In an exclusive interview with Refinery 29, artist and model Tali Lennox tells of her rise in the art world as well as being the daughter of a famous celebrity.
Being a child of a celebrity can be a curse rather than a blessing. Will people take you seriously? Will anyone believe that hard work — and not familial connections — is responsible for your success? Is it possible to become a recognized figure for your own talent when your mother is one of the world’s most powerful musicians?
At only 22 years old, Tali Lennox has heaps of career experience under her paint-splattered apron. She’s an accomplished model, having worked for the likes of Prada, Topshop, and Burberry — and now she’s made a professional transition to the art world, working to establish herself as an esteemed painter in New York’s dog-eat-dog gallery scene. Oh, and she’s the daughter of Annie Lennox and her second husband, Uri Fruchtmann.
As she prepares for her first solo show, “Layers of Life,” Lennox has up and moved herself into Soho’s Catherine Ahnell Gallery, where she’s been living and working for the past month. When we meet, she’s dressed in flared jeans, a loose white tee, and platform shoes, and she’s so leggy, so naturally stunning, the first thing I find myself wondering is, Why would this girl evergive up modeling?
But, as we review her paintings — a series of bold yet intimate self-portraits — I learn she is far from the New York-by-way-of-London It Girl you might expect her to be; in fact, she’s working, stroke-by-stroke, to break that celebrity child curse.
You began your career as a model at 17. Tell me about the experience of being so young in the fashion industry.
“I started out like every other new face, just going to lots and lots of castings. Everything took off when I had a good show season; it was nuts. I remember being in the lineup for shows like Miu Miu and Roberto Cavalli and being surrounded by the most beautiful girls; I was in the midst of fashion chaos, and it all felt very surreal. I had never planned to do modeling, though, so I always found myself thinking, What am I doing here?!”
What did you learn most from that time in your life?
“Modeling involved lots of traveling alone — new cities each week, new teams at every job. It taught me how to be more independent and how to manage myself. I would spend weeks at a time in different countries where I didn’t know anyone, so I spent a lot of my free time wandering alone to museums, parks, and restaurants, trying to make the best of having such an unconventional lifestyle. I don’t mind being alone, which is why I enjoy the solitary process of painting.”
“I think when you start modeling as a teenager and then get to 19, you naïvely feel like you have been working in the industry for ages; you really don’t realize how young you are and how much more time you actually have.”I never fully ‘left’ the industry. I just felt like I needed to rediscover what I wanted to build in my life outside of modeling. I didn’t finish high school, and I never went to university, so I wanted to develop myself in a career where I could do something that fulfilled me creatively. Being an artist anddoing modeling is a fantastic balance. I spend so much time alone with my work that doing a fun shoot, being extroverted, and dressing up alongside a big team really refreshes me and gets me out of my own head.”How would you compare being a model with being an artist? Are they the same in some ways? Different?
“As an artist, you are the creator, whereas being a model, you’re a part of someone else’s creation. With art, none of it is about the way you look. I spend some days in the same scruffy outfit with no makeup on and paint smears on my skin. It’s not about me, it’s about the canvas. With modeling, you have to take care of your appearance — you are the canvas.”Did you have childhood dreams of becoming an artist? What are some of your earliest creative memories?
“Yes, I’ve always been very creative. When I was about 3 or 4, I used to be obsessed with cutting paper into patterns and shapes with scissors. For as long as I can remember, I always sketched; my school books were plastered in doodles. It’s something I have always done to dive into a state of focus — for that moment, time stops and you become unaware of the outside world and totally absorbed with what you are making.”My grandmother Mirjam was an artist; she mainly did sculpture, and she is someone who has inspired me so much and constantly told me I was an artist. Sadly, she passed in September, but we always had the most amazing correspondence and connection with art. Even when I was very busy with modeling, she would tell me, ‘Go to art school! You’re an artist!’ I create my art with her in mind.”
“I actually chose to do self-portraits as a reaction to social media and the Internet. I’m ironically calling my self-portraits my ‘selfies,’ because rather than using a cell phone (which is instant) I am taking my time on each detail in a very old-fashioned medium of oil paint. I’m digging deeper to expose elements of human nature that we all relate to but are able to mask online, which is strangely becoming more real and important to many people than the actual world.”I want to expose gluttony, aggression, and our inner child. We are constantly putting out fragments of ourselves online for other people to judge. And, I find the whole phenomenon fascinating. Psychologically, we manipulate how we want to be perceived and judged by others. I’m not against it; I do it just like everyone else. But, I think it’s important to remember that the Internet isn’t real life. I think it’s crucial to be honest with ourselves and get in touch with all the facets of our being, even the parts we are embarrassed to share.”We are human. We are not a profile page. You can’t add a filter to real life. I don’t want to be pessimistic; I simply want to be honest.”
“Absolutely. She is the most authentic, genuine, and passionate woman I know. She is a true artist through and through. She has never made music for fame and attention; her intentions are purely to express herself and share her creativity. We are very similar in the way we think, feel, and see the world.”Artistically, it’s beautiful to have a person that you can connect with in that way. She brought me up showing me art and encouraging my creativity, as did my father, who is equally as inspiring to me.”She is not just recognized for her musical success but for her fashion sense as well. How would you describe your personal style?
“Well, there’s me when I’m painting, which is no style at all: It’s a stained smock, baggy jeans, and an old T-shirt. When I pay attention to my outfits, I love to be eclectic and wear a lot of vintage and retro pieces. I always like to wear color and hats, elements that add spark and nostalgia to a look. Sometimes there’s a touch of kitsch, with glittery sunglasses or pink polka dots. And, sometimes there’s a little bit of masculinity, like black brogues or a suit.”
“I am aware that people will — and do — assume a lot about me if they don’t know me. There’s a clear stereotype for the ‘daughter of,’ ‘model-slash-something’ types. But, I know who I am, and those who know me know who I am and my values. I work hard at progressing in my craft, because I know I will not have fulfillment without pushing myself. And, that’s all that really matters.”When I stupidly glance over some cruel and critical comments online, I realize that these people have no direct effect over my life. However, I do feel like I have pushed myself even more to try and prove that I’m not a cliché. Quite a few people have told me that they originally thought, ‘Oh! A model doing art? It’s probably a bit of rubbish.’ But, when they saw that I paint with a fine-arts style that takes time and commitment, rather than a quick abstract piece or stenciled street art, they were pleasantly surprised.”It’s nice to hear when people have nice things to say about my work, but ultimately, I try not to care what other people think. I’m not Angelina Jolie or anything; I wouldn’t care too much about me either. I’m just a young woman doing what I love and living my life in a way that I think works best for me.”