Cigarette Girl, Go-Go Dancer, Punk Rocker -- Artist?
Hell, yes! Charlene Lanzel's all this and more.
Best known for her series of Pin-Up Girls, but Charlene's other gigs make you think of her as being the pinup model rather than the artist. Let the history entertain you -- develop a huge girly crush, like Slip Of A Girl -- but don't underestimate this fine artist!
I can't remember exactly how I found Charlene Lanzel. But once I found her I had to post and entry at my blog about her great art. From there, I was just an email away from this talented and charming artist.
Charlene, I noticed in your bio you say you're from a small town in Wisconsin -- how's a wild & raunchy girl like you come from a little town? Do you blame it on the artist parents?
My hometown, LaCrosse, Wisconsin is a port city on the Mississippi River. Itís a "sister city" to New Orleans. It is also home to the world's largest Oktoberfest, outside of Munich, and was in the Guinness World Book of Records for the most bars on one square block. Itís a real party town. The local brewery was the original brewer of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
My Fatherís family always had big gatherings. They love to drink that Wisconsin beer! There was usually a keg at family functions. I come from a huge family. My fatherís family has 12 children and my Motherís family has 9. My immediate family has 6 children, and I have around 75 first cousins! The parties were a lot of fun for the whole family, but it was easy to get lost in the shuffle. When I was 16, I decided I was tired of blending into the scenery. I needed some attention, so I became a punk rocker... and at one point dyed my hair blue.
What sort of art do your parents do?
When I was growing up, my Dad was enrolled in some sort of famous artistís school. He would send his work to be graded by professional artists like Norman Rockwell. He was always working on something in the garage or the basement, and I was always watching over his shoulder in amazement. He did some drawing and painting, but focused on woodworking. He used to carve relief sculptures in gunstocks. Very impressive.
My Mom was going to art school early on in my parentís marriage. She had to drop out when she started having babies. Later, her artistic focus was on ceramics. She created a collection of decanters that were beautifully detailed with real gold. She was always making things for the family. When I was a teen-ager I sat in on classes with her. She taught me a lot.
So art is like real estate: location, location, location. You leave the little town for the big city of Minneapolis, then head out to The Big Apple and become a She Wolf... There's a good story in there, so tell us about it & feed my girly crush...
"When I was still living in LaCrosse, I became a teen-age groupie. I loved rock music and went to all the concerts. I started hanging out with two sisters from school, Kathy & Sandy Briggs. They were the wildest girls around. They knew how to get backstage at concerts. We used to do that a lot and became friends with roadies and famous musicians.
That continued when we all moved to Minneapolis. The city was famous for itís underground music scene at that time. It was really happening. I had a lot of fun there.
Bands like The Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du would play at our friendís house parties before they made it big. When the scene started dying out, a lot of our friends started moving to New York, L.A. and Seattle. I moved to New York in 1987, when I was 20, with Kathy Briggs.
I started dating a bass player named Danny Nordahl. He knew everyone on the NYC scene. He had played with Johnny Thunders a few times and was good friends with Joey Ramone. Danny started playing bass for The Dead Boys on their re-union tour in 1988. The singer, Stiv Bator asked Kathy & I to be his bodyguards. We dressed in bondage and whipped the stage divers down from the stage. We also introduced the shows. Stiv named us ďThe She-WolvesĒ, after the underground film, Ilsa the She-Wolf.
Wow. My life seems even more dull now... But back to you.
As a commercial artist, what sort of work did you do?
I started out as a display artist at Unique Clothing on Broadway. It was really trendy. People like Madonna and Cindy Lauper used to shop there. There was artwork everywhere. Jean-Michel Basquiat started out as an airbrush artist there. I did the window displays and murals with my good friend Tracy Stum. She was the first person to really believe in me as an artist. She taught me so much about materials and creativity. She gave me direction. Iím forever grateful. Years later, we worked together on some trompe líoeil murals for The Venetian Casino in Vegas.
For the past 10 years, Iíve been painting murals for Silver Hill Atelier. I also do gilding, decorative painting and faux finishes. Iíve worked with nearly every medium and in every style imaginable. Iíve become very well-rounded there. Iíve worked with some of the worldís top mural painters and have learned a lot from them. Iím still learning.
Now you're a pinup artist... What was behind the decision to work in this area?
Have you ever been to one of those restaurants that has paper tablecloths and crayons for drawing? I had a favorite restaurant of that kind, and became a chronic doodler. I would do crayon drawings of whoever I was having brunch with. Then, I would rip it off the tablecloth and give it to my friend. People started saying they wanted to see paintings like those crayon drawings.
Have you always loved pinup art/artists; or was it knowing the women, the performers, which got you into this genre?
