THE MANY FACES OF DOMINIQUE FISHBACK

Jacket by Carolina Sarria

Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Julia Morris @theindustrymgmt| Interview by Benjamin Price | Hair by Monae Everett | Makeup by Daniel Avilan using MAC Cosmetics @theindustrymgmt

Talent: Dominique Fishback

Dominique is a theatrical chameleon. Whether playing a prostitute in 1970’s New York on HBO’s The Deuce, or a high school girl in a violent and disenfranchised neighborhood in the upcoming The Hate U Give, or playing in a series of sketch comedies in HBO’s midnight show Random Acts of Flyness–Fishback effortlessly glides between personas. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Fishback started her artistic path in her local elementary school. Dominique has propelled herself both onto the silver screen and onto one of the most globally recognized cable networks as an inspirational young voice.

The Hate U Give, Random Acts of Flyness, Night Comes On, and much of Dominique’s personal writing and performances celebrate diversity and critique the constructed barriers between us. The writer, actress, and artist clearly has a wide breadth of talents, but what is truly spectacular is her ability to apply these to helping shed light on systemic problems in our society. Watching Dominique perform is a true joy, as you are immersed into the world of the characters she embodies and witness a complex array of emotion enfold on screen. Here, with Iris Covet Book, Dominique dives deep into the many layers of social discourse in her work, her roots as a child drama queen, and her plans to change Hollywood.

 

Jacket and Skirt by Victoria Hayes

We recently attended a screening of The Hate U Give and your performance felt so natural that it made me wonder how you first got into acting. Were you always a natural?

When I was 10 years old my mom said I was so dramatic and should give acting a try! She really believed that I could do it which was awesome! I had been writing little poems and I wanted to perform anyway. My mom tells stories of when I was 5 years old and pretending that I was the Wicked Witch of the West saying, “I’m melting! I’m melting!” When I was 10 I auditioned to be part of a children’s theater organization called Ta-Da! I auditioned three times but never got accepted…but 10 year-old Dom didn’t let it stop her, she just kept going! We got pulled into one or two scams after that, but when I was 15, I got into a company that requires you to write and perform your own material which I think helped make me into the artist that I am today.

But you know there is so much rejection and hate out there with actors, especially on social media. Everyone has an opinion or something to say about your performance, your look, or a mistake you make. It’s hard; you need a tough skin.

Speaking of exposure, social media, and having a tough skin–do you think your exposure in The Deuce and The Hate U Give has changed  your day to day life or are you still that girl from Brooklyn?

I’m definitely still that girl from Brooklyn!  Sometimes I bump into people from my childhood who say I still look the same and are surprised to see I’m still down-to-earth, but I think I am really a chameleon personally and professionally. But because of The Deuce I have had some people come up to me on the street, as well as my episode on (HBO’s) Random Acts of Flyness. I have been receiving such a great reception.

It seems like you are cast in roles that exist in chaotic and disadvantaged environments – playing a sex worker in The Deuce in 1970’s New York, convicted felon in Night Comes On, and a young girl in a rough, drug-filled neighborhood in The Hate U Give. What attracts you to these roles and what would you say is the common thread with the characters you like to play?

The characters really find me, and they refuse to let me go! For Night Comes On I was introduced to the character and the story after playing Darlene on The Deuce and I didn’t want to be typecast into tough characters all of the time because I am fun and silly…but I took the weekend and read the script considering what my agent was saying, and I just really felt like I had the experiences and authenticity to really go after this character! But I love to play dress up and dance and perform too, which I think really shows another side of me, like the photoshoot we did for this. When I was a kid I would watch I Love Lucy, and Lucille Ball was a big inspiration for me and I would stay up and watch her until 1:00 am every day! I would love to do a show like that, whether I write it myself or not.

Dress by Kelsey Randall, Gloves by Livne NYC, Earrings by Laruicci

Bralette, Pants, and Clear Jacket all by Livne NYC

It sounds like you really are a chameleon and are interested in so many genres! So back to The Hate U Give and the messages and layers that it has within it such as racism, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, etc. — how did that layer of commentary affect your performance?

Well, actually, I have a one-woman show that I wrote and have performed for the past 5 years called Subverted where I play 22 different characters, and it’s about the destruction of black identity in America. The show has a slavery-era side and a modern-day-era side, and both comment on issues like police brutality, education deficits, lack of healthy food in areas like East New York, Brooklyn where I grew up. So I was already very aware of these issues and the injustices that African Americans experience, and that I experienced, in my neighborhood or when I was working at the local movie theater just praying and hoping to be on the screen. When I was at Pace University I was often the only African American person in my classes. I remember in one of my classes this caucasian boy said that African American males in low-income communities would not be stopped by the police at random if they “dressed normally.” I was infuriated, choking on my words, debating with him, and I realized that no one around me could understand my point of view, so instead of getting mad and yelling and cursing I decided to use this as an opportunity to start my one-woman show, educate people, and have them watch and relate to a character who they normally wouldn’t. Just like the few scenes of Khalil in The Hate U Give change the way you see the representation of him later on through the movie. I graduated from my high school as valedictorian in Brownsville, BK, but when I got to Pace I was admitted as below average in a curriculum for students who needed more academic attention. Then I looked around and realized that these schools only prepare you for colleges at the same level…but we need to overcome this adversity and talk about this issue on a bigger scale.

I think The Hate U Give really achieved that and personally it took me from laughing to crying to anger…What are the main points that you want people to take away from the movie?

I would want them to take away the moments where they felt sad for Kahlil, where they laughed with him and saw his eyes twinkle at the beginning of the film, and when another (police brutality) event like this happens in America they can care about that victim in the same way. I really believe that art changes people’s minds and hearts the most and gives power to our feelings. Being able to see it, not just hear a name or see a mugshot, is so powerful.

Jacket and Pants by LEHHO, Gloves by Livne NYC

Jacket and Skirt by Victoria Hayes

As a woman of color, how do you feel about the changing castings and views of POC and women in Hollywood?

I definitely believe that it has changed over the years, and as a younger person I can sometimes only see the injustice because that’s all I know, but when you ask people who came before and hear their stories then you can really see how far we’ve come. I have been honored to have my first feature film on demand and online called Night Comes On, starring myself and this 10 year old African American girl named Tatum Marilyn Hall, and it is great to be able to watch African American girls not have to be super funny or sexy in a film, but that wasn’t possible a few years ago. It was still hard, and the director would tell us about how difficult it was to get funding with the subject matter, and as a female director, but we are fighting the fight and are very hopeful.

I am very excited to see Night Comes On, and hopefully it just means we will see even more diverse story-telling in the future. What would you want to change or add to the world of film and television if you owned a studio?

I would want to tell more stories about African Americans and people of color and celebrate diversity from the casting to the writers’ room. I don’t want to have the question of “What was it like working with a female director?” Like why does that matter if you are a woman or a person of color? I really don’t know though, and I am just researching, writing, and taking it day-by-day. I just finished writing my feature film that takes place in 1968 which is about a male Black Panther who falls in love with a girl who isn’t a part of that culture and over the course of the film they learn more about each other, and I think that is an important story to tell.

I hope we can see that soon! What can you tell us about upcoming roles or screenplays that you are working on?

The Deuce is coming back September 9, and then The Hate U Give comes out so of course I am very excited for both of those opportunities! I am very excited about my role in Random Acts of Flyness on HBO, and it’s just a really fun way to show different sides of myself as an actress. I am excited about the projects I am writing and being seen as a writer for theater, films, and graphic novels. I am excited to start my own production company one day and have longevity in the industry as a CEO.

