Los Angeles has many art worlds. They circle each other and overlap like adjacent neighborhoods. They exchange ideas and visuals, reflecting the people and geography that house the group. The Venice art community may be its own world. It has a lot of character and a lot of good art and is not without the kookiness that Venice culture breeds. Isabelle Alford-Lago is a good ambassador of the Venice art community. She’s a talented young painter who is incredibly active in the art scene around her. She’s quirky, too.
“I was born and raised in Santa Cruz,” Isabelle begins. “No one in my family is making art but I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and I got a lot of encouragement from them. I came down here to go to USC and got my BA. Without really planning on making art professionally I just kept painting and drawing because I’ve always loved it. So it was a natural progression of things. From there, I liked LA and I wanted to be here.”
Isabelle worked as a production designer for film after finishing college. She took a few graduate level classes and stopped painting for a period of time. “When I was doing production design, I was experimenting with other ways of being creative, but I wasn’t ‘done with painting.’” She eventually moved to Venice and the neighborhood sparked something within her. She started painting again and became very active in the Venice art community. Her involvement in art quickly developed into a full time gig.
Working as a painter full time, Isabelle has accomplished a considerable amount at only 25 years old. “When I moved out here, the Venice Art Crawl was being organized for the first time,” she explains. “I started working with all the board members to gather gallery shows. I put together events, and was able to sell some things and keep it going. That’s how I progressed into art. It’s just been a matter of dedicating serious time to it. It’s what I’m passionate about and want to see grow.”
It can be said that her art making is a reaction to her surrounding, too. “Being in LA was a huge factor as to why [painting] actually worked for me. This particular environment has allowed me to show art and make street art and get the feedback I need to move forward.”
“Venice is very Los Angeles but you can walk or bike everywhere here,” she says. “It has a similar small town beach culture to Santa Cruz, as far as the surf/skate scene, but it’s still really urban, making a lot of resources accessible. Here there are a ton of creative entrepreneurs and cool, young, techie professionals, and they embrace the art scene too, making it cohesive in that way. It’s my niche within LA. It really works for me right now.”
The area also works for her paintings, too. From her shared living situation to her proximity to beach culture, Venice has coddled and influenced her art making in profound ways. “This house and the open space I have definitely allowed me to start painting. I use oils so having an outside area to work is great.”
The one peculiar thing about Isabelle is that her paintings don’t appear to be in any way related to Venice as her subjects are gorillas. No, really: her subjects are the large, hairy, and somewhat oafish figure jungle animals. They are the focus of her portraiture.
“A big part of my inspiration comes from my interest in human culture,” she explains with a smile. “I remember when I first moved here I would bike around and take pictures, documenting what I was seeing. And somehow my observations were translated into big attitudinal, self- content gorillas. I think this character is my reflection on these real basic behaviors you can see in humans.”
“I like making my figures intimate in their space. That’s where I really enjoy playing with the medium, using paint to emphasize their flesh and fur and give them this huggable quality. There’s a little bit of exhibitionism that goes along with it all, too. They are posing and self-aware and have a ton of personality.”
“They’re fat and hairy and really happy about all of it,” she continues. “Throughout my art making, I was always attracted to humor and childlike images. The fact that I’m making gorillas now isn’t that far off. I enjoy observing people, and as I’m making these paintings I sample from the people and personalities I’m around. I take this primitive character and substitute him into classic human poses and settings that we’ve all seen before, so they become really familiar.”
“And that’s the other thing is that everyone can relate to is the gorilla’s primitiveness. We are all primitive underneath the filter that we impose upon ourselves.” She laughs. “Well, personally, that’s what I feel I get in touch with.”
The subject of gorillas has come a long way from when she resumed painting. She was creating non-objective, abstract paintings–but it wasn’t working for her. “Once I started putting personality back in the painting through portraiture, something clicked,” she expounds. “I started making gorilla after gorilla, got hooked on this body of work, and the theme and technique naturally evolved with time. Now each one has a name, and I feel a bit obligated to keep adding to the family.”
Isabelle does not see gorillas leaving her work at any point soon. She does see them being presented in different ways, though. “I really enjoy doing public murals,” she says. “I want to start doing more in other areas. They take on a different role when they’re on walls, They come to life and become a local member of the community. I get to place them in our habitat and they become less of a painting and more of a living character in a particular location.”
“Of course I do love doing big paintings. It’s a completely different physical and mental experience. Plus gorillas just look better bigger. That’s probably why I enjoy doing murals too; there’s no limit on size.”
“As far as canvas works, I have ideas on how I’d like for them to develop. I’m learning a lot from the medium and how it works with the subject. There’s a level of dissatisfaction as you always find ways that you can improve your work. I’m finding out how I like to enjoy abstraction while making realistic pictures, and new ways of using paint. I get to be a stylist and style the gorillas anyway I want.”
For more on Isabelle, check out her website, Like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and check out her Tumblr. YOu can also catch her new mural Vincent on 76 Market Street in Venice. She has two new murals coming up, too.