NATALIA BONIFACCI MEETS AUSTYN WEINER AT THE LODGE A FEW DAYS BEFORE THE CLOSING OF WEINER’S FIRST SOLO LOS ANGELES ART SHOW, WILDHART AND NAUD. MATILDA,THE GALLERY OWNER’S DOG, WALKS AROUND FREELY THIS NOON AS THEY DRINK COFFEE WITH ALMOND MILK. THE LIGHT IS BEAUTIFUL. AT 27 YEARS OLD, THE ARTIST FEELS LIKE AN OLD SOUL. SHE TAKES LONG PAUSES BEFORE ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS, HER VOICE IS DEEP, HER EYES PRESENT. SHE IS INTELLIGENT AND WELL SPOKEN, LOVELY AND GENEROUS IN SHARING HER THOUGHTS. SHE COMES ACROSS VERY UNGUARDED AND STRONG. BORN AND RAISED IN MIAMI, AUSTYN ATTENDED THE PENNY W. STAMPS SCHOOL OF ART & DESIGN IN MICHIGAN, STUDYING PHOTOGRAPHY AND PAINTING. TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY FOLLOWED, BEFORE FINALLY ATTENDING PARSONS SCHOOL OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN NEW YORK. SHE MOVED TO LOS ANGELES TWO YEARS AGO.
If you were to describe what you do for a living to a small child, what would you tell him or her?
I would tell them that I am a writer, that is the first thing that comes to mind because when I think of writing I don’t just think of words, but I also think of narrative, storytelling, I think of exploring an idea with the intent of a start-to-finish whether or not you get to a start-to-finish.
You are an artist. Was it always your calling?
I had an extremely passionate relationship with film photography, that was the first medium I really explored and nurtured and after years and years of exploring that field I eventually had the feeling that there was something more than only that medium.I felt confined within a photograph, and that was the moment that drew me to keep exploring. I think there was a visceral pull with the mediums I was using and there was also an emotional pull. I started taking film photographs at 13. The process with a medium is kinda like a relationship, there is a moment where you are gonna commit or you are not gonna commit. It wasn’t a question, it wasn’t an option. I had to commit. There was nothing else, there wasn’t another option of what the trajectory would be for me in order to even feel like I could be whole. I wanted to be an artist.
You always felt it.
Yes. The mediums i have felt it with have changed, but overall that feeling of pushing and pulling for some sort of purpose that was even beyond my actions, something that was already set for me, I definitely felt that, but it took me moving through time and mediums and places to find that lane, that I feel I am now traveling in.
You lived in Tel Aviv for a period of time.
I had a friend there who was in the army and I knew that if I was gonna move somewhere else I wanted to have an authentic and intimate experience. I also wanted to see what was going on in the Middle East. I also come from a jewish background. The whole time I was abroad I was shooting shooting shooting so I sort of call that period my last photojournalistic love affair with my camera in that way. And then I moved to NYC and when I got there I wanted to be working while I was simultaneously in school. I had family in fashion and they needed a photographer for fashion week so I started shooting backstage during the shows. I was magnetic towards the models and the models were magnetic towards me. I was incredibly inspired by them and the action backstage. Shooting backstage gave me this inside ticket to see what that world was like. I got inspired to draw on top of my photographs. I didn’t know at the time, but there were many iconic models that were in that mix, like Cara Delevingne or Gigi Hadid. Gigi and I, from that point, formed a really special friendship and I shot her in a series just of her, deconstructing her face and painting on her body. As my work has moved, I have moved in a way. It’s been a very symbiotic relationship between the two. I am very inspired by the aesthetic location I find myself in and everything around me. I am very much a sponge. Once I had that sort of incredible photographic New York fashion moment with my camera, it caused me, in a lot of ways, to travel inside myself and to explore and connect with what was going on in my life and how I was growing as a human. So all of the work that followed NYC with me moving to Los Angeles has been about that.
Was LA a choice or an accident?
After I had the show of the Gigi works in NYC I wanted to have a clean slate to begin a new journey that was about me, that was void of anything on the outside entirely, and if it was gonna be on the external, it was gonna be about me, and my idea of my own mass and self and weight in this world. All of the works now are reflective of this time in my life, very much me growing into myself as woman, as a man in ways too. Growing into myself both sexually and emotionally and really exploring what that means to me within my work, even my strokes.
You recently posted on your Instagram account a Richard Prince quote about art being always connected to sex. “A lot of art, to me, is sex, and that’s something that’s always left out of the discussion.” What is your take on that? Your show has a lot of sex in it…
For me sex is so many things. It’s connectivity: being connected to yourself, being connected to the primitive, primal human condition. There is just something so real to me about it and I think that is what attracts me to it so much.The raw, the honesty and the truth, the sensuality in which we can feel the world through sex. In our society it’s so taboo, taboo and so frowned upon to be a free sexually explorative human and I have never felt that way. I always had an extremely fluid and confident and intimate relationship with myself. I think that just naturally reflects in my work. It’s not really me trying to portray sex or trying to portray solitude or one or the other or any of these things. It’s merely a mirror of myself and what I am made of. Naturally, sex is such a huge topic in the work I do. it’s one thing to say sex, it’s another to feel sex, it’s another to look like sex and I think sex means so many things to so many different people. I think I am interested in that idea of what is your mark? What is sex to you and the array of emotions that come with it. It’s so unique to each person. I think I am interested in that dark side of the moon. why is it so taboo? Tell me how you fuck (we both laugh). I think it’s just such a natural part of us, so I don’t know why it’s not a part of the conversation. So that just brings me back to the Richard Prince quote. I want it in the conversation. It’s interesting.
