“It’s definitely an unusual part of my story,” Ali Beletic admits of the breadth of her artistic work, which includes sprawling outdoor installations, art directing for film, and music. Her debut record, Legends of These Lands Left to Live, was released in June and has been uncommonly well-received by critics, at least one of whom compared her to James Dean (among a host of living rock legends). And with Beletic, the whole cool-without-caring-about-it thing actually rings true. The Dallas-born singer-songwriter, whose current work reflects her more recent residencies in Joshua Tree and Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, is candid, self-aware, and thoughtful. In other words, her charisma lies completely in the uncalculated.
Likewise, Beletic isn’t on some contrived quest to recreate a lost era in American lore. Her art is largely an interpretation of what her desert environs impart in the present, though she’s clearly cognizant of the regions’ roots. The results are unmistakably contemporary: think, conceptual light sculptures and an effortless, pretty-gritty aesthetic. With her distinct, geographically entwined point of view, Beletic had plenty to add to our exploration, in partnership with Coach, of what modern-day American authenticity means. Read on for insights from the artist, self-styled in Coach 1941’s fall collection below, on what it’s like following in the footsteps of the archetypical American artist-nomad, and how she’s pioneering her own way.
How She Landed on the West Coast
I went to NYU for film, but I got really inspired by the idea of taking the large-scale concept of film and making them more experiential and interactive rather than sitting in a box and observing it. So I got into installation work and moved to the Sonoran Desert to start doing it on a larger scale. And then art directing took me to L.A., so I was splitting my time doing commercial film projects there with writing this record and working on installation projects in Arizona. Eventually I got pulled out to L.A. full-time, and then I decided I wanted to have a studio in the desert, a bigger, more broad practice. So I came out to Joshua Tree because it’s closer.
Why New York Is Just Too Small
There's a tradition of land art out in the Southwest, so that was definitely part of the inspiration to go partake in that. The vastness of the desert is a canvas for artists and it does allow your work to grow to scale. Living in New York, I felt really inspired and I was very exposed to all types of art and music. But at a certain point I needed to find the space for myself to have ideas, so leaving New York was really good for me in terms of having my own studio and getting into my own ideas and letting some of those inspirations sink in and getting in touch with my own voice. Also, a big part of my artwork has to do with nature so that was an obvious decision.
What the Draw of the Desert Is to Her
It’s really vast. That’s the main thing. America has a way that it turns its heart to the desert for our sense of imagination. There’s this ‘go west’ mentality. And there’s a ruggedness of the terrain that we identify with. As Americans, we have this sense of independence — I guess they call it the rugged individualism — but I think a lot of that is contained in the Southwest. I got into going off-road and riding dirt bikes and motorcycles out here. There’s an expression that is unique to this landscape that I believe in and am inspired by. That kind of spirit was really intriguing to me.
On Adjusting to Creative Solitude
I moved to Williamsburg in ’99 and lived there for eight years. I loved it. All my friends were artists and painters and musicians; it was a really special time in Brooklyn. Everyone was sort of exploring, like they were artists but they would also play music. Everyone had that creative impulse on multiple mediums, so that was really cool. [Moving west] was a really big lifestyle change for sure. I have a country side to me, but I miss the collaborativeness. There’s not just any drummer you can work with here. You’re a little more on your own.
What She’s Learned From Living All Over
There’s a real regionalism to this country that is fascinating. It’s getting less the more connected we are with the Internet but, like, Los Angeles has Hollywood, so there’s all these artisans connected to the film industry — they’re not artists the way that a New York artist is like a ‘pure’ artist, but these people are amazing. I worked with the sculptor who did the Batman cave, you know, she’s phenomenal. In New York, it’s much more careerist and intellectual. You have all the amazing museums, all the galleries. Out in the Southwest, there’s definitely more of an art world that is not as much connected to commerce.
How She Dresses Like She Sounds
In terms of my personal style, I relate to the rebel aspect of motorcycle culture, but I also like to pair it with a more imaginative, kind of Egyptian-colors thing, like white and gold. I really like that feminine resortwear sort of thing paired with a more rock-and-roll aesthetic. I’d describe my record as feminine and rock and roll, so pretty similar to my style. I play guitar and I sing, and there’s a couple drummers and another guitarist. There are songs that are more rock- and guitar-oriented; they’re more anthemic. And there are songs that are a little more introverted and singer-songwriter-ish. It sort of runs the gamut.