Wire and Vaudeville by Andrea Lambert

Andrea Lambert is an L.A.-based writer and artist, who works in figurative oils, mixed media and collage, critically referenced in Anodyne Magazine as “kitchy maximalism.” Images of the Dionysian, transgression, drugs, sex and Hollywood inhabit her work.

AFLW: Let’s talk about some of the repetitive elements of your pieces: prescription drugs, sexual imagery. The drugs to calm, the sex to enliven — the anguish, allure and need for both. Is there is a connection between sex and drugs, or a disconnect, in your artwork?

Andrea Lambert: Since I was 18, I have taken prescription psychiatric medication for my Schizoaffective Disorder. I make art with my my prescription bottles and Saphris casings as a way of coping with my illness. Turning the remnants of my pain into art is cathartic. I understand the symbolic weight of prescription bottles. I seek to use that powerful cipher as a visual strategy as I produce so many prescription bottles simply by surviving.

The sexual imagery comes from a different place. I first learned how to oil paint from a high school boyfriend who taught me classical figure painting. I love to paint the human body. Eventually one grows tired of painting faces and searches farther afield. I acknowledge that sex is an important part of the human experience, as it is mine. Twelve years ago I got my start writing for the Internet by writing Internet porn. Thus from my first novel, Jet Set Desolate, through my NSFW Series of oil paintings, and the paintings herein, sex is depicted graphically. I don’t hide from it. But the sex is always within the lens of the art.

I would say the sex and drugs are disconnected in my artwork. They are co-occurring like the Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia of my illness, but I am by no means suggesting that people abuse prescription drugs to facilitate sex with models in tanning booths. No, not at all. I am representing my reality. I take medication three times a day. I enjoy painting the human body and having sex. I work with the material that life throws at me.

AFLW: It doesn’t get more Hollywood than “Tanning Bed Alicia.” As a Los Angeles-based artist and writer, how do you find L.A. figures into your consciousness and work?

AL: I was born in Glendale. My adopted homeland has been Los Angeles for the last 10 years since I went to CalArts. I love the way Tupac sings “To Live and Die in L.A.” because that is how I feel. I love Los Angeles. It is all at once such a trashy, glamorous place where everyone’s semi-famous for something forgettable and “the boulevard of broken dreams.” The mythologies of Los Angeles and Hollywood in particular fascinate me.

Since I started painting in San Diego through Portland, San Francisco and L.A. I have always painted people that I knew. I don’t know why this is. Much as in my writing I have trouble making things up and must draw upon reality I need to look at a photograph of something in order to paint it or else I just can’t do it.

Alicia Pulver is my best friend, and a terminally ill model. She sent me the nude selfie of herself in a tanning booth as a joke one day. The colors in the photograph were so beautiful that I decided to paint them. So “Tanning Bed Alicia” happened. “Saphris Faerie” began as a painting of my wife, Katie Jacobson, and me. “Her” is of the queer L.A. writer Myriam Gurba. “Three Ladies” and “Bikini Rooftop” are semi-nude self-portraits. Oneself is the most convenient model when no compelling photographs are available.

I suppose I could be embarrassed for the sexual content, nude self-portraits and all that but it’s really too late. I long ago decided it was too late to get embarrassed by any of it although of course I may be mortified later. I write confessional personal essays for the Internet, obscene novels and tweet way too much. It’s really too late to be embarrassed now. I don’t go out in my beloved Los Angeles very much though because I am terrified of running into people who read this sort of thing. The Internet allows people to be both visible and invisible. Los Angeles facilitates that.

AFLW: Your “Wire and Vaudeville” that you selected plays nicely with our “Life’s Rich Pageant” theme. There’s so much mystery and depth to it. Can you unpack it for us?

AL: “Wire and Vaudeville” is the oldest painting in the series, from 2000. I painted it throughout the year I moved from Portland to San Francisco. It depicts my post-college boyfriend who I was very sad to leave behind. He has no legs because the photograph I had cuts off beneath the legs and I cannot paint what I cannot see. I gave him wire tentacles instead of legs when my San Francisco boyfriend told me about a Filipino male vampire who was just a torso. The mythology of that resonated with me and it solved my visual conundrum, thus that choice.

The lingerie-clad woman in “Wire and Vaudeville” was a stripper friend of one of my stripper friends, who is represented on her stomach. All of my female friends were strippers at one point in late-90s Portland. There were no jobs for college graduates. I ran away to San Francisco to escape being driven into sex work and still ended up writing Internet porn by the time the dotcom boom busted. Oopsie.

The repeated collage motif of the three acrobats drew from my brief experience right before I left Portland of trying and failing to design the bar for a friend’s club in a circus theme. Photocopying things in the library was about as far as I got. By showing the three acrobats in flux I wanted to show the inherent triangulation of the bisexual perspective where there is always the subject and the dual choices of differently gendered objects.

AFLW: As a queer, disabled and female creator you intentionally push boundaries and challenge assumptions. Do you find your intent differs for you in writing versus mixed media painting and assemblage?

AL: I would say that in writing and visual art I am trying to do pretty much the same thing: represent a filtered aestheticized sensationalized version of my reality as a coping mechanism for my circumstances. Writing and art are both therapeutic for me. Facing one’s identity can be therapy.

Being a queer woman comes into my work as my mental illness comes into my work. Both are transgressive identities and thus brand my work a certain way but I am just working with what I’ve got. It is what it is. Comes with the territory. If I were able to create from a less authentic, more commercial place it might be possible to erase that but it’s too late now.

I am aware that the sort of work that I do has a niche audience. People either love it or hate it. They tend to have strong reactions to it. I just hope that someone is entertained by it. Creating helps me cope.

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Andrea Lambert’s artwork has been featured in Anodyne Magazine and Queer Mental Health. She has exhibited in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, Valencia, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland and San Diego. A CalArts MFA, she is the author of Jet Set Desolate, Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin and the chapbook G(u)ilt. Her writing has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, The Fanzine, Entropy, HTMLGiant, Queer Mental Health and ENCLAVE. Find her online at andreaklambert.com