When you talk sometimes you bring up the idea of relationships and maybe the idea of love. Earlier talking about photography you mentioned one instant being your last affair with photographic journalism and before we started recording you mentioned that feeling about NYC as well. You also mentioned going through a heartbreak recently. Wildhart and Naud is the name of the street corner in LA were you produced all this body of work nursing the end of a love story. It’s very vibrant in the way you talk and it is vibrant in your work. You bring the idea of relationships, beginning of affairs, ends of love stories, towards many aspects of your life. Are you looking for love? It seems a big influence, that longing or lack of, in the way you approach both life and your work.
Always and forever. The idea of love and longing, everything that comes along with the whirlwind that is relationships in general, with any two human beings of any kind, is to me, the juice of life.
So friendship as well.
Yes. All sorts of relationships. I can have a relationship with a 78 year old woman. With a 4 year old kid. You know relationships to me is everything. A lot of my growth and having moved to Los Angeles in this period in time emotionally has brought me to this body of work I’m currently creating. I had just experienced heartbreak in a very big way. I’ve learned so much from it. He is an artist as well, so what’s been really interesting and beautiful about it, is to watch both of us use it as fuel for our work and our exploration, and sort of unapologetically letting this experience take us to a better place creatively. it’s been a wild experience to see and to respect someone so much as an artist that you can step out of yourself to appreciate that is really an incredible thing. I was in a relationship for a very long time and so in the place I am in, this moment of growth, and feeling myself in so many different ways for the first time, to me, when I look at the work, it’s all over it. I am in this moment of youthful exploration so uninhibitedly in a way that I never have. There is a lot of solitude in the work, too, because I am very much on this journey alone. I’ve always felt that way, yet now there is a physical presence to that, too. It’s not loneliness, it’s solitude, they are such different things.
You’ve said you want your work to be for everyone.
I think something that plays in my work a lot is this idea of a broad sense of understanding. I like the idea of anyone being able to enjoy my work and not needing it to be so cerebral and so inaccessible. Any socioeconomic background, any gender, any any age. Specifically age, I really enjoy that idea of being able to speak to everyone. That is something important for me as I am forming the language of my work.
It funny because this gallery really fits that idea, because of the neighborhood: it’s not Beverly Hills, it’s not West Hollywood, we’re here on Western.
Totally. It’s actually one of the reasons I was really drawn to it, and it’s funny.I loved Alice (Lodge, the gallery owner) right away, she had a very unique energy, which is true freedom of true expression and creativity, and she is not going by anyone’s rules, and she goes all by heart and what she loves and what she is attracted to. I find that to be very rare, at least through my experience so far. She gave me a vibe that no one else had given me. A genuine interest and love for my work, and that is what I was truly looking for anyway. We were just a really great match. Once I spent more time in the space and I understood the history of the space, It’s such a perfect mix of old world and new world for me. also the fact that there is two rooms: so much of my work is about duality and exploring my duality, the two rooms sort of mimic those ideals, so that was perfect.
Ed Ruscha owns the property. He worked here as well.
Yeah, it was his studio for 25 years and I don’t know if it was at the beginning or at the end of that time, but he bought the building. I think I found out after I had committed to the show and I started spending more time here driving south on Western Avenue, spending time on the block, walking around the neighborhood. It’s so crazy how transparent his inspiration is. You take a right turn on Western Avenue, the signage mixed with the terrain of Los Angeles, mixed with the lighting, I mean, it’s so his painting! it’s so awesome. He protects and preserves the building entirely aesthetically. It’s from 1923. He won’t change a thing.
Who inspires you?
I think my inspiration changes as my work changes, as my mediums change, but for sure Richard Prince, Maria Lasnig, Matisse, Ellsworth Kelly, Marina Abramovic, Tracey Emin, Cindy Sherman is a big one, Araki. I am constantly falling in love with new artists, and there I go back to the relationship thing (we both laugh) it’s love or complete distaste. Everything is really filled with passion.
If you were to give yourself a piece of advice to your 16 year old self with the experience you have now what would you tell yourself?
It’s funny I was thinking about this question in the shower this morning. I am constantly thinking about that. All the things I am learning, I am making sure I re iterate them back to myself, I want to all to really stick. I’d say to invest as much as you can in yourself, because I think, especially in adolescent years growing up high-school, middle school, even college, we get so caught up in this extroverted experience of needing so much validation from people to trust that you are going in the right direction or you are doing the right thing or whatever that might mean. But I think intuition is a muscle and if you don’t exercise it, it’s not gonna grow strong. So the more you invest in yourself and trust in yourself, the stronger your intuition is gonna be and that is the real driving force you need to get through life.
What’s the best quality about you and what is your biggest flaw?
One of my biggest strengths is that I can zoom in on someone and give them so much love and attention and really connect and be truly present and focused and then my biggest flaw is that I can easily take that away. It can be an on and off switch to me as I am traveling in and out of myself. I struggle a lot with the introverted/extroverted experience because my work requires so much internal time and dialogue and attention, but I love so deeply and so much and so many that I also crave that. I am constantly trying to find that balance, but it’s something I struggle with.
What do you prefer in people and what do you like the least?
I really appreciate versatility, someone that can be themselves and shine no matter who they are standing next to, whether a peasant or a king. I admire loyalty. I think, above all, somebody who is humble is the most attractive thing to me. I don’t like social climbers and I don’t like fakes.
What’s your favorite smell?
Boat gasoline (she laughs).
That’s the Miami in you.
Totally. It brings me right back.
Austyn Weiner @austyn
Chris Fortuna @chrisfortunafoto
The Lodge @thelodgela
This interview has been edited and condensed.