Lola Gayle is a vocalist and artist based in Downtown Los Angeles. She was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jamaican parents and moved with her family to Los Angeles at age seven. Her work in visual arts has a dark, tribal quality, and has been described as "taking 70s and 80s neo-graffiti art to another level".
Lola's visual work has been displayed in various artist collective shows in the LA area, including last year's LACE Auction and the RAW Artists Los Angeles 2013 Kaleidoscope Show. Gayle has also been commissioned work for several private homes within both Los Angeles and New York.
In this interview with editor Catalina Piedrahita, Lola talks about the juxtaposition of layers in her work, about art as a spiritual exercise, and about the Black Transatlantic Diaspora and what it means for her.
Catalina Piedrahita: There is a strong presence of the female figure in your work. What is its role? Can you talk about its symbolism?
Lola Gayle: Yes, there is! Ha! It is not necessarily the female figure role so much that comes to my mind, but rather it’s the voice that I have; the only voice I know. Something a friend of my husband’s once said: “We should always dig where we stand.” The place we are in is the starting line to create your life.
The symbolism for me with these images still unravels with each piece that I complete. It’s like a story unfolding about our layers, my layers and the metaphorical mortar and it’s chemical compound, holding together each layer. That structure I think is our humanity. We are strangely imperfect yet beautifully infected.
CP: There is abundant juxtaposition and layering in your images, which to me evokes a feeling of spirituality within the works. What lead you to craft this aesthetic? How and when did you realize this style was right for what you wanted to communicate?
LG: As a singer, songwriter, and performance artist, my first vibration has and will always be music through the medium of vocal performance. MiLO is the musical project of my husband and I. My husband is the composer/producer and I am the vocalist and lyric writer. After we took some time off from performing in 2011 and 2012 I felt the desperation of still needing to ‘make things”. A thread started the idea of merging text, picture, texture, and color… a collage.
My friend, Jessica, told me once that all that all she wanted to do was take care of Hunter, her son, and make art. It was much later I really got what she meant. My ability in drawing and painting were devoid of skill. My energies were in music. I enjoyed coloring books and drawing simple vine and leaf shapes. As a child, I was obsessed with stationary stores because I loved writing text on beautiful paper and drawing daisy vines to color in with felt pens. I would spend hours in stationary stores collecting everything from gift-wrapping paper to post cards. Some days would be spent playing, making my own stationary.
In July 2012, I started taking photographs of my face, as per my husband’s suggestion, to start manipulating my own image and merging it with collage. It was an evening at our dining room table with my photos and paint pens and our daughter, Milo. At the end of the night, my husband noticed a picture Milo had colored in creating a type of mask on my face. When I told him it was Milo his response was, “I think Milo’s onto something Lola…you should check this out.” From that point until now it has been and continues to be a journey to the images I’m currently making. I use journey, because that’s exactly what I feel when I create these images.
The collage process involves layering and puzzle making. I believe that the process of making these pieces went hand in hand with the spiritual process which, was in no way devoid of my own frustrations with my lack of skill in execution. It is a spiritual exercise in itself. We are strangely imperfect yet beautifully infected. Broken pieces, held together by life's short shelve life adhesives. Which fits into what is said to be the spiritual aspect in the pieces.
I’m not sure if those feelings are communicated through my images but it is certainly a place of communication within myself when making the images.
CP: In your artist statement you talk about your heritage, how is your Jamaican background important for the creation of your work and how does it manifest itself throughout your pieces? You also mention your transatlantic diasporic experience in your artist statement. Has your artistic process influenced how you feel about this concept? If so, how?
LG: In the beginning stages of creating visual art I began to see and feel that my images were germinating into a narrative about my own experience as a ‘Jamerican’ (Jamaican American) female of this Black Transatlantic Diaspora. At this time my husband gave me a book called, “Afro Modern - Journeys Through the Black Atlantic”. As I began to read sections of the book and see the artwork of these people throughout history, I saw links of ‘expression’ that I recognized in the images I was doing independently. It was a very emotional discovery because it was a moment of a unique sense history and identity within myself as a ‘Jamerican’ female and artist. Everything started to make sense and fall into place for me.
This narrative of BA people continues to pour itself out through West Indian artists of this current era: Femi Dawkins with his expressively jarring visual art and poetry, Christopher Cozier and his complex, intricate installations, Kesh with her wall size monochrome self-portraits and clothing print designs, Stephen Simmonds and his beautiful melancholic melodies mix with transparent lyrics. This only names a few.
As an adult reflecting upon my upbringing I saw a metaphoric determination to be a dignified theme in Jamaican people. I call that theme C.U.S.S.: Cleans Up Stays Strong. It’s a theme that is shared by many ‘diasporic transplantation’ cultures. It inevitably connects us with our ancestors for guidance. The ancestors provide the generations with suits of armor and heart. It is my belief that these ancestral provisions are made available for us to anchor ourselves to the ground. The answers to who we are already exist within us. Each generation carries the baton of culture and development as a unified people navigating and narrating the diasporic transplantation process.
I feel my images through the collage process and reflect some of this diasporic transplantation. In this process we are numerous versions of ‘strangely imperfect and beautifully infected’.
CP: What projects are you working on right now?
LG: The image Robin and The Maid is currently with the Tubac Center for the Arts for their annual Arizona Aqueons Exhibit. I’m continuing work on a commission canvas that is 6ft x 6ft, the name of the piece is The Red Throne. I’m also developing a documentary about West Indian artists by way of the Americas. I’m very curious about their personal narratives within their own diasporic-transplantation.
The LA Dome (Vortex Dome) is an immersive cinema located in downtown Los Angeles. In a collaboration with LA Dome, my plan is to create an indoor installation based on my image titled Ackee Tree.