Lez was born in Africa and grew up in Los Angeles California. She was fascinated by American movies, advertising, television and pop music. Elvis was the first pop star that grabbed her attention, especially in the films Jailhouse Rock and King Creole. After living in the US her parents moved back to Africa stopping over in London. Lez decided that London would be where she would study art.
She studied Graphic Design at Kingston-upon-Thames and gained a BA Honours degree. After graduating she worked as a freelance designer in London. She later moved to Cape Town South Africa, where she worked as a documentary film director for 10 years. She returned to the UK and set up a marketing business designing merchandise for museums around the country. Her interest in painting began in 2003 when she developed and exhibited a series of 3D Super Hero paintings. These paintings are in private collections around the world. The paintings are mixed media and collage.
Dear Lez, today you selected for MoW 8 of your artworks inspired by music. Can you tell MoW why you chose to create about these music artist ? What was the music behind the artworks ? What inspired you to create them ?
The reason I chose these musical artists, where for the massive influence they had on the youth culture at the time. Their influence on fashion, music and sexuality. Their absolute ‘gobsmacking’ talent and the range and body of work that they produced.
For many years I had wanted to create a collection of portraits of Pop Icons of the 20th Century. As child I was lucky to have parents who enjoyed music, my father loved the technology and had ‘State of The Art’ recording equipment and my mother was a champion ballroom dancer. My parents were keen cinema goers, and I was taken along to the movies with them. I loved the excitement of big screen and sound, I still do.
I was captivated by the music of Elvis Presley in the films Jail House Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958). Elvis’s raw sex appeal jumped out of the screen. The 50’s offered teenagers the freedom to express themselves, dressing rebelliously against the conservative and war constricted times of previous decades. The Teddy Boys of the 50’s broke boundaries with their long sideburns, big quiffs, denim jeans, ‘brothel creepers’ and tight t-shirts. Elvis was ‘king’ of the Rock & Roll era, grinding his hips and angering the parents of young girls. American television would only film him from the waist up. He was considered too sexually expressive. Elvis was the first rebel and trailblazer in the world of popular music.
The King of Rock & Roll blew the roof off the music industry and became one of the most important influences in the history of popular music.
My portrait of Elvis is called:
“I never expected to be anyone important.”
I chose The Beatles as the next most important influence in popular music.
My portrait of The Beatles is called:
“She loves you.”
This song hit the British charts in 1963 after George Martin signed them to the Parlophone label in 1962.
The Beatles were sensational and drove Pop Music to unprecedented heights. The ‘mop top’ hairstyles, tailored suits, ‘winkle picker’ boots set them aside from The Teddy Boys of the 50’s and led the way down a new and exciting avenue of fashion. In the decade of them being the most famous band in the world, they turned the music industry upside down. They produced a massive portfolio of hits as well as influencing fashion and style. Their innovative music, with the likes of Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) pushed popular music boundaries to breathtaking heights. Beatlemania, psychedelic drugs, long hair, hippies, meditation you name it, The Beatles were ‘it’.
I chose to paint them firstly in their black wool suits at the beginning of their massive rise to fame with the consideration of painting another portrait of them in Sgt. Pepper psychedelic period.
My David Bowie portrait is called:
“I’m an instant star. Just add water and stir.”
For me, David Bowie represents ‘The Glam Rock’ era of the 70’s and this particular image is from his album Aladdin Sane (1973). Bowie pushed the boundaries of androgyny and flamboyance and experimented with performance on stage and in film.
He’s sold over 140 million albums and continues with innovative imagery and sound on his latest album The Next Day (2013). His influence on the youth culture, fashion and style of his era has been phenomenal and he represents a massive cult figure in Pop Music.
My portrait of Michael Jackson is called:
“All of us are products of our childhood.”
Michael Jackson, the ‘King of Pop’ started his career as a member of The Jackson 5 in 1964 at just 6 years old. He went solo in 1971. His album Thriller (1982) is the best selling album of all time, estimated to have sold 65 million copies worldwide. By embracing music videos he was able to perform not only groundbreaking musical productions but managed to set the bar very high with his extraordinary dance techniques and distinctive style. Michael Jackson broke racial barriers and blew pop music into a new stratosphere, by selling more than 400 million records and influencing young teenagers worldwide with performance, fashion, style, dance and music during the 80’s.
My portrait of Grace Jones is called:
“Feeling like woman, looking like a man.”
Grace Jones = singer, songwriter, producer, actress and model. Born in Jamaica, grew up in New York. She lived in Paris, in the early 70’s with Jerry Hall, making it as a runway model for Yves St. Laurent, Claude Montana and Kenzo Takada. Her striking dark, androgynous looks helped her to appear on the covers of numerous fashion magazines, whilst socialising with Giorgio Armani and Karl Largerfield in Paris’s gay clubs. She’s appeared in various films in the 70’s and 80’s and became a legendry icon, with a strong gay following. Hits such as “Pull Up to the Bumper”, “Nightclubbing” and many more became nightclub anthems around the world.