Jacket by Victoria Hayes

WEB EXCLUSIVE – LEX SCOTT DAVIS

Leather Jacket by All Saints, Bra by For Love and Lemons, Vintage Leather Pants

Talent: Lex Scott Davis | Photographer: Raul Romo | Stylist: Mimi Le | Hair Stylist: Malaika Frazier | Makeup Artist: Rob Scheppy @ The Only Agency

Lex Scott Davis started off as a dancer but soon diverged onto the road towards acting in commercials and television and eventually starring in one of this summers blockbuster hits. After landing the role of Toni Braxton in the television-movie Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart, the snowball started rolling and Davis’ career has taken off. Now starring as the lead heroine in The First Purge, Lex Scott Davis is a no-nonsense force on-screen, and her performances in The First Purge and SuperFly have proved that Davis is here to stay.

In this exclusive interview with Iris Covet Book, we learned more about her role in the latest installment of the Purge thriller franchise and how the film and her character resonated with her personal story.

Where are you from originally?

I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland, then made the move to Philly, then New York, and now Los Angeles. The move to New York was challenging in the beginning,  especially when you don’t have family there. New York wasn’t necessarily the safest place either. Living in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and commuting to work in the city everyday was a culture shock, but also a great growing experience.

When did you first know that you wanted to go into acting?

I went to Drexel University in Philadelphia and majored in dance and physical therapy. I started to grow out of it; I didn’t see the longevity of becoming a dancer. So in my third year in the program I decided to leave and move to NYC where I started acting classes at the New York Film Academy.

Was there a certain incident that confirmed in your mind you needed to pursue acting?

When I begin to realize that dancing had a cap to it. I think after a certain age you either become a teacher or a choreographer and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted for myself.  I understood from a very young age that I loved performing, so for me it was like ‘what can I do that will allow me to perform for people the rest of my life?’ and the answer was acting. You never run out of opportunities as an actor. They will always need some 80-year-old black lady to come in and play someone’s grandma, you know what I mean? (Laughing). 

How do you compare the differences between living and working in New York versus Los Angeles?

Well, they were two totally different experiences for me. NY was really about school and learning the craft of acting and when I moved to LA it was all about auditions and hustling for the jobs. When I first moved to LA I realized I wasn’t really as prepared as I would like to have been. I knew I couldn’t just dive straight into grabbing a professional acting job. I definitely had to work my way up with commercials and stage plays until I eventually found my way into the audition for the Toni Braxton biopic which was the first real opportunity within my first year of living in LA.

Dress by Stella McCartney

Leather Jacket by All Saints

How was it to work alongside Toni Braxton on the production of her biopic?

When I booked the movie my manager called to tell me I had to be on a plane to meet her in Vegas the next day.  I attended her show that night and she pulled me up on stage. That was our first time ever meeting. She was very involved in all the pre-production, table reads, and made herself available to us if we ever had any questions. She would do whatever it took for us to get to know her. I choose to be more of an observer and watched her every move, even when she didn’t know she was being watched (laughs). I wanted to see how she interacted with people and the little nuances that she does.  I think I learned more about her that way.

Tell us about your latest film The First Purge. What should fans know going in?

Well I think each Purge is a stand alone story, so you don’t have to see the previous movies to understand this one. And this is the prequel, so it’s setting you up for the previous ones. It’s not a horror slasher film like some would assume, it’s actually way more evolved. The film is more of an action thriller and has a refreshing storyline where we get to see young black people being the hero’s of their community. It’s really fun to watch and I don’t want to give too much away but it’s very exciting. Oh, and the music is DOPE.  

Tell us a how you prepared for your role in The First Purge?

This role was so hard, and I fought very hard to get it. I went in to audition at least four times in a pretty rigorous process. In terms of preparation–I felt I could really relate to the script because of how I grew up, the people I grew up with, and the circumstances these characters lived with that were very relatable to me.  I’m from Baltimore and was raised around the circumstances of lower income neighborhoods.

So you felt a strong connection to your character?

It’s a relatable story. Nia’s story isn’t exactly my story or how I grew up but it’s definitely a story that I know and it is close to me. I think it’s relatable to any woman in this scenario.  Nia is taking care of her brother and her household. She’s working multiple jobs to make sure her family is supported and is a strong voice for her community. I know a lot of women who are that person. Women who are trying to make things work despite their circumstances, who push for resistance against the political matters at hand that are up against them.

Bikini Top by All Saints, Pants by Stella McCartney, Heels by Jimmy Choo

Jacket by Stella McCartney, Bra by Thistle and Spire, Pants by COS

We get to see a small glimpse of you as an action hero in The First Purge. Do you see yourself playing more parts like this?

Yes, definitely. I remember one of my earlier experiences that made me want to be an actor was when my mother took me to see Tomb Raider when I was young. Seeing Angelina Jolie in a kick ass role made me say, “Oh my god, I want to do that!” She was so beautiful and so physical and strong, and that was something I could relate to at the time because I had the dance background. To see her on the same playing field as men, and showing that dominance and strength, was amazing to me.

Is there a favorite movie that you would love to star in if there were ever a remake?

I would love to be in a role similar to Charlize Theron’s character in Monster.  To be someone that is so put-together but then stripped down from all of that and completely raw. Seeing a different component of her level of acting and the layers and complexity of the role is to bring truth to the story. It’s equally as beautiful as when she’s all done up and doing her J’adore commercial. It was just a brilliant film. My mother showed me that film years ago. (Laughs)

What advice would you give to aspiring actors?

Even while Toni Braxton happened for me within my first year, a lot of people didn’t see the other side when I was working at a salon. I worked for a massage therapy office, I was driving a Lyft–there were so many things going on. It certainly wasn’t easy. Yes, I acknowledge it was quicker than some to obtain, but it certainly wasn’t handed to me. There was a lot of hard work in between.

Nothing is by coincidence, and I’m a firm believer that if you truly love and are persistent in the thing you know you can do, then keep on doing it. What people don’t always see is that on a day-to-day basis actors are handed a handful of auditions a week and it only takes one of those for something to happen. My advice would be to keep being persistent and to not be defeated by the ‘no’s’. Remember those ‘no’s’ are leading up to that ‘yes’, and it’s not by coincidence. Maybe the role that passed on you allows you to find a role thats going to catapult you into that big break. Everything happens for a reason.

Bra Top by All Saints

SOCIAL WORK – THE NYC FASHION BRAND FUSING EASTERN REVOLUTION AND WESTERN REBELLION

The SS19 presentation of Social Work, the brainchild of Qi Wang and Chenghui Zhang, was presented this past June on the sewing room floor of a factory in the New York City garment district. The Spring/Summer collection was modeled on the actual workers of the factory as well as traditional models, blurring the lines between manufacturer and consumer, proletariat and bourgeoisie. 

 Both Wang and Zhang met at Parsons, where they graduated in 2017 from the fashion design program, after interning for such brands as Ralph Lauren and 3.1 Phillip Lim. During their time at Parsons, Zhang was awarded the Hugo Boss Scholarship and went on to be featured in the likes of Vogue Italia & High Snobiety

 Much of Social Work’s designs involve the inventive manipulation of textiles and silhouettes. In their S/S 19 collection, their inspiration comes from 60s youth-oriented counterculture in the western world and the concurrent Great Cultural Revolution that happened in China, and the distinct contrast of sociopolitical changes presented by these two sides. 

 In the Western world, new cultures, lifestyles, and anti-authoritarian movements were booming. The influence of government was undermined. While in China, the whole country was enveloped by the political terrorism pursuing the “true communist ideology.” Many of the silhouettes in this collection combine the western 60s mod styles with Chinese workwear uniforms, and designed for both genders, incorporating slogans from George Orwell’s 1984.

