Los Angeles–based artist Elizabeth Huey is known among fashion insiders like Caroline Vreeland for her bright, large-scale paintings of pools and modern interiors. Her canvases often revisit radical historical figures, such as Marie Curie and the activist nun Hildegard von Bingen, who fought corruption in the Catholic Church in the 13th century. “She spoke up against the male priests and encouraged women to let their hair down and embrace creativity,” Huey explains. “She was a master composer, an abstract artist, a polymath and a holistic healer.”
Her big career break came after moving to New York City at age 24 to study art at the New York Studio School. In the early days of the internet, Huey started writing a fashion column while working for the first online women’s community, iVillage. She wrote about runway shows and trends and produced photo shoots; and on weekends, during her days off, she went into the office to paint. “One day my boss called me into his office. I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m going to get fired,’” she remembers. “But he said, ‘I love you working here, but you and I both know that you should be making art. So I’d like to give you a thousand dollars to take a night course. When you’re successful, you can give me a painting.’”
She went to night school and was accepted to Yale’s MFA program one year later. “I’ve painted almost every day since,” she says. Her first major solo show in New York featured a series of paintings of asylums informed by the history of psychiatry, shown in 2006 at the Feigen Contemporary gallery. Later, after discovering the use of hydrotherapy as a wellness cure in the Victorian era, she began painting pools. “It seemed preposterous to leap from painting asylums to pools, but I wondered if the image of water could be as therapeutic as an actual swim,” she says. Her move from New York to Los Angeles two years ago accelerated this focus. “The paintings brought me here in a way.”
Below, the artist spoke with the Cut about her favorite jeans, roller-blading in a bikini top, and the song she plays on repeat. Read on for the full Q&A.
Heels or flats?
Heels at night unless I’m painting late. I’m in the studio most days, so I’m wearing sneakers or Rachel Comey low-heeled boots.
What five books are on your coffee table?
It’s in constant rotation based on the artists I’m looking at.
Right now it’s Giacometti, Le Corbusier, Hilma Af Klint, Bonnard, Sigmar Polke, and an Eva Hesse book of spectral portraits.
Color or no color on your nails?
Color. I usually choose a different color every time. Right now I’m wearing OPI pale pink Bubble Bath with a narrow black stripe down the middle.
Mood lighting or natural lighting?
Mood. At night I like it dark, dim, and moody because I paint all day drenched in brightness. When I’m out of the studio, I want my eyes to relax.
What is your favorite song on your playlist right now?
This morning it was Frank Ocean’s “White Ferrari.”
No makeup-makeup, makeup, or actually no makeup?
It depends on the occasion. Staples for me include Nars Orgasm blush stick, Hourglass Foundation, and Bad Gal Mascara.
What’s another decade that you’d like to live in and why?
I’d like to time travel to 1440 and be a young apprentice to Fra Angelico while he paints the convent of San Marco.
What’s the secret to throwing a good party?
A good DJ. And friends who aren’t afraid to dance.
What’s one way that your taste has changed since you were a teen and one way that it’s stayed the same?
I no longer roller blade in a bikini top down Fifth Avenue. I still love the Cure.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
[The oil paints] Old Holland Cobalt Violet or Cadmium Green Deep.
What are your favorite accounts to follow on Instagram?
Over-the-top interiors at @decorhardcore; performance artist @Calebyono; Alec Soth’s @littlebrownmushroom for poetry; and @dwellmagazine for architecture.
What’s the last TV show you binge watched?
When I watched The Night Of I didn’t sleep. I started around 8 p.m. casually while eating dinner and thinking I’d watch a few episodes. Suddenly the sun was coming up and I was completely wired when I finished.
What’s your favorite pair of jeans?
Black ripped Paige. I have several pairs.
I paint in the Hanes V-neck white men’s T-shirts.
The marks build a history. When I’m away from the studio, anything Raquel Allegra, IRO, and a decade-old American Apparel 50/50.
Black Silk Pajamas by Sleepy Jones.
I used to be a florist in college. I love flowers — lilacs, dahlias, gingers, orchids, and snapdragons. For me, it’s usually not about a single flower but a surprising arrangement.
Valentine’s Day is coming up … I remember one time getting a surprise delivery of a heart-shaped box of Vosges.
I don’t usually wear perfume, but I’ve recently fallen for the scent of AER’s ginger grapefruit deodorant.
I love Matteo sheets. The higher thread count makes a difference. Two of my favorite colors are light gray Mica and Blush.
Rosebud salve in the silver tin.
Shop the Story
Sleepy Jones Marina Silk-Charmeuse Pajama Set
Old Holland Oil Cobalt Violet
Paige Verdugo Ultra Skinny Jeans
Nars The Multiple Blush Stick in Orgasm
Renegade Heart Ensemble
at Vosges Chocolate
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