William Lemon III
I learned of William Lemon III while looking online for makeup inspiration three years ago. It was an image of Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes by Rankin that caught my eye. In an editorial steeped in mysticism, her body was covered in hand-painted patterns and symbols, and metallic hues were slathered down her sides. Although I obviously didn’t sport the look that night out, I couldn’t help but be excited with the direction. I scoped out the man behind the body art and while I learned that he had other traditional artistic outlets (including block prints, drawings and collages) it wasn’t until I met him that I began to appreciate the talent that is Lemon.
Time spent with Lemon is a real treat. He’s fluent in the language of art without any pretense, he gives off that chilled LA vibe and he’s pretty hilarious. He’s that guy that makes fine art accessible. His honesty and lack of formal training makes his work (especially given his fixation with the traditional medium of tapestry) feel genuine and modern. Visually, his artwork is intriguing. Narratives are created by layers upon layers of colours and textures, and despite a steady hand there’s this overall sense of rawness and realness embedded within his images.
Lemon hasn’t always been a crusader for medieval mediums though; he’s the kind of guy that rolls with the punches. His journey to present day has been a pretty fascinating one, from travelling to France as Devendra Banhart’s backup dancer (“We were both homeless in New York together and it was wonderful ... He’s one of my closest friends, I really love him.”) to making up Lady Gaga, he revels in his variety of work and reveals how working within his means allowed him to crack into the art world.
“When I first started making art I really wanted to be accepted in the community.” He franlkly explains: “It was a really hard time in my life. I had left a church that I had been going to for my entire life and I didn’t have any friends. I was basically reinventing my life and art helped me do that.” Fresh in New York and desperate to start anew he recalls: “The way that I thought I could become a part of the art community was to make art for other people. So I would go to these openings and make a hundred pocket sized block prints and then I’d hand them out to everybody. It was just out of necessity because I didn’t have any money.” Lemon’s initiative was well received and it didn’t take long for the confidence of this fastidious guy to grow.
After mastering block printing he moved onto screen printing. He ventured into apparel and made clothing that the psychedelic and surfer crowds would trade their Galaxie 500 records for. One to constantly create, Lemon simultaneously established himself as an exceptional makeup artist and developed his own technique called skin printing. Akin to screen printing, Lemon uses vivid pigments to create patterns and hypnotic textures all over the body. The only one in the field, as well as working on Kahn, he has printed Chloë Sevigny for a Beck video clip, and has had the pleasure of Stephen Sprouse-ing a nude Marc Jacobs: “It was really cool, he’s a lovely guy. He’s a fan of art so we talked a bit about painting and because I was painting his whole body we had a good, long conversation.” More recently though, he has been painting Lady Gaga for videos and events in the likeliness of Nicola Formichetti’s muse Zombie Boy, Rick Genest.
For Lemon, creative endeavours are all mutually exclusive: “I’ve always been an active creator. I’m always working on a musical or a painting or makeup or a story, it’s all the same side of the brain.”
With that knowledge, while travelling and working on “Lady herself”, he has been preparing for his latest exhibition, his conceptual art show Leap of Faith. “I like to tell a beautifully human story, and I like to keep my inspiration generally positive.” When it comes to concepts, Lemon discloses that they “usually come from trying to interpret dreams or trying to reinterpret moments of my life. I really feel if you give energy to a thought and bring it into being it manifests into something. It’s a really magical process.”
A factor which has contributed significantly to Lemon’s process is the location of Leap of Faith, his LA home. “I’ve had several gallery shows since I’ve been in Los Angeles but the thing I’m really in love with, because I moved here from New York, the most amazing thing for me is my space, my house. The fact that you can have space here and how much it affects you. I live in the hills, under the Hollywood sign in Beachwood Canyon. It has had a really profound affect on my life and my creativity.”
In this exhibition Lemon aims to reinvigorate the discussion (or lack of) on the medium and purpose of tapestry. While tapestry has a pretty bland rap, once you learn the logic behind Lemon’s methods and see that despite his references to the high middle ages his work is anything but archaic. “The reason I like tapestry is because in each one of these parts of the picture – let’s say it’s a hand, I can describe the hand using the language of pattern better than rendering a hand that looks like a hand.” He continues, “If I make the hand with a pattern of snakeskin for example, then that says something about the hand, it’s takes on a greater depth of character.”
Without giving too much away Lemon says of Leap of Faith: “I’m going to cover everything in my room with tapestries. I’m going to cover my chair and my television, and cover my couch and bed. I’m going to create a pattern to go across the walls made out of fabric. Basically I’m making a sweater for my walls and my room.” Despite his perpetual use of literary themes from a bygone society (for example in 2008 he released a rock-opera titled VII Acts of an Iron King and in 2010 created a series titled Parcival Versus The Sun) Lemon insists that the stories he tells are modern: “I like using very loaded images to tell a story but I’m not telling a story that’s old. I am using old visual language but talking about things that are happening now.”
Right now, Lemon is involved in more projects than can be counted on one hand. To be so creatively engaged is inherent in his character but for him it’s just how it is: “The creative process for me is kind of like a constant balancing game. If you paint too much then your eyes get tired of painting, but it’s not that your brain can’t create anymore or your brain becomes creatively tired, I just need a different outlet,” he explains. “I’ve spent all day painting so tonight I’ll go and play music. Then I’ll go and dance.” And boy, you should see him dance.