I have always believed that when someone is a true artist they have a particular and significant approach to everything that they do, regardless of their desired practice. There is a certain way in which they will conduct even the smallest of routines.
Whether it is baking artisan breads, carving wooden utensils, throwing breakfast parties in her garden or making art, Lexie Smith applies the same approach and concept to everything she does. Because at the end of the day she is a maker, in every sense of the word, finding absolute enjoyment in the process and the method.
It can be, then, difficult to pin-point exactly what it is that Lexie does, a title even she has difficulty in describing efficiently. However, if you start with the ideas of food and emotion and science and human instinct, you will get close to the essence of what is an overarching theme across all of Lexie’s chosen mediums - a concept that Lexie likes to call “for gut feelings”.
Interview with Lexie Smith
Baker and Artist
For someone who works across so many different mediums, how would you describe what you do?
I have a hard time describing it succinctly (see the following paragraph), which has led to the habit of just choosing a few verbs or nouns depending on my mood and context. If I’m working predominantly in a kitchen on a certain project I’ll say, “I work in food,” because in my mind that encapsulates the cooking/baking aspect of my life, as well as the objects I make that are intended for dining experiences, and additionally my art that’s been inspired by food (illustration or edible ingredient pieces), though I know not all of that would come through in the description. When it comes down to it, I make things, and depending on the medium I am most enamored with at that point, those things change. I’m an amalgam of a lot of disparate but somehow coherent tactile leanings that are all informed by instinct and created through the massaging of my anxieties. So, in order to describe what it is I do, I kind of need to have a conversation about it. I’ve thought about getting business cards that just say “for gut feelings” on them with an email address.
How do you manage your time across all of your creative outlets? Is it opportunity dependent or intuitive?
I’m learning to better share my time amongst my different outlets everyday. Firstly, I try and get up early no matter how late my night was. There are times when an opportunity comes along which will take all of my time and energy in one direction, and whatever free moments I have, usually the peripheral ones when I’m tired and hungry, will be relegated to the rest. Though I’ve realized that if I’m involved in something I love doing it doesn’t matter at all how exhausted or busy I am, I will still manage to get there. Food-making and art-making are the same in that respect- if you’re someone who aligns with those activities, you literally have to do them. You have no choice. Why do you think so many chefs are self-loathing alcoholics? They may hate living in a kitchen but they really can’t help it.
How do you know when to say yes, and when to say no, when a new opportunity arises for you?
This is pretty dependent on who is offering. I consider every opportunity and am always a bit surprised (sometimes very) and grateful to have been considered in the first place. Ultimately a decision to go through with one is determined by the intent of the collaborator, and whether or not they’re someone I am inspired by. I think it’s important to be discerning and discriminating about who you align yourself with, but I tend to think that the people who are supposed to find each other often do. Ultimately, I try to say yes to as much as I can. It is the only way ideas are further generated. And it is why I rarely have time to do laundry.
I'm really interested in the time you spent in Hawaii. From a creative perspective, it sounds like this time was really informative for you. What drew you to place yourself there for that time, and what made you leave again?
I don’t say this much about any other period, but my time in Hawaii was life changing. It had a lot to do with the fact that it was a dramatic departure from the place I was coming from- a possessive and negative relationship, a city I felt allergic to (New York, of course), college, and ghosts. I went and lived on a farm that was physically one of the most remote places on the planet, which was precisely what I wanted after the distracting congestion of the city, where I wasn’t at all sure who I was yet. I had wanted to be very far away, to become more intimate with produce, and I’d always been immediately drawn to the tropics, so the isolated side of Maui felt like a perfect destination. I went to live on Hana Farms, where I baked breads and harvested fruit and greens for four hours a day, and the rest of the time was left for me to explore the jungle and ocean alone. I wrote constantly and cooked whenever I wasn’t doing that. I was very interested in agriculture and had the intention of going back to New York to work in urban farming. Funny thing happened along the way though: After a few months of total seclusion and self-indulgent introspection, I met a man on the beach and two days later flew to Texas with him. It was the closest thing I’d felt to magic, so I jumped for it. I’m not sure anything else could have gotten me to leave, and I fully intended on returning at some point. But time gets away from us.
Are there any mentors or people who have been in your life that have really shaped the way in which you work or live? Any to note and discuss?