The resulting collection is a mash-up of the muted tones and unique prints of 1960’s home decor and the symbolic bright red and austere, traditional clothing of the working communist. The Social Work lookbook images offer a clear artistic representation of the tension between rebel and revolutionary.

Photography by Chris Shoonover and Jonathan Schoonover | Makeup by Agnes Shen | Hair by Akira Nagano

WEB EXCLUSIVE – DESAMPA: NIGHTSKIN

Undercover Double Breasted Raincoat, DESAMPA’S Mask

Photography: Hans Eric Olson | Stylist: Michael Louis Umesiobi  | Talent: DESAMPA
Interview: Sarah Conboy | Creative Direction/Production/Grooming using EVO Hair Products and Lab Series for Men by: Mike Fernandez

DESAMPA isn’t an artist that’s afraid to get controversial. In fact, his work seems to beg for controversy. In our conversation with the Brazilian-native, the number of taboo subjects we touch on is numerous. But it’s not just with us: these subjects come through in all his work as a musician, whether lyrically or in his various music videos and art projects. From sexuality to immigration to the constraints of the music industry, nothing is off-limits. Rather than shy away from it, DESAMPA talks about these things with a refreshing honesty and passion, finding inspiration in these taboo realms.

Self-described as an artist for a “dystopian future filled with hope,” DESAMPA tackles the issues most personal to himself, and in the end, produces a product that everyone can somehow relate to. It’s his emotional depth and harrowing voice that draws the listener in, and his smart aesthetic that keeps them guessing and interested. DESAMPA is an enigmatic figure, always disguised by elaborate masks; an intriguing, partially-hidden identity. But despite this, DESAMPA wears his heart on his sleeve—speaking to the love and loss, trials and tribulations that all humans experience.

Here DESAMPA talks to Iris Covet Book about being an immigrant in Trump’s America, gathering inspiration from fetish play, and why he wants to be this generation’s Björk.

KYE “Rave Me” sleeveless tea, LUAR Origami belt, Reebok by Pyer Moss Vector Track Pants, Adidas shin guards, Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit 2, Mask by DESAMPA

 Grapa Wrap Vest – Sigilo, Mask by DESAMPA

To start, can you share your background?

I’m Brazilian. Born in São Paulo, 1991. I moved to New York two and a half years ago. I decided to move here right after a residency program. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Red Bull Music Academy. It’s this amazing residency program that they do every two years in a different city, and they bring out 60 musicians from around the world. It’s really competitive, and I was selected in 2015 to go to Paris. So that really changed everything for me, musically. I got more contacts and networking and I was like, “It’s finally time to move to New York.” Because it’s been my dream since I was a teenager, due to my influences in architecture and artists, musicians, films. After Paris in 2016, I was like, “Okay, I’m leaving São Paulo. There’s no scene here for me.” I was trying to create one, and it didn’t pick up. So I just moved [to New York].

How did you get into music? Is it something you always have wanted to do from an early age? Did you take music lessons, et cetera?

Yeah, I started taking piano lessons when I was seven. I was also classically trained at one point. I had the option to pursue classical music, but I was too confined. I thought, “I don’t see myself in this. Maybe I don’t want to be perfect; I just want to be honest,” and that’s when I left classical music to the side. Not that you can’t be honest with classical music, but it’s just that what I was doing, my compositions…they weren’t looked at as good, from the classical perspective. I’m like, “Well, they’re good for me and they’re honest, so I’m just gonna do my own thing.” That’s when I started using the computer to produce music, instead of the piano. I started making beats and electronic music. So I jumped towards that part, and also tried to incorporate the classical music aspect into my compositions. But yeah, it was always music. I don’t know how to do anything else; I suck at everything else. So it’s just music. I don’t even know if I’m good at it—it’s just the only thing that I know how to do.

Your music seems to defy categorization—how would you describe it yourself?

I just usually say it’s “futuristic soul” music. Because when I say I’m an electronic musician, people go listen to my music and they’re like, “Yeah, this is not electronic music.” I’m like, “Okay, so…soul?” and then they’re like, “Yeah, this is not soul.” So I’m like, “Okay. Futuristic soul.” Meet in-between. I tend to use soul music on top of the electronic beats, so I would say “futuristic soul.” It sounds cheesy…

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I usually tend to just look to the future, you know? Try to create the sound of what people are going to be listening to in the future. Like what Björk was doing 10 years ago—people are doing it now. I kind of drink from her fountain. I want to do something that people will be doing 10 years from now. So Björk is a really big influence for me, artistically. Sonically also, but artistically. [She has] a consistent career, and that’s what I want to have. It’s not based on hype, it’s just based on consistently good work and good music. That’s what I’m about.

Undercover Double Breasted Raincoat, DESAMPA’S Mask

Reebok x Pyer Moss Printed Turtleneck, Craig Green X Bjorn Borg Padded Trousers, Face Harness by Stian Louw

What about Brazilian heritage—how has it influenced your work? Specifically, how did growing up in São Paulo influence your work?

We have a lot of national holidays, [and] they have specific music for them. Like we have specific music for Carnival. They’re kind of like jingles, you would say, but they’re not promoting any product. They seem like a jingle; a small track. It’s like Samba and Bossa Nova. So yeah, I grew up every year being inserted in this scenario, of Brazilian holidays and Brazilian holiday music. That led me to Bossa Nova. Dug deeper, and found the voice of Elis Regina. She was like the biggest singer in Brazil in the ’60s. I got obsessed with her voice. I’m like, “How come we don’t talk about her? How is she not being talked about everyday?” Because what she did was so…nobody was doing that back then, in Brazil. She really inspired me. I said, “I want to do something that nobody’s doing here in São Paulo.” I grew up Brazilian, and  [I’m influenced by Brazil], not even [just] with music, but art and food and architecture as well…we wear our emotions on our skin, so I tend to do that with my music. It’s very raw. I don’t know if you’ve been to or read anything about São Paulo, but it’s such a raw city. It’s violent and beautiful and concrete and ugly. It’s everything at the same time. Graffiti tags everywhere. I’m tending to bring more of that aggression from São Paulo into my own music. I think that’s really important. Because in New York, compared to Brazil, everything’s safe and well-kept. It’s polished; [the United States] is a polished country. Brazil is definitely not a polished country. It’s how it comes…dirty and clean…contradictions all around. That really inspires me, and the architecture there inspires me. We have this…he’s the national treasure: his name is Oscar Niemeyer. He’s brilliant. He did some buildings that are oval and very round, curvy buildings. He really inspires my music as well.

So, you describe yourself as a multimedia artist—what does this mean to you?

I use that term just so I’m not stuck inside one box, you know? When I try in the future to do something [like] I don’t know, maybe fashion, I want people to take me seriously. Or anything else. Architecture. If I want to design a building, I have to study for that. But eventually, if I’m interested in that, and I accomplish that, I don’t want people to be like, “Ugh. That singer designed this building.” But at the same time, right now, I’m experimenting with different materials to create masks and molds of my face. I’m really obsessed with face masks and heads and torsos. So I’m experimenting with that…and currently I’m doing some faces with ice; I’m studying ice and how it sticks to the face. I did a mold, and I’m trying to create a lot of replicas of my face and eyes. Also, I do a lot of videos. I have so many videos that I shot in Brazil this past year, that haven’t been released yet. I direct. I’m not doing all these things by myself, by any means. I have always had friends and other creative people helping me out with all this stuff. So I have plenty of videos that I directed and came up with the storyboard and the mood and everything. Also some videos don’t even have music. I’m itching myself to put music, because that’s what I know how to do. But at the same time, I’m like, “No, maybe this should be a silent film” or something. So I’m exercising that. I don’t need to put my music out everywhere; it can be silent as well sometimes.

