Cheap & Plastique interviews Los Angeles-based artist Deedee Cheriel for Issue 10.
See more of Ms. Cheriel’s work here.

C & P: You live in L.A. How long have you lived there? What do you like most about living there?
Deedee: I do live in L.A., I moved from rainy Oregon. I love it here. There is so much amazing art coming out of L.A. right now, and there is a lot to do: hiking, biking, surfing, museums, different kinds of food…

C & P: Have you spent any time in NYC or on the East Coast? Does being on the West Coast inspire your work?
Deedee: I love New York! for some of the same reasons as L.A.— galleries, food, endless cool stuff to do, great public art, but I love the lightness and sunshine in L.A.. I definitely think my work has a lot of influence from Southern California, My work is really inspired by natural environments.

C & P: Do you feel that there is a lot of interesting artwork being created in L.A. right now?
Deedee: Yes, there are really great artists living and working here: Mel Kadel, Shepard Fairey, Retna. I love seeing new murals and how art is becoming more of a public thing once again, like it was in the 1940s when the populist culture of the Mexican mural spread to Los Angeles and the greater U.S..

C & P: Where did you grow up? Were you a creative youth?
Deedee: I grew up in Oregon, my mom was a school teacher, and my earliest memories are of sitting at a little desk and making stuff—drawing and gluing while my mom was cooking in the kitchen. My mom was also in school when I was little and I remember going to her classes and drawing during the lectures.

C & P: You started out designing record covers and t-shirts for Oregon’s music scene in the early 90s and you were also in a band. How did your past creative endeavors lead you to the artwork that you are creating now?
Deedee: The punk art of the 70s was really inspiring to me. I liked the iconic and simplistic imagery. I liked the messy silk screened look, so when I got into my first band I was so excited to start making shirts and record covers. We were very DIY, even carrying our silkscreen on the road to screen shirts for people at our shows to make gas money to get to the next gig. I think the DIY ethic of the times definitely made me the artist I am. I mean, there weren’t many other girls making weird art and hanging it in their local punk clubs and having art shows back then. There certainly weren’t cool galleries in Portland then, so I just was propelled by my own desire to create, and by the music I was listening to that inspired me to rebel against the norm.

C & P: What were some of the bands that you created artwork for in the 90s? Do you still create artwork for bands?
Deedee: I mostly made stuff for the bands that I was in Adickdid, The TeenAngels, Juned, The Hindi Guns and a few other local bands.

C & P: Does music influence your work?
Deedee: I like listening to music when I paint. I love listening to Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service on BBC radio on the internet, it is the highlight of my week when I am in the studio painting.

C & P: Could you talk about the repeated use of the bear image in your work? Who is this mysterious bear and why does he so often appear to be plagued with some sort of existential malaise, a la Munch’s The Scream? Is the bear pissed off at the world?
Deedee: Yes, and no… The bears have always symbolized the Buddhist idea that to desire is to suffer. I think I first started painting bears when I quit smoking, and I was constantly looking for something outside myself to fill up the emptiness left by overcoming that addiction. I quit drinking, smoking, drugs, all that stuff awhile ago. It was so dark, but the desire for things outside of myself— whether it is a piece of art, or a piece of cake, or to gossip—whatever the need is that is taking me out of the moment, that is making me suffer, is the thing that the bear symbolizes, so the bear is the perfect metaphor, the ceaseless unending desire that compels most people to consume, to over consume, to feed their addictions to stuff or drink or drugs. I think we can all relate.

C & P: Are the characters in your pictures purely fictional or are they based upon people you know?
Deedee: That is funny. I am largely driven to create out of pain, or maybe I use my work to solve problems. Recently I had a crush on this guy, who is now my boyfriend. I had told a couple of my close friends, who decided it was a competition of sorts. With no loyalty to the friendship I would watch from afar as they followed him around. It was so painful to watch the long term friendships disintegrate before my eyes, and walk away from this guy I liked, but I didn’t want to compete so I just decided to hang out elsewhere with other people. My sadness over losing the friendship and feelings of being betrayed and burned came out in this really petty way. I mean I couldn’t help feeling that the whole situation was very high schoolish and in high school I obsessively drew horses, and one of the girls had some horse like qualities (according to one of my friends) so I just started drawing all of these culty brainwashed girls as horses, following around and worshiping these masculine bear creatures. It was amazing how satisfying (albeit juvenile) to transform my crappy feelings into a whole body of work for a show.

C & P: Your illustrations are populated by creatures found primarily in the Pacific Northwest, have you always drawn these particular animals (the bear, the owl, large wild cats)? Are you a fan of exploring the woods and camping out in the wilderness? Have you ever come into contact with any of these animals in the wild?
Deedee: As a kid, my mom took us camping for weeks at a time. Some of my most fun memories are of hiking in the woods in Oregon, sitting naked in hot springs in the woods while it was raining. One time my brother and I found a headless cow upside down in a stream that had bear claw marks all over it, and we still stayed in the campground near where it happened that night. We used to live in a log cabin in Wyoming that bears would come near all the time, and I still hear owls up by my parents house when I go visit, so yeah, animals from the Pacific Northwest are a huge inspiration to me.

C & P: How did the tree creatures and animal human hybrids that are repeated in your work come to be?
Deedee: The first girl with a bird head was a caricature of this girl in Santiago, Chile. I was living there, painting and playing in bands. My bandmate lived on the 21st floor of this building, and we would sit around and drink wine and do lots of drugs and his skinny model girlfriend would wander around the apartment talking in a little high-pitched voice, she was like this little beautiful bird in a cage, living up above the dirty city!

C & P: Many of the characters in your work are involved in blatantly sexual acts, which bring to mind images you might see in the Kama Sutra or in a relief in a Hindu temple in India. Are these works an influence on your illustrations?
Deedee: I am half Indian, and have spent time in India visiting family, and was initially inspired by one of my trips to a temple in Southern India where there was some hardcore monkey on giraffe, on tiger on bear action. The relief carvings were painted some really vibrant colors. They lined the outer parameter of the inner sanctum of the temple. I studied Indian temple imagery in college, and those things tend to symbolize spiritual inter-connectedness, and fertility for the earth and the crops—plentitude, abundance, etc. I guess my thoughts on it, beside the fact each human desires that connectedness—both emotionally and spiritually—are that the sexual imagery is my response to the disconnectedness, anger, and violence that we are bombarded with on a daily basis in our culture.

C & P: Your work also seems to reference the patterns and colors found in Indian textiles. Does Indian culture influence your work? Have you spent time in India?
Deedee: I do spend time with my family in India when I can. I was really inspired by the feminist art of the 60s that used textile patterns as a way of bringing “women’s work” into high art. I like textile patterns, and think it is interesting that every culture has their own unique patterns.

C & P: Some of the characters in your portraits are dressed in traditional Indian clothing while in other works they are wearing high society gowns and look like they may have just walked off the lawn of a George Seurat painting. Are you interested in fashion? Why do these two styles appeal to you in particular?
Deedee: I like to play with the issues of class.

C & P: What is your process like when creating your work? Do you draw by hand? Do you use a computer when creating your pictures? Do you ever make silkscreen prints?
Deedee: I draw, no computer rendering. Yes, I have been doing a lot more printmaking because I feel it makes my work more accessible to people who can’t afford a painting.

C & P: You told me that you just finished a body of work for a show. Is it in L.A.?
Deedee: I have a show up at Merry Karnowsky Gallery in Los Angeles right now. I also have upcoming shows in Melbourne and in the UK.

C & P: Where can we find you on the world wide web?
Deedee: Here.

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