The portrait that I’ve painted of Grace, was taken from her album cover, Living My Life (1982). Her androgynous, square-cut angular face, stares out at you in defiance. I’ve seen Grace Jones on stage several times, and her persona is massive. No dancers for her, it’s just the woman, the presence, the voice, the outfits and the unflinching performance, along with amazing musicians. She has a contralto range, which punches out the words of her songs either speak-singing or singing almost-soprano mode in some cases. Her connection with the audience at these live events is simply phenomenal. At 66 years old Grace Jones can put on an impressive performance, singing and hoola-hooping to her hit Slave to the Rhythm.
Grace Jones is the quintessential ‘Warrior’ and ‘Power House’
My portrait of Madonna is called:
“Sometimes you have to be a bitch to get things done.”
Madonna for me epitomizes feminist power and sexually charged performance. As a singer and performer she has led the way with sexually explicit music videos like Erotica and the book Sex and opened the door to gay and bisexual performance on stage. She’s pushed the limits on every level and is recognised as the best selling female rock star of the 20th Century. Amongst others, ‘The Queen of Pop’ has starred in movies, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) Who’s That Girl (1987) Dick Tracey (1990) and Evita (1996)
She is the ultimate Queen of Performance, reinventing herself and touring the world with her groundbreaking hits. Madonna claims the crown for innovative fashion, fitness sexual freedom and awareness. She is undoubtedly the most influential female recording artist of all time.
My portrait of Annie Lennox is called:
“Feminism is a word I identify with.”
As the frontwoman of The Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, with her short cropped flame coloured hair, gender bending outfits and powerhouse vocals broke new boundaries with her performances on stage and in her videos in the 80’s.
This portrait taken from the album cover ‘Touch’ (1983) shows her with a ‘naked power’ wearing only a black leather mask.
Like all the 20th Century Pop Stars that I’ve chosen to paint in this series, Annie Lennox epitomises power, style, exceptional performance and influence in fashion and the music industry. She embarked on her career as a solo artist in 1993 with the album Diva and is recognized as a singer-songwriter, political activist and humanitarian ambassador.
She was awarded an OBE in 2011 by the Queen for her “tireless charity campaigns and championing humanitarian causes”. She has been named “The Greatest White Soul Singer Alive” by VH1 and has sold over 80 million records worldwide.
Finally, my portrait of Freddie Mercury is called:
“I’m just a musical prostitute my dear.”
Freddie, front man of the band Queen, formed in 1970 which gained international success in the mid 70’s. In 1977 “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” launched the band into being one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world. Freddie Mercury has been voted one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music, with a vocal range extending from bass low F to tenor high. His voice could escalate from throaty growl to an operatic high-pitch, without having had any formal vocal training.
Freddie wrote his own songs, from rock, glam rock to disco, including more complex material like Bohemian Rhapsody. He played the piano, keyboard and guitar. His stage performances were acknowledged as one of rock music’s greatest entertainers.
Like Bowie, Freddie’s androgyny shook the world.
This portrait taken from His album cover Living My Life (1982) shows him to be a virile handsome man, at the peak of his career. Wearing mirrored Aviator shades, the viewer can remove them, revealing his dark smouldering eyes. For years his sexuality was a mystery, hidden from the public eye, but when it was eventually revealed, he exploited it to the full.
Why is music important to you and your art?
All of these artists’ music stood out as exceptional and ground breaking for the times, influencing literally millions of fans. I feel fortunate that I’ve been around to watch and listen to them perform and create a sensational and varied soundtrack for last 5 decades of the 20th Century. Music has the ability to take me back in time to a place, relationship, mood or moment. It can dissolve all sense of time and lift my soul onto another level.
If you had to choose between the artworks presented today, which of your artwork would be your favorite ? and why ?
I don’t have a favourite artwork as such, as I spend so much time getting to know my chosen characters. I do a lot of research before I start painting. Whilst painting, I tend to listen to their music in depth, as well as any interviews they’ve made either on Television or radio. I like the simplicity of the Grace Jones portrait, but I’m very fond of the ‘cheekiness’ of The Beatles.
Can you tell MoW more about the techniques you used. How old is your technique? How did it start? How long does it take you to make an artwork ?
I use a variety of techniques that I’ve developed over time. The most important is the use of multi-layers. I don’t like restricting my work within frames. My paintings are very often large format. I enjoy layering them, to give a 3D effect which helps to create dramatic shadows when hung. Paintings usually take me months to complete.
Do you have plans on creating new artworks insipired by music ?
I do have plans to create new artworks. I like to have music playing at my exhibitions. The next collection that I produce relating to music, is probably taking some of the above stars on a journey through their careers.
Do you listen to music when you’re working ? If so, what kind of music ?
I do listen to music when I work. It can vary in genres. I’m very fond of Jazz, Deep House, Opera, Chillout, Lounge, R&B etc. I tend to keep my finger on the pulse with what’s happening at the moment. I follow people on SoundCloud and anything else that I can tap into.
What is the song you liked the most lately? The album ? What was the last gig you went to ?
It depends on my mood, I can be up in the middle of the night and something will come up on the radio that blows me away. I don’t have a preference in terms of time or genre. I can be in a sentimental mood and listen to Isaac Hayes’s ‘By the Time I get to Phoenix’ or I can slam up the volume and listen to The Beatles Revolver album. Or I may plug into some Deep House.