I wasnít necessarily a fan of pin-up art. I always liked it, but didnít know much about it. I idolized women like Betty Page and Tura Satana. Iíve always been a big fan of Helmut Newtonís photography. Olivia De Berardinis was one of the first erotic artists I knew about. I thought it was really bold for a woman to create art so openly sexual. I had a lot of respect for her. It was after I had started my pin-up series that I became interested in vintage pin-up art. The first pin-up painting I did was ďChickitaĒ, a self-portrait. I didnít want to continue doing paintings of myself. My nightclub friends were the perfect choice as models. All gorgeous, uninhibited, powerful women like my idols.
Many of the Sex Kittens collect pinup and vintage nude artworks so we 'get' the appeal, but for others who may think this is 'for men only eye candy' or even as sexist and degrading, how do you respond? How do you see pin up art?
Iíve sold most of my work to women, so itís hard for me to answer that. Iíve never heard anyone say my art was sexist or degrading. The women I paint want to be there. Most of them asked to pose for me. They are strong, not victims. The girls are in control of their situation. I think itís really sad that people have so many sexual hang-ups. Iíve never been ashamed of my body. Itís what God gave me. Iím proud of it. Doesnít every woman have a pin-up girl somewhere deep inside her? Doesnít every woman want to be wanted? I donít think thereís anything wrong with that. Itís human nature.
Then you had a gig as a Murrayette... Tell us about that. What did you do & why did you do it?
In the late 90ís I was go-go dancing at a party called The 999999ís, hosted by Penelope Tuesdae & DJ Fancy. One night I met Murray Hill, before she was really Murray. I thought she was hysterical. Murray jumped up on stage and performed for the first time at The 999999ís. It was the funniest thing Iíd every seen. We became great friends and hung out all the time. We rented a white Cadillac convertible for the Gay Pride Parade. I was roller skating up front and handing out pamphlets while Murray rode in the Cadillac and waved to the crowd. What a blast!
We were all working in the clubs, promoting parties, dancing and putting on shows. When the Slipper Room opened in 2000, Murray and Penelope put together a little vaudeville show called, ďThe Murray and Penny ShowĒ. They asked Kathy & me to help out. We started out backing Penny when she sang. Kathy & I became our own act when Penelope left the show to become DJ Tuesdae. We found some old Vegas-style showgirl costumes at an estate sale in Queens, and ďThe MurrayettesĒ we born. We continued with ďThe Murray Hill ShowĒ until 2006.
You've been a cigarette girl, one of the She Wolves, a Murrayette, a go-go dancer -- and I haven't even been to one of those places where people do real art on tablecloths! One could ask how old you are, how many lives you've lead! Who the heck is Charlene Lanzel?! How do you describe yourself, your life?
Iím adventurous and enthusiastic. Iím a seeker, an observer, a rebel and a work-a-holic. Iím focused and driven. Iím also terribly shy at times. I have a hard time making real friends yet I have a million acquaintances. I love to travel, but I also need to spend time at home... and... Iím turning 40.
Nearly 40? Finally, something I can relate to! I wish you were older, much older so that I could aspire to be you when I grow up... You've done so many cool things because your outlook is amazing. How does all of this impact your art?
I love a good challenge and I canít think of a better one than making art. Creating art isnít easy, and is not always fun. It exposes you at the deepest level. Itís scary. I let my hand guide me... allow the Universe to flow through me. Thatís when I do my best work.
Are you married, in a committed relationship? If so, what's the reactions to your work?
I just got engaged to New Orleans jazz drummer Ronnie Magri. He put out a burlesque album a few years back that is still quite popular. He was the bandleader for Dita Von Teese when she performed live in New Orleans. Weíve actually known each other since I was a ďShe-WolfĒ. He played drums for Stiv Bator a few times when I was performing. We travel in the same circles, so he really understands me. Heís very supportive of my work.
Now you've started selling merch, what's the purpose behind it? To be more affordable, make a fashion statement, or?
People started asking me for t-shirts after I had shown my pin-up art a few times. I thought it was a good idea. It seemed like a great way for people to have the art, without the high cost of a fine art painting... and allows more and more people to enjoy them. Besides, theyíre so cute!
Yes, yes, cute they are! Sexy and fun pinup art you can wear -- the next best thing to lingerie. (I command all you Sex Kittens to go buy some now.) What's next for Charlene?
Well... Iíve always been interested in music. I always wanted to record. My fiancťe, Ronnie & I have recently set up a home recording studio. Weíre starting a music project called ďRaul & FifiĒ. Sort of like Serge Gainsbourg meets Julie LondonÖ with a little bossa nova and New Orleans jazz thrown in. I canít wait to see how it develops. Weíll be recording here in New York... and down in New Orleans in the spring. Weíre both very excited about the project.
Iím also getting started on a new series of paintings... but, Iím not ready to reveal the topic yet.
Ha -- isn't that just like a coy pinup -- teasing us, making us want more... You must promise you'll give us any and all updates. And a list of restaurants where real artists, not children, draw on those paper tablecloths...
© Slip Of A Girl, a semi-regular columnist at Sex-Kitten.Net, who has a huge girly crush on Charlene Lanzel.