Akvile Les | Artist Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work

I’m a visual artist who works with lipsticks on canvas, among other media. By reusing old and expired lipsticks, I am delving into the narratives of women, style, and creative sustainability.

After studying Painting in Vilnius Art Academy, a gorgeous building located in a Gothic monastery once built by Bernardine monks, and an exchange programme in Milan’s Brera Academy, I then followed a master’s degree in Creative Business. I've never imagined myself working alone in the studio, hence I’ve spent years editing a fashion magazine and working in luxury PR in the design sector, keeping my finger on the pulse and intertwining the two with my art. Today, I draw, create paintings, and collaborate with brands.

What set you off as an artist?

As a kid, I admired beauty, drawing and style, and these three found a way to connect together pretty early. I remember playing with paper dolls and drawing the dream interiors for them, from carpets to closets, from tables to cozy armchairs and especially creating outfits. Later, my extensive training in traditional painting and art history led to a more insightful approach to art and fashion, allowing me to create art with an acute sense for contemporary culture and societal changes.

Tell us about the themes you pursue in your work

I mainly explore women and style narratives. I've spent years editing a fashion and design magazine and working in luxury PR. Going on press trips, fashion weeks, and meeting a lot of creatives naturally turned out to be a source of influence. From Cavalli runway with a PETA activist in dreadlocks attacking a model or Isabel Marant and H&M collaboration launch and incredible scenography in a tennis-hangar turned into a candy city in Paris; to Gucci head offices with the glass showroom walls, sliding as office doors... I absorb all the experience and then express the motives on the canvas or on the paper.

I like that fashion (and creative industries in general) is a very complex and layered world, connecting sociology, history, and beauty. Its aesthetics is also very close to that of visual arts. I have an innate need to know as much as possible about the world around me, which implies the craving for variety and change. That’s why I am not trying to tie myself to fashion on purpose, but see it as a natural sequence of the creative process.

What art do you most identify with? any specific influences or research areas?

I enjoy exploring various aesthetics in general. I loved studying Picasso because of his productivity and the roadmap he created pursuing different artistic goals and challenging himself over the years. I also enjoy the colourists and the late 19th - early 20th-century European art.

These items, portraits, poses that I paint are a mere reflection of my curiosity to observe the environment I find interesting, so my research dips into so many more fields than just art. In a way, my paintings are also anthropological revelations of the current times.

Is there something you couldn't live without in your studio? what is your most essential tool?

Oh! I think that every tool is essential. I like the dynamics of being able to shift from working on a canvas with lipsticks and acrylics to paper and marker sketches, as well as drawing digitally and experimenting with colour schemes and image composition on a tablet.

I use various lipstick tones from corals to strawberry and deep burgundy shades, then I often add some watercolour to fill in the forms. The thing I love most about it is how smooth the drawn line lies down – even slides – on the surface. I enjoyed the result so much that it became the base of my paintings and some drawings. I am still looking for different ways to use it and feel there are a lot of combinations to be discovered and tried yet. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that people usually don’t even see that I use cosmetics and get surprised upon learning it. It also dries perfectly, doesn’t fade, and gives that perfect intense colour shade.

Tell us how you organise, plan, and prioritise your work

I plan in advance and prioritise, use Excel sheets and block time out in a Google calendar. I’ve noticed that a lot of younger artists struggle with a sense of being overwhelmed. Seeing your activity as a system works, especially if you’re someone running everything on your own. Divide all the areas – research, creative, admin, marketing, finance, operations (if you’re shipping and packaging your work), and focus on one task at a time.

Describe the trajectory of your career as an artist so far

In March of 2012, I just got back from studying in Milan, Italy, to Vilnius, where I was about to graduate from the art academy. My final work was an exhibition with a fully developed concept. Since I’d explored deeper insights of fashion before, I naturally continued the topic. I remember preparing for the exhibition as a visual and question moodboard. Why some poses for the selfies became a universal means of expression while declaring one’s social status? How is it that only some objects become worshiped as fetishes (bags, designer shoes…)? All of this became my first full collection of fashion paintings on canvas.

As I was working on the canvas series, I still had the feeling that something was missing. Time was tight – I had a few months, which would be enough but it did not give me the freedom to experiment until the last minute since paintings created using oils take too much time to dry, up to a month. So, I started experimenting. I glued transparent cellophane to the wall and started sketching with the black markers – Diane von Furstenberg at the party having a beer, legs, bags, make-up. Then I added acrylics and models in motion (falling from the catwalk) appeared. In the middle of it, I glanced at my cosmetic bag and thought, “I am sending a message about lipsticks and beauty, about creating one’s image through my drawings all the time, so why don’t I try and use those lipsticks and lip pencils to complement my ideas?”

Later on, I continued painting and started collaborating with brands, including Selfridges & Co, WeTransfer, Magnum ice-cream, Moët & Chandon, Lipton, and Philips. I went to Advertising Week Europe in London to speak about creativity and content and was nominated for Global Lithuanian Leaders afterwards. It’s been exciting! You never know what a new day brings and that’s something definitely enjoyable about this career.

Are there any upcoming exhibitions or projects in the works?

I am working on some new lipstick paintings series – you can follow me on Instagram @akvileles to see my work in progress and future announcements!



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