HIGHLAND PARK, LOS ANGELES
After safely escaping a territorial beagle, we wind our way down and around the outside of Deedee Cheriel's house in Highland Park, LA to find a beautiful new studio perched on the edge of a hill. The studio was built with recycled glass doors from an old architecture firm that still read Room 201: Laura Hedgefield, Room 202... She is surrounded by trees, smells of eucalyptus, and little birds beep beeping in the background. This animates her paintings even more as they are cast in the softest natural light.
Deedee Cheriel paints colorful narratives depicting mythological characters interacting in simple timeless environments. She pulls imagery and decoration from colonial America, Egypt and India. She works with themes of communication, fear and connection.
Interview by Britt Harrison, photography and videography by B. Justine Jaime
Posted on August 1, 2015
It’s funny because, my mom was a kindergarten teacher, so we didn’t have a TV. We went hiking and spent a lot of time doing creative stuff instead. I would always draw this artist’s loft in San Francisco with a swimming pool in the middle that I was planning on living in. I had all these hilarious intricate drawings of what I thought my life was going to look like.
I wanted to go to art school but my fathers Indian and he felt I should get a more traditional college degree. I don't know if I’d suggest not going to art school because knowledge is power, but I don't think that being an artist is solely about what school you’ve gone to. I have a lot of friends that have spent $120,000 on their careers and cannot get motivated to make art. I think it’s more about discipline and over coming your own psychological hurtles.
Certain different things inspire me. I definitely have to get outside of my house, like when I travel or hear music or am submerged in other imagery. That’s when I get my ideas.
I had a super pivotal experience going to this temple in India with my Dad. In this inner sanctum there were these crazy statues of animals having sex with each other and turtle men peeing in a jar. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. There was all this weird iconography that you would never see in western culture. I studied Indian temple art in college. All of that isn't really literal. It’s not about animals having sex with each other. It’s about finding enlightenment through the process of imagery. It becomes sort of a meditation when I’m making work about these things that I’m interested in.
IMITATION IS THE BEST FORM OF FLATTERY – A. WARHOL
I had this girl who wanted me to look at her work, and it was exactly like mine. I think the hardest part of making art is finding out what you want to say. You have to have your own reasons and your own dialogue and your own language. I think if your filled with self-doubt and you don't even know what your into, then its hard to develop that sort of language.
INTO THE WILD
I really like being in nature, I’m sort of obsessed with animals. When I was a kid I thought if I wasn't going to be an artist I would be a veterinarian. So this is kind of the best of both worlds.
FUNDING AN ART CAREER
When I moved to LA, I was working in the film industry as a set decorator. It can be very creative and you can choose the jobs you want. I could base my work around shows so it actually worked out really well for me. I think the problem with that kind of work is that people can get side tracked by the amount money they can make, and they stop making their own art. It’s hard to turn down the money and the amazing health insurance, but I wanted to create a life where I could be closer to my kid and have a studio. So I worked towards getting that.
I’m painting full time now. My studio is in my backyard I’m just working around my kid’s schedule.
I think there are so many ways that you can be prevented from doing what you want to do. I remember when I first moved to LA, I had a couple of pieces in some group shows. There was this one gallery that I really liked, so I said to the woman ‘I love your gallery! I’d love to show here again.’ And she said, ‘…I don't even like you work.’ It was so brutal. I was so sensitive because I was a lot younger. I remember thinking… revenge painting. You know, like fuck her, I’ll make her regret… But I don't care what people say about my work any more. That’s something that comes with age and time and finding the work you really want to make.
DESCRIBE YOUR WORK
I don’t know, I don’t really know how to describe my work. Growing up I was really inspired by record covers. That was the art that was really accessible to me. Then I got really into skateboarding so those graphics really impacted my work. I liked strong simple lines and images that convey a feeling that’s not really complicated. I guess starting with music I’ve started thinking about art almost as branding. You know, like trying to convey a complex idea very simply.
THE INSATIABLE BEAR
The bear that I paint is a complicated idea, but it isn’t a very complicated image. My initial idea was to convey this concept of to desire is to suffer. The more you have those thoughts the more you’re living in this state of longing. So in the process of drawing the bear. I was getting out of those thoughts of wanting something more. It was almost this process of alchemy, where I was taking these thoughts and turning them into something more healing.
BIRD PEOPLE OR BEAR PEOPLE?
I was reading a lot of magical realism literature and I was living in South America. I was fascinated with Isabelle Allende and Gabriel García Márquez when you’re so submerged in the literature you can start to think that way. When I was in Chile I started this band and one of my band member’s girlfriend was this skinny little model and she would walk around going “beep beep beep beep” like a little bird. So I have this sketch of her as a bird. That was the first bird person and I still paint people that way. I don't really see people as birds anymore, but I do think that people have different temperaments that correspond with different things.
You know there were girls that were ok with just dating the guy in the band, but I wanted to be in the band. A lot of my roommates were part of the Riot Grrrl movement, like Kathleen Hanna, I lived in a house with her. Courtney Love would come and crash and we would all jam together. So that was a really fun and inspiring to be around other women that were really ambitious and disciplined about their art. I think it really profoundly changed how I work now. Like being rejected by a gallery or if people don't like my work it doesn't bother me. But I think in life we have to be willing to face challenges and barriers to keep making work and I think as a woman you’ll have to even more, because you’ll have fewer opportunities. You know there’s like some crazy statistic that only like a third of galleries have women in them. I feel lucky that I’ve been showing for while.
Swoon, Maya Hayak, Laura Owens, Tracy Emin