On a recent Thursday, the artist Lola June had her first solo show; 37 pieces, acrylic on canvas, in a slim white-walled gallery called ChaShaMa, on Greenwich Avenue. She wore her hair in nine tiny buns, and greeted guests with a chocolate-vanilla cookie crumbled in her hand. Her work, according to an artist’s statement printed on the wall, “would fit perfectly at a group show with Joan Mitchell, Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and other famous abstract expressionist painters.” When a friend came into the gallery and handed her a bouquet of (thornless) red roses, she dropped it on the floor and looked mildly around the space. Then she asked for her teddy. Lola June is 2 years old.
Lola was discovered in the living room of her own home, by the artist Pajtim Osmanaj, a friend of her mother, Lucille. They were having dinner, and Lola June was coloring with markers (Crayola) on paper (printer). Impressed with her scribbles (or, as he put it: “her awe-inspiring abstract composition”), he came back the next week with Sharpies. These were rejected by her mother (they’re toxic; Lola’s a baby), so on his third trip, he brought acrylic paints and a canvas. She painted for 15 minutes, then abruptly dropped the brush and wandered off. They got in a routine of painting together regularly.
Lola’s process is fairly simple: when she wants to start, she says “Painting?” When she’s done, she says “done.” Some three months in, Sana Rezwan, an art strategist and patron to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (who gets her hair done by Lucille), visited Osmanaj’s studio, where she noticed one of Lola’s pieces propped up against a wall. Rezwan, whose collection includes a drawing by the Indian abstractionist Zarina, and a Shilpa Gupta piece she spotted at Frieze New York and later purchased, dropped $700 to buy one on the spot. Lola had her first collector. A couple of months after that, Osmanaj wrote a proposal for her to have an exhibition at ChaShaMa; it was accepted, and Osmanaj started framing canvases.
In the first hour of Lola’s show, six paintings — priced between $250 and $1,500 — sold. This may make her sad. When Osmanaj first took the paintings from Lola’s house to the gallery, she was distressed to find them missing from her house. The paintings have become her friends, Lucille says. She kisses them in the morning when she wakes up, and says “bye painting” to them when she leaves the house.
The morning after the show — after a long, knockout sleep — Lola woke up and looked around. “Paintings house?” She said. Lucille took her back to the gallery.