Akvile Lesauskaite is a London-based visual artist of Lithuanian descent. A trained painter, she completed an exchange programme in Milan’s Brera Academy and received a bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts from the Vilnius Art Academy, located in an Gothic monastery once built by Bernardine monks. She then followed a master’s degree in Creative Business. Her extensive training as well as her insightful approach to art and fashion allow Akvile to create art with an acute sense for contemporary culture and societal changes. One distinctive feature of her practice is her use of lipstick as a means of expressing her vision on canvas, which had us wanting to learn more about this innovative approach to painting.
Elena Stanciu: Tell us about yourself and your background as an artist.
Akvile Lesauskaite: I am a classically trained painter now working with lipsticks and watercolour on canvas, as well as with the digital media. I grew up in Vilnius, a busy capital of a Baltic country, with a humble luxury of nature nearby. Since it takes three hours to cross the country in a car, we’ve got it all at our doorstep – white dunes at the Curonian split, dark and moody sea, deep lakes and blooming meadows in summer, and forests of pines covered in snow during winter. When I was a child I drew paper doll clothes and furniture for everyone I played with. Now, after a decade of working in fashion and interiors communications, I live in a place that reminds me of a busy anthill with nature spots scattered around – London.
ES: What draws you to fashion as a source in your artworks?
AL: I like that fashion 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 crave 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.
I've spent years editing a fashion and design magazine and working in PR agencies. Going on press trips, fashion weeks, and meeting a lot of creatives 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... These reality sketches were later turned into my graduation exhibition, I See U See Me, which delved into exploring style, image construction, and various other angles of fashion.
ES: One of your points of interest is decoding items that have become objects of worship in the world of fashion and styling. Can you elaborate on this? How does your art enable you to analyze these objects?
AL: If you think about style as a language that reveals information from the first impression, then certain items, maybe more of a checklist of possessions, are a vocabulary. Why have some poses for the selfies become a universal means of expression while declaring one’s social status? How is it that only some objects become worshiped as fetishes? Handbags, for example, are praised by the Robb Report to be as great of an investment as stocks or bonds.
I paint because I am a believer in energy and in creation. There’s probably a selfish motive to leave a trace as well – my footprint on a canvas, content with a strong sense of surface, a momentary reflection of paused time. These items, portraits, poses that I paint are a mere reflection of my curiosity to observe the environment I find interesting. In a way, my paintings are also anthropological revelations of the current times.
ES: Speaking of current times, the fashion world is today at a crossroads, with social and cultural developments (eg. more diversity, inclusion, #metoo) calling for a rethinking of the philosophy and practice of fashion. How do you envision the role of art and artists in this dialogue of change?
AL: Both industries – art and fashion – are so layered and complex; it's very tough to bring sudden changes, though not impossible. As the conscience and mindsets of generations are shifting, change comes with time, and it’s hard to accurately forecast the outcome.
One thing is clear: arts and fashion are intertwined more than ever before thanks to the interdisciplinary shift and the globalization. But these changes slowly come into the other areas, too. The other day I read a report on Gen Z, the biggest biracial generation of all times. They are curious more than ever, they don't even trust the brands and names anymore but go and explore the scene themselves, be it career paths, industries, and creative processes.
ES: How did you discover lipstick as a means of expressing yourself on canvas? What attracts you to it? Does it allow more freedom than other materials? Are there any limitations to the painting process?
AL: I look beyond the motives depicted on canvas. I studied anatomy, classical drawing, painting and pigment history. Lipstick is a pigment that I have been researching and working with for almost a decade.
In 2012, right after I got back from studying in Milan, my final work was a graduation exhibition with a fully developed concept. 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, I started experimenting. I glued transparent cellophane to the wall and started sketching with black markers. Then I added acrylics and models in motion (falling from the catwalk) appeared. At some point 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 not try and use those lipsticks and lip pencils to complement my ideas?”
Today I use various lipstick tones from corals to strawberry and deep burgundy shades, then I often add some watercolour or acrylic paint to fill in the shapes. The thing I like 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.
Limitations? It’s hard to get out of the pink palette unless I mix the media.
ES: Lipstick is associated with femininity (albeit very traditionally) – do you attempt a reinterpretation of the use of lipstick as a symbol?
AL: It has a lot of symbolism if you look at lipstick as an object from multiple perspectives. Obviously, I am not attempting to change its meaning and connotations per se, as it has some very strongly tied cultural allusions. It could be a sign of femininity to some. It could be a way to measure economics to others. (L. Lauder of Estee Lauder introduced the famous term “lipstick index,” the theory that we're unlikely to splash during tough times, but instead will treat ourselves to small and glamorous objects, such as lipsticks.)
I don’t have any Freudian hang-ups (lipstick does not remind me of any tribal symbols). If anything, it’s a reflection of changing times – to me it is a sign of commercialism, advertising, multitasking, maybe a ritual, sometimes a projection of oneself to others. I don't actually even wear it unless it's nude or a lipgloss.
Word - Elena Stanciu
Illustration - Akvile Lesauskaite