You explore themes of sexuality and politics in your work, to name a few. Do you think it’s important as an artist to spread a larger or public message, or are these just personal to you?

Both. They’re really personal to me. In any of my tracks, I’m not talking about things that I haven’t experienced, or that I’m not close to. Everything that I’m talking about like immigration and sexuality and being dumped and loving unconditionally, all of that is close to me. I’m facing that right now. Immigration—what is [it like] being a Latino guy from Brazil in New York, in this country ruled by Trump? It’s something [in which] I have no option. I live it 24/7. Because in Brazil I’m “white,” and then I leave there and come here, and I’m “Latino.” But at the same time, in some Latino communities, Brazilians are not considered Latinos. Where do I belong even? If Brazilians are not considered Latinos, but they are considered Latinos to white people, and in Brazil I’m white…I fluctuate between things. So I’m trying to find the light in all that, in the difficulties. The track  I am referring to has not been released yet, it’s going to be on my EP that I’m hopefully releasing by the end of this year. It’s just taking so long because of labels and life…

Speaking of labels—you’ve self-released music. What is your reasoning behind this? Do you think the music industry is restrictive in your artistic process in any way?

It is pretty restrictive. From what I’ve learned, labels are not signing albums anymore unless you’re a bigger artist. They don’t want to risk it. It’s a risk for them to sign a full album––nine tracks. It’s a lot of tracks to be mastered; it’s more promotion and more singles and videos and all that. There’s no money in the music industry anymore, so they’re signing smaller EPs, and if that works out, then maybe a second EP and if that works out, maybe an album. So nothing’s certain anymore in the industry. That passes onto the musicians, because they’re like, “Shit. Should I maybe just format my music for how people are consuming music nowadays?” Because people just listen to singles and [watch] music videos. People just want to see visuals with music, and singles. So that affects me, because my biggest dream is to tell a story in an album, in a 10-track album. A lot of people are like, “Don’t do that. Because you’re gonna end up self-releasing it again, and nobody’s gonna hear it.” So I have to work around the walls of the music industry, that’s for sure. It’s kind of limiting, at some points. Even if I’m an independent musician. But I also want to have a career in music, so I need to think of those things when I’m finalizing my project. Whether it’s an EP, an album, a single—I gotta have in mind the way people are consuming music nowadays.

LUAR Brooklyn Jacket, Willy Chavarria track pant, Mask Slick It Up

KYE “Rave Me” sleeveless tea, LUAR Origami belt, Reebok by Pyer Moss Vector Track Pants, Adidas shin guards, Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit 2, Mask by DESAMPA

You are working on a new album, correct? You posted on Facebook about losing most of your work for it. Can you tell me the story about losing your external hard drive?

I had 50% of my album done, or something…70%…I forget the percentage. But I had a large amount of my album. I started four years ago, and I had a lot of music that I was gonna put in it. Then I went to Brazil, and I just lost it. It was taken from me. I don’t know what happened. I put “Lost” signs on the streets and tried to find it at all costs and I learned my lesson. Because now I save all my projects in like seven different places, you know? I’m not losing this shit again. It broke my heart; it broke my trust in myself. Four years of work that I had done, and I’ll never find those tracks again. I don’t even know where to begin to make them again. I just don’t know. So I gave up on trying to find them, and I’m focusing on creating new material. That really forced me to make more stuff, and it’s more current. Because when I started writing it, I wasn’t an immigrant yet. So I had a different take. Now I have more to talk about, more life experience. More ugly, sad shit happened to me, and I have this anger to write about. So it helped in a sense. That EP came for me…I was like, “I don’t know if I’m gonna do an album again, so I’m just gonna start writing music and then I’ll figure it out.” I finish all my songs at Red Bull Studios in Chelsea, New York. They’re really great. I have an engineer there, and I have some people that are really interested in me and want to help. So they’re organizing, and giving me a bunch of dates on the schedule for me to finish this project. They were like, “I really think you should do an EP, because all these tracks that you have are really strong. They could be pushed into a successful EP.” So that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m finishing that. I’m not losing that for anything. Like I said, I saved it in seven different places. I plan on releasing it by the end of this year, with two videos as well. Both were shot in São Paulo.

Your new logo is being released in conjunction with your upcoming single “Still Here.” Can you explain the inspiration behind it?

Are you familiar with the website CAM4? It’s a website that people go to strip their clothes, but they get paid for it; they get tips. People are like, “I’ll pay you $25 and you take your clothes off ” You know? People testing out sex toys or fucking. It’s voyeuristic. It fascinates me, but it also scares me to think that relationships are turning virtual. It’s satisfying for them, just to watch another person around the world being naked or jerking off or fucking. That’s enough; they don’t want to meet people in person. It’s a combination of scary and fascinating. So my music video for “Still Here” is a play on that. It’s me in different rooms, with different fetish masks and fetish outfits. It doesn’t go directly with what I’m talking about in the song. It’s more of visual thing that I created and then decided to put the music, and bring the two of them together. In the song, “Still Here,” I’m talking about this Tinder date—the only one that I had. It was kind of successful, but then the person just vanished. In this short amount of time you give a lot of your secrets to this stranger, and the stranger just vanishes with all of your secrets. They’re expecting you to be hurt or something. I’m just saying that, “I’m still here.” Even though everything was taken from me, the fucked up things that happened, I’m still existing and still here. Also, at one point, it turns into me criticizing myself. Like, “How do I allow myself to continuously be in these shitty positions?”

You talked a little about this earlier—you often employ masks in your work. What’s the meaning behind them, and why are they so important to you?

So I never really liked showing my face, anywhere. This whole Kardashian era, [where] you have to put your face on everything all the time, doing everything possible—showering, brushing your teeth, eating, going down a slide, riding a bike—it’s too much. I’m not like that. My life is very private; I don’t share. So that mask is something that I can utilize to be creative, and create a new face for myself. That’s something I’m really interested in. At the same time, I can protect my identity. I was a kid that was obsessed with superheroes, so you can kind of see how that led into protecting my identity. That’s mainly it: I’m gonna hide my face everywhere. But also, my sci-fi obsession with different materials. Like plastic and silicone and fake robotic lenses. You know Alien, the movies? I really love that type of stuff. It’s something I can play with, “Oh, I’m gonna create this mask now. Oh, I’m gonna use this to illustrate my changed mood.” I can play with it, and it’s art that I’m producing. It’s art itself—my second face, second skin.

LUAR Brooklyn Jacket, Mask Slick It Up

Reebok x Pyer Moss Printed Turtleneck, Craig Green X Bjorn Borg Padded Trousers, Face Harness by Stian Louw

Do you create all of them yourself?

For the most part. Back in the day, when I started, no. I had someone doing them for me. I designed them, but someone else actually made them. I didn’t even touch them before they were made. But nowadays, I’m doing it myself with my boyfriend. We do it together. We find the material; we trick them out; we paint over it and put the straps. Right now, my inspirations are really the fetish masks. I’m not a fetish-y person; I don’t have a lot of fetishes. But the imagery of BDSM, the aesthetic of it, is really interesting to me. They’re made from really beautiful materials and employ symmetry. Deprive you of air, deprive you of vision. It’s really interesting. I’m leaning towards that,studying and experimenting with those materials… plastic and leather and metal, but I always have people helping me out. I really don’t like doing art by myself. I think it’s a time to bring people together—different backgrounds, different visions. Because otherwise it’s just 2-D. I want 3-D, 4-D. I want more dimensions than just my own.

As an artist, what has been one of your career highlights so far?

