L.E. Dubin is your coolest, oddest Aunt who is probably also a vampire. She served coffee and sat for a visit with NOCM’s Kristof Crovinus recently in her small but eclectic apartment just blocks away from the St Charles Avenue Streetcar, with Archie the cat lounging on his collection of colorful pillows and a 1950’s black and white Hollywood movie flickering in silence on the television.
Kristof: How long have you been an artist?
L.E.: I started painting when I was 3 years old and I had a painting in the LA County Art Museum at age 14. I’m not going to say that I hit my peak then, but I would say that it was a pretty big milestone in my painting career (at age14). I was very influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, the figurative painting from that era, as well illustrators Mark English and Maxfield Parrish.
Kristof: What drove you to become a professional artist?
L.E.: When I was three years old, I would watch my mother paint and do mixed media and she related the trials and tribulations of professional artists. I learned from her that it was a very difficult occupation, especially if you are emotional or sensitive. My mother always inspired me, but did not encourage me to be an artist because she felt it was too tough to make a living at it. She didn’t want me to be poor and starving. I painted on the side anyway.
My regular job was in the legal profession, working for attorneys for about 30 years. I would come home afterwards and paint. Sometimes I’d get commissions. One time a guy wanted three Madonnas – the singer from the 80’s. Or Batman. I would paint anything!
I also made jewelry and sold it in boutiques. I was so young at the time that my mother would bring my jewelry into boutiques so the owners thought that they were buying them from her. People have always wanted to buy my stuff, so I guess I’ve have had a charmed life that way.
Kristof: What genres do you work in?
L.E.: I do acrylic portraiture. I paint on furniture. Anything from Day of the Dead imagery to desert landscapes to skulls. Whatever people want to buy or whatever I feel like painting. When I get commissions on furniture I use acrylics on that. I make jewelry boxes, Victorian decoupage, Halloween craftwork, jewelry, and hats. A little bit of everything!
Kristof: Whose work inspires you the most? You’ve mentioned the Pre-Raphaelites as a big influence.
L.E.: I really look up to them: Waterhouse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Alma-Tadema. Late 19th century artists inspire me. I’m inspired by their techniques, their portraiture, and their sense of style.
Kristof: Is your mom still a role model?
L.E.: Yes, my mother, Lee Dubin. I also like the printers Aubrey Beardsley and Edward Gorey. And I love anything Halloween inspired, gothic, and spooky.
Fiction inspires me. Vampire novels. Poe, Lovecraft, and Ray Bradbury. Science fiction writers help me to form images in my mind.
Kristof: You work mostly in acrylics. Do you ever use oils?
L.E.: No. They take too long to dry. They smell bad. I don’t like turpentine. I get more brilliant color with acrylics. I tried oils once when I was 6 years old and I’ve always used acrylics ever since.
Decoupage and acrylics are the two mediums I use most. I have a huge collection of paper and ephemera. My mother has one too and we call them “artist’s morgue”. Boxes and boxes of images for use in collage and mixed media.
Kristof: You seem to freely combine modern art, pop art and folk art.
L.E.: Yes! I call it New Orleans Folk Art while I’m making it.
Kristof: It definitely is. A vintage feel like in advertisements from the 19th century. A very decorative Art Nouveau style.
L.E.: I used to collect advertising from the turn of the (19th to 20th) century. I’ve got all of that wacky stuff. Then I had my band and in the flyers I incorporated Maxfield Parrish and Victorian ads.
Kristof: Tell us about your band: the look, the sound.
L.E.: “Ellie Mae’s Biscuits”. Flaky on the outside, tender on the inside! We played Hillbilly rock. This was in the early 1990s. All my bandmates were guys from heavy metal bands, but I made them wear western outfits that I’d sewn. Silver spider web appliques across the shoulders, leather cowboy boots and black cowboy hats
I wore platinum blonde dreadlocks, sang and played a Goth-a-Billy washboard that I made. I was called “Stevie Nicks on Quaaludes!” We had the best fun. They called us a novelty act, but we put on a show! We had the best time. I miss that a lot.
