Hawaiian-born Tasya Van Ree is a multi-disciplinary artist, style icon and West Coast bohème. Perhaps best known for her black and white celebrity portraiture (including many photographs of her ex, actress Amber Heard), Tasya has a split-level art studio in Los Angeles where she creates works through a wide scope of mediums–including sculpture, drawing, painting, collage and film.
Her signature look is an effortless mix of the masculine/feminine, playing with tailored vintage, Annie Hall blazers, well-designed basics, literally topped off with a thin fedora hat. She designed a t-shirt line called “DieWilder” that featured bold phrases, and recently exhibited a private viewing of new photos at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood.
With a glowing smile and folky California ease, Tasya discusses how her journey is an exploration of the free spirit and following one’s intuitive voice.
How did you first transition into publishing and exhibiting your work?
I guess it was just a natural progression. When you’re doing art, you take different steps. You create the art and then want it to be seen. It’s hard in the beginning when you’re protective of your art and what you’ve created, and you’re like, well, how do I show this without giving away that essence to it? And then you just do it, and you come into a whole new world within your art.
Did it change the process for you knowing that your pieces will be existing within commerce rather than for yourself?
No, I don’t think so. I think you just have to really stay true to the vision and your language as an artist, as opposed to having influences on that. You have to be conscious of that and still really develop your own voice and express that without being influenced. As an artist you’re extremely sensitive, so you have to have the balance between both worlds, but I try not to let it effect the work.
In your recent photographic series, “A State of Mind & The Affairs of Its Games” you featured brightly colored vintage tin toys. The photos seem to evoke themes of childhood and youth. They’re also really different from what most people associate with you, such as your sensual black and white photos. What direction were you taking with this new series?
I think within all my art there are underlying messages within it. From a social aspect or a political aspect, and this is just a completely new angle that I took but it’s still conveying that world of social, political elements of existence. So it’s just a new avenue visually.
Why toys from those specific eras?
I think there’s a really distinct representation of how things–on a grand scale–are pushed through childhood and children. Through their naiveté and innocence, it’s a way to push messages.
Was there something from your own childhood that you wanted to bring to these images?
I try to channel it on a bigger scale and not so intimate. I think across the board it’s all the same: I think the easiest way to get a larger message across is through the eyes of children. It’s a subliminal subtle propaganda. IT’S A WHOLE CONSPIRACY (laughing) I’m just kidding. No, it kind of is. I wanted to present it in a way where, maybe I’m presenting my own subliminal message- and I think some people got it. I think they read more into the synopsis and the more they looked past the actual pieces, like the titles, I think they got it. The colors capture the eye and it draws you in to go into it and get lost into it for a second and try to find its meaning. I traveled around different antique shops through Southern California, form Paso Robles to Burbank to the Valley–all over. I feel like the objects kind of chose me and how they want to be brought to life in a certain way.
Is there a favorite object you found?
Yeah. There’s a little metal bird. I feel like that just captured the whole experience.
A lot of your work seems to focus on freedom, and being free: What do you want to let go of and what do you reject so that you can get to that place or feeling?
I think it’s a lot of personal constrictions and restrictions. I think you put a lot on yourself as a human being, a lot of fears, insecurities- and to figure out a way to accept them and look at them and let them go. I think that’s a big challenge. It’s about finding your own truth. There are a lot of things going on in the world that I feel subconsciously energetically get in, but you have to shut that off and exist within yourself, and translate that into a bigger scale. Did I answer the question? (Laughs.)
Yeah, there’s such a strong rawness and sensuality, nudity, childhood–your body of work seems to navigate to a place of being in a natural state. It’s funny because as an artist existing in the commercial world, it almost seems like that can be the opposite of what an artist is trying to do.
Yeah, at times the commercial world is very… commercial, and it’s superficial and kind of surface, but I think for it to translate properly that’s the exact journey and avenue I want to take is finding the happy medium between the two worlds, and still being true to myself and still being a voice that I really want to speak with, and finding a way to do that commercially. I think there’s a way to break it all. You just have to be strong and persistent and persevere and continue to move forward without sacrificing yourself. It’s a tough world out there.
You also play with a lot of fragments, whether its visual elements sliced or split apart or phrases on t-shirts you made. How do words empower the work that you do?
There’s a poetic language within each word that I choose to represent the feeling and the message I’m trying to get out. I read a lot of poetry, but a lot of times the words just come to my head. Or they’re inspired by literature that I’ve read. I try to have this backwards language as opposed to coming straight out and saying a certain thing. There’s another way to go about it that’s not so obvious, it’s still saying the same thing but it’s a little obscure. The visuals call for certain language, you have to choose the right language to make the piece dense. Sometimes I just have this free spirit, and sometimes I’m very serious and precise. But sometimes in the precision, there’s a loose language as well. I feel like I’m gonna start using more words.
Do you think you’ll go into creating full volumes of poetry and literature?
I think so, yeah. Absolutely. I think it’ll be an aspect of my overall artistic world, but I feel like I’m just kind of going through different mediums to find exactly what it is that I want to create.
Are you getting to a place where you feel like you’re establishing that truth?
I guess you don’t know until the end end when you look back and say, oh, I was doing it all along. When you’re in it it’s kind of hard to recognize that. You just have to keep on doing it and inhabiting different phases or compartments and not think too much about it, because the more you think about it the more you get blocked at times and then you just wind up depressed or confused.
How has working in Los Angeles effected your career? Why did you choose to come here and stay here?
I think it really just pulled me in. I tried to leave so many times and it’s like “no, you’re not going to leave!” and I feel like the art scene is really changing nowadays, there’s more of a presence thats conjuring up here and we’ll see where it goes. There’s a lot of greatness happening here in all the chaos. There’s a lot of chaos here. There’s so many kind of worlds that are swirling around here. You can get lost easily in all of that. But once you find your place and you have a hold on it, then you can find success or make your mark or whatever it is you’re trying to do. There’s everything here, you don’t really realize it until you get out of here, there’s not a lot of places in the world that has a plethora of experiences. There’s a lot of magic here if you’re open to it and if you’re present in it all. You can really tap into it.
It seems like a lot of people who stay working in analogue are kind of hanging onto an intimacy that is lost within the instantaneous, digital world. Is that something that you want to continue working with?
They’re just two different worlds, digital and analogue. I’m really connected to the tradition of it all, visually and emotionally. There’s a frequency in film that translates what I want to say properly. Digital is completely different, there’s a different vibration through digital than there is with film. There’s just a certain spirit with portraits of people. I think with film it comes across authentically.