I think definitely the highlight was the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) in 2015, in Paris. Because a lot of musicians that do what I do—electronic and the more contemporary musicians—it’s their dream to go to this thing. It helps you out a lot, and you get to meet people. I got to meet Laurie Anderson. Sheila E., Prince’s drummer. The amount of people that they put you in contact with in the lectures and the studio space and the other musicians that they select; it’s such a good exchange, and they don’t ask for anything back. I got to play an amazing show in Paris and expand my fanbase and spread my music through Europe. That’s definitely a highlight. Then after that, I played SXSW the following year. But the highlight was definitely RBMA.

Are there any other artists that you are loving right now? Ones who inspire your work, or you admire?

There’s so many. Let’s see. The first that comes to mind: I’m really obsessed with Smerz. They’re from Oslo, and it’s this really cool, experimental House. It’s like ABRA, but more experimental, and very European. I really like serpentwithfeet. I think he’s insanely talented. I’ve never seen anyone that can sing like him. Kind of nerve-wracking to hear someone that good. Oneohtrix Point Never definitely. He’s an amazing producer. He also works closely with Red Bull, which hits close to heart. His music is really, really boundary-breaking. He’s worked with ANOHNI; he’s worked with FKA Twigs, and a bunch of female artists that I’m really into right now. ANOHNI is a really amazing artist that I get inspired by. Björk, Kelela…I don’t know. Every time people ask me that question I don’t know what to do. They shift.

What can we expect from you in the future? You’re going to be releasing music at the end of the year, but what else? What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

In the future, you can expect my EP. In the nearest future. I’m just gonna talk about the nearest future, because if I go on with my future, I’m just gonna be here all day because I have so many plans. But nearest future, an EP and music videos. A bunch of visuals—shoots, and hopefully an installation that I’m working on, with face casting and molds. What else? More collaborations. This next EP that I’m releasing, I’m not gonna have collaborations with different musicians, in the sense of “Oh, I’m getting a singer to sing with me on this.” I’m having collaborations in production, but not on the forefront. So I want to do more of that, and keep producing more and more. I really want to write a soundtrack for something, either a dance piece or a movie. I really like soundtracking things. I always have a soundtrack for things in my head, and I really want to get this out, and put it into a movie or dance piece or something.

Undercover Double Breasted Raincoat, DESAMPA’S Mask

Listen here:

Support Your Local Immigrants – DESAMPA

Ventre– DESAMPA

Red Bull Radio Alumni Mix– DESAMPA

 

 Photo Retoucher: Amanda Sperry  

HALSTON SAGE

Right: Dress by Rochas, Left: Blouse by Anna Sui and Trousers by Sonia Rykiel

Halston Sage is the quintessential “girl next door”, and with a hit role in Seth McFarlane’s The Orville, Sage is set to take her career to a new frontier. Photographed on location at the luxury penthouse suite of the Viceroy Central Park, the rising starlet embodies Andy Warhol’s superstars as an indelible mix between talented ingenue and fresh-faced fashion darling. 

Photography by Greg Swales | Styling by Angel Macias

Left: Blouse by Sonia Rykiel and Skirt by Anthony Vaccarello
Right: Blouse by Emilio Pucci

Left: Dress by Versace
Right: Sweater by Brandon Maxwell and Halston’s Own Jeans

Left: Dress by Barbara Gongini and Boots by Giuseppe Zanotti
Right: Jacket by Mulberry

Makeup by Vincent Oquendo @ The Wall Group using Charlotte Tilbury, Hair by David von Cannon @ The Wall Group, Video Editor Lavoisier Clemente, Art Direction and Layout by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

LOGAN BROWNING

Logan Browning’s intelligence, humor, and passion for both social activism and performance have culminated into a new controversial Netflix series entitled Dear White People.

Photography by Raul Romo, Styling by Rafael Linares @ Art Department, Creative Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Interview by Pauline Snyder-Goodwin | Coat by Victoria Hayes

Success has been no stranger to Logan Browning in both her personal and professional life. Browning started at an early age to pursue her career in film and TV all the while reigning as homecoming queen and honor student in her hometown of Atlanta, GA. With a starring role as Sasha in Bratz: The Movie, Playing Brianna in Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns, and as Jelena on VH1’s Hit The Floor just to name a few of her successes, it’s no wonder this multi-tasker will star in the lead role as Samantha White in Netflix’s original series, Dear White People which debuts April 28, 2017. Browning plays Sam, a biracial film major at a fictional Ivy League University where she hosts a radio show called Dear White People. The show becomes popular amongst black students on campus, and leads to discussions on racially charged topics that students typically avoided. In the trailer she addresses her radio listeners; “Dear white people, here’s a list of acceptable Halloween costumes,” classical music and images of elite white people serve as a backdrop. She proceeds by listing a series of ubiquitous costumes white people could dress up in: “Pirate, slutty nurse, any of our first 43 presidents. Top of the list of unacceptable costumes: Me.” Images of people wearing blackface pans across the screen against a crescendo of the classical music piece.

The 10-episode, satirical comedy is an adaptation of director, Justin Simien’s 2014 successful independent film of the same name. Simien has also written and directed the episodes and has found his new series in the fire of controversy sparked by the trailer release. The trailer has fueled some viewers into boycotting the streaming media giant or cancelling their accounts altogether, generating a lot of attention and awareness to the show. Much of the discussion has been superficial, based on the title, alone. But viewers will soon have actual content, in the form of episodes, to discuss.

Browning, under the direction of Simien, endeavors to deliver an insightful and entertaining series while offering a perspective and a criticism on one aspect of race and class tension in our society. With a combination of clever, progressive, and thought-provoking writing and a cast of comedic, young starlets, this Netflix original series is sure to ignite discussions among audiences across America.

IRIS Covet Book recently caught up with Logan Browning in her adopted home of Los Angeles to learn more about the young starlet and her involvement in the original Netflix series.

Top and Pants by Raisa & Vanessa, Shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti, Sunglasses by Sama Eyewear

When did you first know you wanted to become an actress? How did you initially get started in the industry?

I can remember my aunt telling me about a time I was riding in the backseat having a full-on conversation with myself as multiple people with different accents. That was possibly an early sign of a disorder, but more than that, it was apparent that I really loved becoming different characters. I loved doing it for myself, but I also performed for my family all the time. I started in the industry the way any how-to book would tell you: move to LA, get an agent, and go on auditions. All this came after I was a part of a competition called IMTA. At the same time, my parents were trying to figure out how to support two households while living in Georgia while I was chasing my dream as a 14-year-old in LA with my godfather and later on with my older brother as my guardian.

Tell us how you got involved with Netflix’s Dear White People.

I hate to disappoint readers with such a simple answer, but I just auditioned like everybody else. Sam felt natural to me, and I believe that and my commitment to her voice, are part of what awarded me the role. I also came fully dressed in my version of the character and even styled my hair into an exquisite pompadour. I wanted “Sam”, so I confidently walked in as “her”.

How did you prepare for your role as Samantha White? Do you find that you relate to her in any way?

I went around telling white people to stop appropriating my culture. Just kidding! I read. A lot. I read the original screenplay of the film. I read letters written by Dr. King. And I read books Justin mentioned during his press tour for the film. I also went to a radio station to shadow a DJ and learned how to work the boards.

You attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Any parallels to the campus setting in Dear White People?

Well speaking of setting, I give major props to the set designer of Dear White People. To date, it is the most gorgeous set I have ever been on. They basically built an Ivy League school in a warehouse. The halls were connected for continuous shots. There was velvet and leather and ornate wallpaper, chandeliers and columns. I was mesmerized. It reminded me of the day I visited Vanderbilt with my dad before deciding to go there. I remember how beautiful the campus was. There is a sense of community that Vanderbilt and Winchester have in common, but I think the self-zoning of groups and ethnicities is represented on most campuses.

