Allie and Lexi Kaplan are identical twin artists who work as a collaborative team. Their work explores the complex nature of the alter ego and its role in how different audiences perceive these personas through media manipulation, cultural taboos, celebrity culture, twin identities, fantasies and fascinations. They both received Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees from New York University and currently live and work in Los Angeles, California.
Originally from Short Hills, New Jersey, artists and twins Allie and Lexi Kaplan earned Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees from NYU before setting up practice in Los Angeles. I met with them at their Brentwood studio, strategically located a short walk from their home and around the corner from an art supply store. The Kaplan Twins were putting final touches on their newest show, Make Me Famous, which opened the next day at De Re Gallery.
What’s your story of working as artists?
We’ve always been passionate about art. When we decided we wanted this as our careers, we just went for it. We had to give it our all, work everyday, put ourselves out there and hustle. If you want something you have to make it happen. You have to try even if you fail.
How did you evolve into working as an artist duo?
It started pretty organically. When we began painting at NYU, we had professors encouraging us to “do our own thing, be our own people.” But at a certain point, we realized we had the same style and interests. We’d share projects and use each other’s work but claim it as our own. So we realized: why not just do it together? It’s definitely more entertaining and fun.
Can you tell us about this current body of work and how it came about?
We’re obviously attracted to celebrity culture. We constantly try to dig deeper in our work, so we started this project by reflecting on the current state of our culture. We asked ourselves, “What would it say if we stole and reclaimed these private-turned-public moments—leaked nudes—and blew them up as oil paintings?” We thought a lot about old Renaissance paintings and how scandalous those must have been back in the day, compared to how scandalous leaked nudes and celebrity hacks are in today’s culture. Those moments and photos were never meant to be shared with the world. They’re private moments, but as a culture in this social media age we are all obsessed with making our private moments public. We’re obsessed with looking at other people’s private moments, as well as sharing our own. We exploit ourselves on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook for gratification, the number of likes and the validation. Warhol said, “Everyone in the future will be famous for fifteen minutes.” That’s the world we live in, and it’s what we’re commenting on. There is a lot to think and talk about, which is what attracts us to this. What does it say that we are reclaiming these images without permission? Is it empowering? Offensive?
What is the idea behind inserting yourselves into your work and objectifying yourselves in the same way as your subjects?
It’s important for us to literally join the conversation of our artwork. By saying this is something we all do and take part in, the point is for us to take part in it as well. We’re really aware of what we’re doing, and it’s all intentional. We are reclaiming the power and controlling the narrative. To have large scale oil paintings of ourselves included in a show which we titled Make Me Famous, alongside icons, speaks for itself.
Do you consider your subjects, that have a tremendous control over their own objectivization and image, to be artists?
The term artist is so broad to us, so yes. All of our subjects are creatives in their own right, and we chose each one for a specific reason. Emily Ratajkowski has a background in Fine Art and she is also very pro female empowerment and body positivity. Kim K is “the” selfie queen and a sexual entrepreneur. Models, actresses, singers, anyone creative…they are all artists, all iconic.
Where do you see the line between art and artist?
Well, in our case there is no line. The artist can be the art, and the art can be the artist.
What artists inspires you?
Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Lynda Benglis, Tom Wesselmann, Miley Cyrus, Kanye West.
Who inspired you most growing up?
We inspired each other most growing up.
Do you recall your first favorite T-shirt?
Our first favorite t-shirts had to be the ones we made when we were younger. We bought basic baseball tees from American Apparel, sketched out drawings and sayings and had them printed on the shirts via silk screen. We must have been about twelve years old, but we went on to sell them at a very popular local clothing store in our hometown and donated proceeds to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Those were definitely our favorites. It was our first taste of combining our creative and entrepreneurial sides.
What’s next for you?
To continue reflecting, hustling, working, and growing as artists and creatives.