Partially-obscured by a wide-brimmed Gucci hat in a succulent shade of aubergine at quaint Parisian brasserie Little Next Door, photographer/artist Tasya Van Ree, who often “hides behind hats for security,” makes a marionette gesture and says, “Interviews are weird.” (mental note: don’t be weird, Jane). A silver-haired French server appears to take our order and there’s a collective swoon over her stern-yet-amiable accent. “Do you speak French?” Tasya asks me. “Bonjour?” I reply, in a cliché attempt to sound worldly. She orders a soy cappuccino (but only because they don’t have almond milk). “Viola mademoiselle!” the waitress sings upon returning with the frothy drinks. Tasya informs me that she also had lunch at this place yesterday.
Originally from the sun-drenched, laid-back island of Hawaii, the hermit-cool-it-girl moved to Los Angeles in ’94 and has remained for the last two decades (although she recently went home for the holidays, where she says she thinks she got a “body-concussion” from surfing like she was twenty again). It was her early photographs—lustful, cinematic, Helmut Newton-esque black and white portraits of dolled up celebrities and lingerie-clad lovers caught in intimate boudoir scenes—that first alerted the Los Angeles art world to her aesthetic ingenious. But even with their overt sensuality and pillowy layers of eroticism, her pictures have always possessed an alluring element of voyeurism and creativity translated through distorted camera angle and manipulated perspective (often shooting through limbs and legs) and inserting herself into the frame in nuanced and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. Even then, it was an exploration of “human intelligence and beauty,” she says.
It’s only been a few long years since the creation of those smoldering images, many of which were shot on film and focused heavily on then-girlfriend Amber Heard as muse and model. But her current work—colorful digital renderings of whimsical children’s toys and breathtaking butterflies—have the marking of an artist who is still looking intensely at very personal experiences, just from a different vantage point. “I have this surreal visual that I’m trying to create,” she explains of her newer projects. On January 20th, the artist debuted her latest solo show “Theory of Daydreams,” a series of large-scale, vibrantly colored photographs of butterflies, co-presented at The Salon on La Cienega by actress/philanthropist Kate Hudson and her charity Warchild. “It’s based on memory and transcendence. Breaking the old patterns of your own mind control and transcending into this new shift that’s happening with femininity and awareness and consciousness,” says Tasya. “It’s all about metamorphosis. It’s a new age. Can you feel the shift?”
We have a laugh about this. But it’s true that when you’re in the surfer-girl-turned-artist’s meditative presence, it’s impossible not to feel that something earth-moving is in the works. Maybe it’s a shift, or maybe it’s a contagious spiritual energy felt by fans and inner circle who include artist Langley Fox and celeb chef Nina Clemente, both in attendance at “A State of Mind & The Affairs of its Games,” which opened this past October at exclusive West Hollywood hideaway the Chateau Marmont. Inside the artist’s studio, lined with concealed works and stacks of books on Renoir, Dalí, an Isabella Blow, we get a glimpse of the toy series. Each piece is a photographic interpretation of an artifact synonymous with childhood innocence, like Cracker Jacks boxes, toy trucks and cupie dolls, and an examination of its subliminal role the corruption of young minds. “It’s all based on political and social consciousness. The toys were based on the government’s tactics of mild control, the naivete of children, and brainwashing them at such a young age.”
Shrouding herself in a giant cloak from RTH, a La Cienega Blvd. boutique filled with woven blankets and exotic handmade wares, the willowy dreamer (with the Blue Crush body) shares that she’s recently settled in Laurel Canyon, where she’s taking much-needed breaks from Instagram (“I just got too caught up in it”) and is hunkering down at her Culver City studio being hyper-productive. “Now I’m so focused on creating art, which I’ve never really been before. It’s a such a good discipline to be really focused and to create everyday. And you need to. It’s so easy to fall into the distraction of stimulus we think are feeding creativity but are actually taking away from it.”
So what’s in the pipeline for the ineffably-cool creative force who is always reincarnating yet consistently masking social commentary underneath outwardly beautiful imagery? Shoes, she tells me. Lots of them. She bought them, she’s painted them, and now she’s manipulating them. And we look forward to seeing where they take her.