What’s been memorable about working with director Justin Simien in the Dear White People series?

Learning from him! His mind is beautiful. His humor is sharp. He’s very Zen. He’s an interesting person to watch because he seems to always be thinking. I mostly appreciate his encouragement. As an actress, I still have a lot of growing to do. His notes to trust my instincts, and not to worry about things not happening the way they are written on the page if I’m honest, were such confidence boosters. Those stuck with me throughout filming and will continue to live with me as I work. His approach gave me a sense of calm which is necessary when I’m really excited about a scene and begin to overthink it. Working with Justin has made me a better actress and a more in-tune human.

Dress by Helo Rocha, Bangles by Djula J

Any personal life experiences that helped shape your role as Samantha White?

I’m a fighter. I’m a little lady. But I’ve always been the friend/daughter/sister whose intent is to protect the nest. Through my experiences with confrontation and debate, I’ve learned yelling may scare people but it doesn’t guarantee that anyone will hear you. That is a part of Samantha’s journey. She has a natural kick ass personality, but she’s also a very emotional and sensitive gal who can move mountains. When I play her, I sometimes feel like I’m living part of my life all over again.

Given our current political climate in the U.S., how do you think viewers will receive Dear White People?  What would you like them to take away from the series?

With the state of our nation and even global political turmoil, it’s undeniable that when we ingest any form of art our radars are up for offensiveness, conspiracy, corruption, and the like. Of course, a title like “Dear White People” is going to conjure up a lot of curiosity, and I proudly stand behind the show as something that transcends both intentionally and coincidentally. Specifically speaking, no one on our production could have known that Dear White People would be airing in a Trump presidency; we wrapped filming on Election Day. I’m sure when it came time for editing, the voice of the show became even more specific with cuts and choices because all eyes will be on this show wondering what it’s all about. Time and art play important roles with each other. Dear White People was written in a Bush Presidency, released as a film in an Obama Presidency, and will air as a show in a Trump Presidency. The temperature and tone is constantly changing with time, but the reason this title prevails is that there are deep rooted systemic issues that we will always battle as a country. At the end of the day, it’s 10 episodes of a 30-minute show. I want people to walk away having enjoyed the characters, the humor, the truth, the opinions, and feel open about discussing the themes of the series.

On VH1’s Hit the Floor, you played a team captain for a NBA cheerleading team called the Los Angeles Devil Girls. Dancing was a key part in this role. How did you train for this?

As soon as we wrapped the pilot episode I enrolled at The Edge Performing Arts Center and took Ballet, Jazz, and Jazz Funk classes every day. In a very limited amount of time, I needed to garner technique, flexibility, and confidence. Technique came from the classes I took, and ballet was the core of that learning process. My flexibility came from a lot of hot yoga and stretching every second of every day. Confidence was something I gained as I became more comfortable with myself. I was playing catch-up with women who have been dancing since they were 3 years old. I had to understand that I was hired to play the captain of this fictional dance team because they saw something special in me as an actress that they didn’t see in any other actress or dancer. I learned to own my sex appeal and strength as a woman. A lot of my confidence came from the support of the women around me. The dancers helped me pick up choreography quickly, taught me the tricks of the trade, and encouraged me to believe that I was truly a dancer.

What’s it like playing a satirical comedy role vs. a drama one?

The biggest difference for me, is playing up the humor. In a drama, I try to make the humor very organic, but with a satire, the goal is to get the audience’s mouth open with laughter so they can digest the message you’re feeding them.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

That would be such a long list. The Silence of the Lambs is the first thing that comes to mind. My dad loved that movie so I love that movie. I obsessed over the silently lethal Anthony Hopkins, and he became one of my favorite actors to study. I love Miss Congeniality and The Blind Side because watching Sandra Bullock is a treat. She is a truly transformational actress.

What would be your dream role to play in a film or tv series?

During our photo shoot, we were on location by a cool sign that read “Sade”. If there was ever a biopic about her life I would do everything possible to be considered for that role. She is so naturally intriguing. I would love to tell her story and transform into her for a film. To play any living or once living person’s story would be a dream. The responsibility of portraying a real person is a challenge I’m up for.

Shirt by Dodo Bar Or, Vest by Shahista Lalani, Jeans by Thomas Wylde, Shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti

How do you keep yourself energized during long hours of filming?

You are liable to find me curled in my cast chair taking a powernap! Number 27 on my list of being a small human is: “fits in most places”. I also stretch. Sometimes you just need to wiggle your joints and lengthen your muscles to get the oxygen flowing through your body and into your brain. Stretching also refocuses me and makes me aware of my body and emotional state. Drinking water is one of my magic weapons. Coffee never gives me the lasting energy that nourishing my body with water does in the long run.

What’s your go-to work out to stay fit?

A boxing class will always whip my ass into shape. It’s high-cardio, endurance, focus, balance, agility, and strength training. I also do a lot of yoga. I never feel like my muscles are super-cut after, but I do know I’m building a strong core and inner strength that will support all my other athletic activities and my general well-being.

Who are your favorite musicians? Who are you currently listening to?

A few of my favorites are: Ben Howard, Thelonious Monk, Lecrae, Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman, Sade, George Stanford, Kendrick Lamar, and Frank Sinatra. I’m going to stop myself because now I’m just listing my entire Spotify library. I’m currently listening to the Big Little Lies soundtrack, and also Thundercat because my big brother told me to and he knows good music.

Last concert you went to?   

I saw my friend’s band perform at SXSW; LoMoon. They’re amazing—hop on early. An actual concert I went to see was The Brian Culbertson Funk Tour in Newport Beach with my mom in October.  

What charities in your community are you involved with?

I’m passionate about working with young people and people displaced from their homes. The outreach I do is mostly geared towards those two groups. One of my favorite outreach programs is called Young Story Tellers. It is a program that selects 5th graders to be paired with a writing mentor. They write a play, and after a few weeks actors show up to do cold reading performances of their plays. It is the most fun because kid’s imaginations are marvelous! I’ve been a sheep, a witch, a superhero, you name it! It’s also a great experience as an actor because we audition for these kids and have the responsibility of bringing their wildest imaginations to life by performing their play for the entire school after only a few hours with the material. We get creative and use whatever we have with us as props. It’s one of my favorite things to participate in because these kids learn early that they are important, talented and supported. I’m also very active with the Black Lives Matter movement. I attend meetings, marches, rallies, and stay knowledgeable so that I can help share important information via my platform.

What advice would you give aspiring actors wanting to pursue a career in television or film? What hurdles do they need to overcome?

Go to college. Finish school. Get involved in your theater. Read. Hang around and play with children. Their imaginations are without borders. The more childlike you can become with your truth and creativity, the less limited you will be as an actor. Knowing yourself is important. You must spend time alone and go deep into your past. You need to discover who you were before life came at you. Who God made you to be before ideas shifted you. Kids can know themselves quite simply because their experiences are limited. We are made up of our life’s journey. The longer we exist the more we must navigate to find our true selves. We are who the world sees us as, tries to mold us into, how our parents showed their love or didn’t, our failures, accomplishments, produced art, expressed and unexpressed ideas, our conscious minds and our instincts. We are the molded-clay, masterpieces, of God.

Coat by Styland, Top and Belt by Zana Bayne, Underwear by Agent Provocateur, Earrings by Victoria Hayes, Boots by Christian Dior

 

Hair by Dritan Vushaj @Forward Artists using Sachajuan, Makeup by Nancy Cialdella using Anastasia Beverly Hills, Laura Mercier, and Giorgio Armani Beauty, Manicure by Stephanie Stone @Nailing Hollywood using Chanel, Video by Heather Sommerfield, Production by XTheStudio. Special Thanks to Mike Liotta @True Public Relations and The Dream Factory LA Studio. Special thanks to Blowpro. 

