fine art?

I think so. I’d like to learn every technique that I can. I’d have that in my toolbox to improve my art.

What’s next?

I would love to combine my modeling, art, and interest in fashion by collaborating with a brand.

Additional Credits:

Chelsea Esquibel: Hair & Makeup 

Essence Moseley: Editing 

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