My father is a writer. This means that I grew up in a world in which being a creative for a living- as in, someone who devotes the entirety of their lives to their creative passion, not just the pockets and corners- is a reality, a feasible lifestyle. Which is kind of an absurd thing- because it’s really, really hard. There was a full decade during which my dad was constantly undercut, screwed-over and fucked sideways by the industry. But he never stopped writing, and he never compromised his practice by doing anything else. He came out of that period with an international book deal and a whole bunch of dignity and maybe some credit card debt (that part is sort of a mystery). He is so secure and whole in his identity as an artist, and affirmation or lack thereof from outside parties never once factored into it.
You work across different mediums, but it feels as though there is a strong over-arching concept running throughout. What are you currently interested in, or researching?
I used to be much more interested in the macabre, the decaying parts of us. I think it’s a natural impulse to show that in your art, if you’re a person who, like me, has some darkness in them. But while I’m still interested in the universal human downfalls and impulses, I am looking at it in a more scientific way now- I’m interested in physical digestion and indigestion, in what kinds of breakdowns we endure physically as opposed to mentally. The alchemy of manipulating a once-living thing into a new object through a physically aggressive act- like woodworking with knives and bread baking with high heat- is something I’ve always been interested in. I am also exploring the way communal eating affects those involved. And I will forever be in love with the riddles of semantics, and translate that visually however I can.
Do you and your boyfriend still share a studio? If so, how is it working together in this environment? If not, what is your working environment like at the moment?
Yes, we do still share a studio. As someone who is chronically and corrosively independent, I wouldn’t have believed that I’d be able to share a creative space with someone I also share so much other time with, but we work seamlessly together. He initially got me into woodworking, so having him there is both comforting and also keeps me awake. I know he’ll tactfully call me out on shortcomings. We also make work that is complimentary but different enough that we can place it side by side and find some harmony there. And it helps that neither of us ever have to choose between the relationship and the studio, as if we ever manage to find some coinciding free time we usually end up there together.
For someone who has a fairly loose schedule, i.e.: you're not a 9-5er, do you have any daily rituals that you like to follow?
Unfortunately I’m in a phase right now when my schedule is the opposite of loose, so rituals don’t have a lot of room to thrive here. If anything, the underlying current for me has and always will be a cup of coffee outside in the morning (barefoot if possible, though that’s asking a lot). I try and gift myself that regardless of circumstance. I’m also an avid list-maker and check in with them throughout the day- mostly adding to and rarely crossing off.
How would you describe your own style, (not just from a clothing perspective).
I try to remain honest and push that to the forefront, but a bawdy, sardonic attitude usually gets in the way.
If you have friends over for a meal, what would you cook them?
I throw breakfast parties in my backyard about twice a month (if my schedule allows), and the tables are filled with steeped soft-boiled eggs, the chunkiest, seediest granola, focaccia, farmer’s market fruit and vegetables, and plenty of coffee. Flavors get weird, and the tables are littered with hand pounded and carved steel and wooden bowls and such. I try to get people to leave very full but not to the point of resenting me. It’s a difficult balance.
What is something that you often find yourself craving?
Water. I’m the world’s worst drinker. Also, time free of a lurking guilt regarding productivity.
When you think of the last year, what would be your favourite memory from this time frame?
I spent a lot of time alone in the jungle this year, which is a pretty special thing to be able to do. Some of that time was manning a wood fired oven overlooking the ocean barefoot and in a bikini, basically sweating ash and soot, which is also a pretty special thing to do. But having picnics on my studio floor in Brooklyn, as the sun was setting hot pink out the windows, with my three or four closest friends around is also pretty unbeatable.
And looking ahead, what are you planning towards at the moment?
I am looking forward to finishing up the kitchen consulting position I’m working on right now, which will lend some more time to work on a number of things: many more breakfast parties; an illustrated cookbook I’m making called Snacks Illustrated; a collaborative project I plan to do with my boyfriend, where we split every piece of wood we use for certain period of time and both carve either side; more time to devote to food writing, which I sneak in when I can. And lastly: we are trying to build a forge in our basement for knife-making and blacksmithing, which is something I’ve wanted to have for years but is a long process ahead to set up the whole space adequately. Once done, I might never be seen again.
Interview by Yasmine Ganley
Digital Photography by Eric Oglander
Film Photography by Georgia Hilmer