RJ RAIZK

Photography and Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Creative Direction by Louis Liu | Makeup by Lydia Brock

iris04_rj_feature_online

RJ Raizk presents himself as an embodiment of his brand: an austere and seemingly-aloof specimen of cool, tinged with angst–an inevitable by-product of any creative trying to “make it” in New York. But there is something more seductive and sincere about the artist than his all-black-wearing persona. The 29-year-old who transplanted from Ohio to attend School of Visual Arts just over a decade ago, has been incubating his creative sensibilities with a New York state-of-mind. “I’m just planting all the seeds, so I can get the fuck out of here.” His breed is the kind of artist that is navigating a post-digital and post-recession career path while reenvisioning ways to create a sustainable life and career as an artist.

Already amassing a hefty resume of commercial projects and commissions with MTV, Restoration Hardware, and several of New York’s finest hospitality spaces, including trendy Meatpacking nightclub, Up&Down, The Tribeca Grand Hotel, and several private residences commissioned by interior design clients; RJ’s work is dynamic and impactful, making it easy for his audience to connect with his work. Much of his work could be interpreted as studies in dualism, drawing inspiration from some of the most diverse geometric structures and organisms found within the natural world as seen in the artist’s intricate and polarized black-and-white pattern work. Raizk’s work fluidly moves between analog and digital processes, at times incorporating both into the same piece.

While modernizing representational subject matter through simplified form and playful design, Raizk’s work is balanced by a highly-controlled process in which he attempts to utilize his physical body for a mechanical “printer-like application”, creating nearly-perfect pattern-repeating murals that are only seemingly-organic. A glance through the artist’s portfolio, which he endearingly refers to as his “pattern book”, reveals that RJ’s work is delicate and energetic at the same time. Patterns that look like constellations, electrons, cell mitosis, photosynthesis or seed-germination all make an appearance
in optic black and white ink on paper, all created entirely by hand. It is easy to be awed by the kind of discipline such detail requires, “I’ve done this one for the entire entrance of Up&Down,” he exclaims proudly, pointing to a pattern that could easily be the microbial makeup of a plant under a microscope.  “I did this one for my friend’s place and I’ve done it for restaurants, to prints on canvases for people, to just prints on paper.  I’ve done it just about everywhere. I’m leaving it open to every type of medium. It doesn’t have to be just drawn or painted.”

Many of the patterns within his body of work have been scanned to create digital file assets that can be further manipulated and used as source material for RJ’s intricate digital collage work. “A lot of people don’t understand that digital work takes about as much effort and time as analog. They don’t think digital is as authentic as you doing it by hand.  But in actuality, the amount of time and effort it takes to make a digital piece is the same because you’re collaging this giant thing and it’s your work.  So, just because there’s a computer between you doesn’t mean that it’s less effort.” For last year’s Miley Cyrus-hosted MTV Video Music Award, the artist was commissioned to create advertising collateral featuring the popstar, and suggested that the computer is simply another medium. “I love that I can combine my digital with my hand-drawn and I think that’s one of the best stuff I’ve done.”

iris04_rj_feature_online3Work In Progress: Constellation Mural, Hand Drawn Silver Ink On White Wall, At Collective Design Fair, 2016

Raizk’s first solo show, hosted by friend and fashion powerhouse, Nicola Formichetti, the artist made a return to a more traditional process of pigment dye and acrylic paintings on canvas, showcasing his skill-set as an abstract painter. Paintings carried over from the solo exhibition were quickly snatched up by Restoration Hardware’s newest division, RH Contemporary Artists, which markets a curated selection of artists’ work to it’s long-established cult-following consumer base in the world of home decor.  The potential of dipping his toe in the world of interior design and luxury furnishings and fabrics isn’t a bad idea. It’s easy to envision Raizk’s titillating patterns as fabrics, wallpaper, or carpeting that could wrap any textiled surface.

Positioning oneself for potential licensing deals is good business for any artist. Still, for many millennial creatives living in New York, post-graduation career aspirations can seem daunting, especially when trying to understand how to generate the cash flow to make a dream happen. “If you’re looking into studio spaces, they’ll be $2000 a month that’s a 300 square foot box with no window. If you want a window, then it’s over $3000,” he said, recalling the reality of astronomical rent that has posed a challenge for so many of New York’s artists. “But yet, everyone needs artists, but no one’s willing to cater to them.”

Merging his talent with a business-savvy drive, RJ’s career path hasn’t come without its criticism. “They are like, ‘Why don’t you just get a job on the side?  Why don’t you do this?’  And I’m like, ‘You guys don’t understand.  If I had a job, I wouldn’t devote any time to this.  I’d be coming home, going to sleep, waking up, going to the job.’  I need freedom to be able to make stuff, because then, the payoff is actually worth it, now.  It’s frustrating, because no one really understands and they’re just like,

‘You just don’t want to work. You’re just lazy.’ And I know that’s not true, because how did all this stuff happen?”

Fortunately, Raizk has effectively been able to maneuver said challenges, learning to employ the same cerebral dance between left and right brain (as seen in his pattern work) and flow effortlessly between them at will. This duality carries over into the profound underlying themes within RJ’s work. This is apparent in his crayon drawings of aliens that have become popular cult t-shirts. The series features aliens trying to understand a variety of human emotions, masquerading as tongue-in-cheek t-shirt designs that could easily be sold for the masses.

“I hope you know I’m not that serious,” he jokes while showing me a crayon drawing of two aliens holding hands with a sphere of rainbows drawn around their hands with the slogan “Searching for a connection”. One could understand them as a deeper commentary on the theory that life is a computer simulation being understood by a post-human civilization, an idea effectively juxtaposed by its delivery in the form of an infantile crayon drawing, reminiscent of childhood.

“Are we nothing but aliens experiencing human emotions for the first time?” I propose.

He agrees, “I think so.”

Here, Iris Covet Book sits down with the New York City-based artist at our photoshoot in Soho, NY.

iris04_rj_feature_online4Right: TERRAIN, 2016 | Black pigment dye and acylic on canvas | 60 x 48 inches | Available on rhcontemporaryart.com
Left: 
GRADIENT, 2016 | Black pigment dye and acrylic on canvas | 72 x 48 inches | Available on rhcontemporaryart.com

When did you know you wanted to become an artist?

It’s funny, when I was a child I was constantly drawing all over the walls of my parents’ house. At the time, my mom freaked out because I had just destroyed her newly painted shutters. She actually ended up saving the shutter with my markings on it. In class, I was one of those kids that never paid attention to the teacher and would just draw and scribble on the side of my notes and on the back of tests, wherever I could find an empty space on paper. I guess I could say I wanted to be an artist my entire life.

Has this been a career path that you always saw for yourself?

Ever since I was about 13, I knew that a normal life was not for me and I could not handle a 9-5 office job, it would give me anxiety and still does to this day thinking about it. I had this deep instinctual feeling to follow my dreams and what truly made me happy, and that’s how I decided that unless I pursued art I would not be happy. I would rather die than not do what I like to do for the world around me.

What influences have helped shape your creative process?

I was one of those kids who loved electronics and video games, the universe and the cosmos and the stylized drawing of anime and Japanese art. A nerd at heart. The way they could create such movement and drama with such simple line work was what really intrigued me. I’m also inspired by how organic structures of plants and the cosmos create such beautiful patterns.

Was there ever a time you were afraid or uncertain to express or put yourself out there creatively because of what others might think?