Kristof: How do you differentiate your art from that of other artists?
L.E.: I’ve never seen anything else like it. My colors are very vibrant and they incorporate 19th Century design elements. I don’t use sepia tones. I never used pastels. I never painted seascapes. I’ve always painted people or animal imagery.
Kristof: When did you move to New Orleans?
L.E.: Three years ago. August 1, 2014, from Southern California.
Kristof: What made you choose New Orleans?
L.E.: I always had galleries ask me if I could send my work to New Orleans. And I said, “Well, if I ever get there!” I don’t like to send my stuff around. I like to check out the places where my art is going to be displayed.
Then the building which had been my home for ten years sold. And I said, “Ok! Maybe this is a sign? It’s time to move to New Orleans.”
New Orleans is my kind of place. It’s my adopted hometown. I feel so accepted. Everyone is so nonjudgmental. I can be myself. I wear my skull jewelry, no problems.
Kristof: The movie playing on your TV?
L.E.: “Let’s Do It Again” with Jane Wyman. My mom and I both love to watch old movies while painting. Always the old vintage glamour movies. I just love that era. I’m also very into monster movies. Any monster movie that comes on, I’ve gotta watch it!
Kristof: What do you think is the most challenging part of being a mixed-media artist?
L.E.: Like any artist, the challenge is to be inspired. Sometimes you don’t feel like making stuff. A mixed-media artist always has little trinkets or pictures and materials close by, and sometimes you paw through that and it will inspire you. Anything visual can inspire you. TV, the Internet. I look at other artist’s work and that is inspiring. Going out to galleries to look at other people’s work. You must continually try to inspire yourself, that’s the main thing.
And you know I have to have my makeup on and be “glam” when I go out. I’m 61 years old. I gotta lot of experience! I can’t wait to be 62.
Kristof: How do you deal with negative feedback?
L.E.: My mother was my harshest critic. I grew up hearing a lot of crap. She would say: “You know, if I don’t tell you somebody else is going to tell you!” And she was right. You have to put aside your ego with negative criticism.
Some people are just jealous and say, “Well, I could do that!” or “Well I took a class once…” And my response is, “Well, do it!”
I don’t give a crap what people say. I’ve been painting the same things since I was little. Sometimes I paint to sell, but mostly I paint what I like to paint. They don’t like it? Tough shit! This is what makes a true artist.
Kristof: How do you come up with the prices for your art?
L.E.: It’s very difficult. I usually have no idea. I usually have to ask my mother because she has been doing this longer than me. She’s 84 years old now. Sometimes I go online and see what other artists are charging. I always look to see what galleries are charging. Galleries usually take 50%. So I try to figure in materials, cost, and how much my time is worth. You can’t have too high of an opinion of yourself. And you can’t price it too low because people won’t take you seriously.
Kristof: If you had to pick one favorite work that you have done, so far, what would it be and what medium was it?
L.E.: My Ian Astbury portrait. I had a very bad toothache when I did this and I can remember the pain when I painted it. He’s my favorite. I painted the skull and rendered gold. I always add spider webs. I remember the intensity I felt while painting this. It’s not of him, per se. It’s just the grimace. Rock out!
I’ve also done rock icons like Elton John, David Bowie, all of the glam rockers. I did one of the lead singer of Warrant. He used to go to this rock club in North Hollywood. I did a painting from a photograph of him and he bought it from me. Jani Lane. He died of an overdose. All of my favorite paintings were of my rock dudes.
Kristof: Where can people see more of your work?
L.E.: On Facebook. Or by appointment. I also have a few pieces at Starling Magical Book Store in the French Quarter. I also have an Etsy store.
Kristof: What advice would you give to new artists in New Orleans trying to get known?
L.E.: Get as much publicity as you can without paying for it! Use social media. Flood social media as much as you can. Go to shows. Hang around. People want to see your face. They want to see the artist behind the art.