The multi-talented Portland (Maine, not Oregon) native Liam Little has more to offer than his runway looks. We discovered the tentative model’s secret talent when we came across a brilliant self-portrait of himself lying in a coffin—a la Picasso’s blue period.
We caught up with the DNA gem and self-professed painter in his Bushwhack apartment, home to his abstract efforts poetically adorning the walls of his railroad-style studio, transforming the space into midcentury Paris.
Tell us a little bit about your background… What made you interested in art?
My mother was way into painting when I was a baby. I really enjoyed her work around the house and how she would paint things familiar to me. I started drawing and making things as soon as I knew how to, and my father really supported my efforts. After my parents split when I was six, my mother met Edgar Reims, who makes his living as an impressionist oil painter. They have been together most of my life. Being raised by my father gave me an undying interest in music and the arts, and living with Edgar gave me more than a peek into the process and materials used to paint with oil. Though oil paint wasn’t really my medium of choice until after I moved to New York.
Who/what were some of your early influencers?
In one of my first art classes I can remember, 1st grade, we were looking at Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman.’ That blew my mind. Then later learning about Van Gogh and Monet, I realized visual art was maybe the most visceral, powerful thing in the world. I got caught up in other interests for years, then I broke both bones in my left forearm. I always had the ability to draw whatever I wanted pretty well, but those 4-5 months in bed gave me the focus I needed to get some more detailed drawings done. My Father’s twin, aunt Kathy let me use her acrylic paint when we visited her in New Mexico. I realized painting was something I thoroughly enjoyed, and it stuck in the back of my mind until I bought my own paint. Now it’s at the front.
Explain your process, from concept to completion. Do you plan ahead or improvise?
I use a different process with almost every piece I do. But I always paint alla prima. Sometimes I think about my next painting for 2 weeks before I do it, and sometimes I wake up and decide to make something up on the canvas. I usually start with a line drawing in paint, and then render the image to my liking or until I’m tired. Then I wake up and finish it. Many of my paintings are from what I imagine, and many are from photographs. I’ve taken photos through mirrored plastic sheets that I bend to warp the reflection, and then I use the photo as a reference, often changing the color palette or range of contrast in the painting.
What other forms of art have you dabbled in?
I’ve played my uncle’s guitar since I was 8 years old. He died when I was just about 10 I think, so now it’s mine. I think he’d be happy to know that it’s still singing.
Do you have any rituals or activities that lead to creativity?
I have 3 things that I am always doing at least one of: skateboarding, playing instruments, and painting. Being able to always switch to something else keeps me from ever getting bored of one, and keeps me pretty good at all of them.
Do you ever experience creative blocks? How do you cure them?
I do, but I don’t let them bother me. I either take a break until the next idea hits me, or just paint anyway. The piece may end up a little directionless if forced, but the point is to enjoy the act more than the outcome. I started painting because I enjoy painting, not because I thought it could get me somewhere.
Who are your favourite artists now?
Peter Saul is a wild man. Magritte is a succinct conceptual mastermind. Genieve Figgis is lesser known but shouldn’t be. R. Crumb has always been truly entertaining to me. There are dozens of artists with dozens of styles that I could continue to name but those four really cater to my visual/conceptual taste.
What/where do you draw inspiration from?
When it comes to painting itself, paint. I love paint. How it feels to apply, how it looks when it’s stretched along, how it can splatter, mix, or represent things as delicate as air or water or fire or glass. There is no limit to the imagery that can be discovered or replicated. When it comes to my imagery, thanks to my Father, I draw a lot of inspiration from the music and art of England and America in the 1960’s and 70’s. His extensive record collection gave me tons of album covers and music that I still enjoy. Other than that, museums. I used to hate museums as a young kid, but now I love them. I just hate everyone else inside.
What are your thoughts on the art scene of New York?
I’m not so connected. And that I don’t mind. I despise the concept of pricing art but I do love going into galleries just to see what others are making. But I’d say the majority of the art scene here is outsourced. City people don’t make as much visual art because maybe they don’t have time to get bored.
Describe your aesthetic in 3 words.
Alive, sarcastic and changing.