I want people to appreciate it as much as you do. When I was younger it was more difficult but now it has gotten a lot easier, the feedback has been nothing but positive so it keeps me going.

Is your work an emotional process or more of a technical process?

When I paint it is more emotional, and free flowing due to the movement of it. When I draw its more technical, I go into an almost robotic mode when I draw, it’s very repetitive. When I combine the two I feel the most complete.

When commissioned for interior design projects, how do spaces and architecture inspire the work that you create within them?

I have a portfolio of all my patterns that I have drawn over the years, and continue to make new ones for myself.

When I am commissioned for an interior design project I select the pattern that works the best with the space. With paintings, it’s the same process, I’ll show examples and work with the style of painting they want for their home.

What is something you hope your audience experiences when they enter a space that you have done?

Ultimately, I just want people to feel good about what they see and give them a feeling of awe. That’s why I like doing hospitality spaces so much, because if people are enjoying themselves in
the space, I feel like their reactions will be more positive.

So that you automatically feel energized being in it?

I’m basically taking a really stark, boring space, adding something crazy to it that is mine. So, it’s basically like me going out and leaving a giant autograph in a space and people really love it.

iris04_rj_feature_online7Work In Progress: Constellation Mural | Hand Drawn Silver Ink On Black Wall | At A Private Residence,2016.

Do you feel like an incredible amount of energy has surged through you physically when you have completed a mural?

After I’ve finished, then I’m basically brain dead. I’ve been focused during the whole process and then once I’ve finished, I literally cannot do anything else. I feel like I’ve given all of myself to this work.

Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur in addition to being an artist and is there a balance between the two roles?

They do go hand in hand, you have to be smart about your work and how it represents your brand, your brand being yourself. Today, people want to know everything about you and what you represent.

How have you overcome the challenge of making art a viable business and what advice would you give young creatives hoping to make a career as an artist?

I have overcome the challenge by being very patient. You have to be patient. Sometimes the world isn’t as forward thinking as you are but overtime the world will catch up to your speed. My advice to young creatives is, keep practicing your craft and keep doing what you love to do. If your heart and soul is present in your work, you will always find success. Especially in this day and age with social media and all the other platforms that we have to show our work to the world. Keep putting your work out there, and positive things will come to you.

What makes you feel nostalgic?

I was a small town boy, in Wilmington, Ohio growing up. When I think about the fun I had running through the streets, bike riding through the neighborhoods, walking to the one gas station to buy candy, climbing trees, I feel nostalgic.

What makes you feel cerebral?

I love walking around the city and listening to music, I could do it all day when I’m not working. The music I listen to ranges from ambient, vapor wave, electronic, techno, hip-hop and classical. Music in general at all times makes me feel very cerebral.

Do you have anyone that you look up to professionally?

Yayoi Kusama and Keith Haring, I believe we are cut from the same cloth.

How has art helped you discover yourself or the world around you? What personality traits has it helped you develop?

It’s the core of my being and is the basis for everything I am.  ‡

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EMERGING: RHYS KOSAKOWSKI

Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Photography by Johnny Vicari | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Grooming by Melisande Page

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Since joining the Houston Ballet, Rhys Kosakowski has used a lifetime opportunity to help attract a fresh young audience to the dance arts. We got a chance to see just why the artist has also become a muse to many.

A quick Google search for “Rhys Kosakowski” brings up a plethora of artistic images of the dancer who has developed a strong following across multiple social media platforms. By collaborating with many emerging photographers around the world, Rhys has successfully infused a fashion-forward and youthful approach into his work. Though Rhys may appear boyish, he has been dancing since the age of six and his talent is evidence of years of training and dedication to his art. With an effervescent demeanor and playful charm, it is easy to see why the artist himself has also become a muse to others.

You’ve been dancing almost your entire life, when did you know you wanted to become a dancer?
As soon as my mother put me in a small tap group back in my hometown called “Tap Puppies” when I was six, I was hooked with the idea of movement and performance.

Any favorite places or experiences that have helped shape your career trajectory?
I think definitely performing at the the Switzerland Prix De Lausanne ballet completion in 2013, which is an international ballet competition for pre-professional dancers to compete against each other for a prize/scholarship to a leading school or company anywhere around the world. It also allows the dancers to work with professional ballet directors for exposure and job offers. It was definitely a big part of my dance career.

You’ve been very savvy and successful in using social media to attract a much younger and diverse audience of people to ballet, How important do you view your various social media platforms in regards to feeling artistically fulfilled ?
In this day and age, social media is so big because it helps express so many qualities about a person if you use it right. I love social media because I can show people my art and other versions of dance. It also opens a lot of doors in the dance/photography/arts world, and I love that.

What if any importance, do you attribute to your collaborations with photographers in building your presence on social media?

It has definitely gained me more followers and views. It’s also great to collaborate with these amazing photographers because you meet so many talented people in the process. And meeting more people means more opportunities. I definitely love collaborations and will hopefully continue doing so.

What is the importance of social media in shaping people’s perspective or ideas about ballet today ?
I think it shatters a lot of people’s stereotypes, now I’m no macho man but a lot of other successful male ballet dancers that have Instagram and Facebook are. I think it’s also good to just show a perspective of being yourself and not to let anyone drag you down. I think that’s what I’m kind of trying to express through my social media.

I know that you truly view dancing as your art, and that it brings you great fulfillment and satisfaction, I’m curious to know, How would you describe your artistic approach to ballet?
I always try and put my own twist and individuality on the art I create whether it’s a photo or a new piece of work we are doing at the ballet. It’s interesting if you’re different from everyone else.

Due to the extremely physical nature of ballet, it’s absolutely necessary for you to maintain fitness in order to create your art,how many hours a day do you train typically?

We train and rehearse Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 7pm. And when we have performances we also work Sundays.

Do you have any daily practices that help keep you centered or grounded?
Probably just having some me time, like grabbing a coffee or relaxing in my sun room.

Do you ever find yourself infusing other influences outside of ballet into your work?
Not necessarily but I do find influences from other dancers everyday at work. That’s what’s great about working in a ballet company, you are surrounded by people with the same drive and dream as you.

What inspires you artistically?
I’m not sure really, I think just the fact that I love dancing and that you can always learn more and more. You never are a perfect dancer because there is always room for improvement.

Who is your biggest inspiration in life and why?
The only person I can think of right now is Roberto Bolle. He is doing, and has done all the things I would love to do. And the way he has done it, is everything I would want.

You moved to Houston about 4 years ago [when you joined the company], how did you come to be a part of the Houston Ballet?
It was about a year after I finished a 3 year tour with ‘Billy Elliot the Musical’ in Australia, and my grandma told me there were Houston Ballet auditions. I never thought I would be hired, but I went to try out and ended up getting a scholarship.

Is there anything from back home you can’t live without?
Yes! The beaches from back home in Australia. I wish my mom could bottle that up and send it over but she can’t!

As an artist who has collaborated with many photographers, what does it feel like to slowly amass a large and beautiful collection of images that document your art?
It feels incredible to me, it’s always stuck with me that pictures are a thousand words, and are a memory forever. I will easily forget later on in life a lot of the amazing things that have happened traveling and collaborating with these talented photographers. It’s exciting to know that I have a whole bunch of photographs tucked away or on the internet that aren’t just an image but a lot more.

Any dream collaborations (photographic or otherwise) that you would love to do?
I think my dream would be, to be on the cover of Vogue magazine, and a spread showcasing and telling people of my ballet qualities. That would be life-changing!

Any advice for young people who are interested in a career in the arts?
Just be yourself and be an individual if that’s what you want. Don’t let people tell you it’s wrong to be different. And always keep pushing because there are always rewards for your efforts in the dance world. ‡

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