Who’s a narcissist?
Sacramento, CA 95811
Lisa Alonzo tells me her home is overrun with hundreds of little rosettes made of acrylic medium and paint squeezed from cake-decorating tools. These handmade flowers are her brushstrokes in her series of self-portraits, and they are waiting to be affixed to a canvas, along with other highly textural stipples produced from pastry tips that sparkle like jewels in person (but probably not in newsprint. Sorry.). The 26-year-old Alameda resident’s first “legit” gallery show at Beatnik Studios, The Narcissist, consists of these tediously painted images of herself as a commentary on the “me” generation, social media, instant gratification and consumption.
Tell me about your series.
I take pictures of myself using my laptop camera or my hand-held camera, and then I manipulate them in Photoshop. It’s kind of like a play on all of the Facebooking that everyone does, and it’s kind of narcissistic. … And I paint them using a pastry tip, so it looks like frosting, like it’s consumable—you know, “consume me”—and I feel like that’s how society is sometimes.
Where’d the idea to use the pastry tip come from?
I used to paint with really thick oil paint. … It was really sculptural, and it kind of looked like frosting, so [I thought] it could be kind of fun to take it one step further, like almost just poke fun of it in a way, because they’re kind of fun, not serious-looking pieces. They look kind of like cakes. And they’re really tedious to make, but when I’m done, my husband, he wants to go eat a cupcake. So mission accomplished (laughs).
Do you decorate cakes, too?
No, I never have. But when I was a kid I wanted to. It was my dream job.
So, how narcissistic are you?
A lot of the series’s idea came up because I was already doing some self-portraits, and I was spending all of this time on these images. Even if they might not look like me, they are ultimately me. So I think I am narcissistic, but I don’t know if I’m more narcissistic than the average person. It’s kind of a tough question.
It’s something that a lot of us are but is very difficult to admit to, because of negative connotations.
Right. With Facebook and stuff, everyone’s always putting up what they’re doing all the time. There’s a lot of really screwed up things happening [in the world], and maybe we feel like we can’t control it, so we look the other way.
How’s it feel to make so much art from your likeness?
When I’m working on the pieces, I don’t really see myself in the images anymore. … When I step back and look at the images, the concept, I feel like I’m making a statement and not just wasting time making images of myself, because I don’t think people can even tell they’re me. Sometimes I feel like I should be making more important art, but I don’t really know that that would be honest, either.
What’s “more important art”?
(Laughs.) Don’t know. There’s just a lot of issues I feel strongly about, and maybe there are more environmentally or politically geared concepts out there, but I don’t really want to force anything. I just want to create art natural to me and that I enjoy making—even though it’s kind of a torture.
This series comments on social media. How much do you share online?
I just use Facebook. I mostly use it to network with other artists. … I kind of shy away from technology, but I am trying to use it to my advantage.
What else about your work should the viewer know?
When I’m sitting working these paintings forever, I think it’s a funny juxtaposition between these images that are [first] made by technology, and they take forever to [paint]. … I’m using a process that pretty much couldn’t take any longer. …
I can create the image really quickly: I can [shoot] it, upload it, put it in Photoshop, and it’ll take me five minutes …
And you spend that much time painting it because …
I feel like no matter how good an image is, if someone doesn’t put a lot of energy into it, it cheapens it. There’s some really good photography [out there], but a great photo will never have the power of a painting to me—but I’m a painter (laughs). It just gives it more value to me.
This is your first gallery show, but you graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in ’08?
Yeah. After school I didn’t really paint much for, like, a year, actually. I was just kind of figuring out what kind of paintings I should be doing. I just started working a lot a year ago, realizing I have to paint. …
I think I was just sort of afraid of failing. Like, if I wasn’t painting, I wasn’t going to be turned down. It was very daunting, but I had to take the first step, like working on my portfolio and sending it to galleries; all of this legwork that artists just aren’t very good at. … But now that I’ve started, it’s fine. Like this (laughs).
How painful was this interview?
It’s fine. I’m glad you called, actually!