Alex & Vanessa Prager

by Matthew Bedard

That Which Is Intuited, That Which Is Self-Evident
And from ye cup of talent poured ink upon paper, light upon celluloid, blonde upon denim, and a whole bucket of gallery shows.

Alex and Vanessa Prager, residents of Los Angeles’ Silverlake, neither of whom are unfamiliar to the pages of Flaunt, sip iced tea near the neighborhood’s dog park on an early July evening. Both of them are busy, both of them are sweethearts, both of them are babes—it’s almost too much. Yet it doesn’t seem too much for them. They’re not only maintaining a mellow that’s symptomatic of artists in the sphere of the well-received, but there’s a kinetic glow betwixt them that can only be described as the meta-cool of sisters in step.

Alex, who works in photography and film, shares that she’s just finished a ten-minute short and is preparing for her first solo museum show in November (she has pieces in MoMA, the Whitney, among others). Vanessa, who works in painting and illustration and showed ten times in 2012 (including with NYC’s The Hole and as part of MOCA’s Fresh), pets the dog at her feet and contributes with her counterpart on issues of anxiety, Americana, and not waiting for someone to notice you got it going on.

Flaunt: I don’t know if people have drawn many comparisons in you two’s work, but if they were to, there might be a sort of subdued sadness observed. Would you agree?

Vanessa Prager: I wouldn’t necessarily agree. I think our tones are a little bit different. There’s sadness in general sense—but sadness that encompasses all of the dark emotions. I think both of us work in those lower bands of emotion, surely, but sometimes in a broader sense.

Alex Prager: I think if you would look at the majority of artists, you would find that they work in those bands. Maybe the results are not as interesting if you are showing enthusiasm or cheerfulness. I wouldn’t say there’s sadness as much as I would say anxiety in my work.

Is anxiety more of a physical manifestation or psychological one?

AP: Psychological probably.

Aside from themes in your work, what are you personally anxious about right now?

AP: I’m not really anxious right now. I just have so much to do to get ready for my show that I’m not thinking—I’m just doing.

What makes you anxious, Vanessa?

VP: I think the concept of not knowing or not being aware of things, or not reaching for some higher level. Or stagnancy.

So the possibility that you are missing out on something that you could be achieving?

VP: No, the possibility that I’m turning into a sheep—not just for me but the entire world.

Do you ever think that the sheep and its comfort is enviable?

VP: Sure. I mean, what’s enviable about Jake, my dog? [As a dog] you get taken care of, you don’t have to think about anything; there is no anxiety, it’s really flat. There’s a lot less action.

AP: If you opt for only one kind of emotion—like happiness—then you’re basically saying that you don’t want any emotion, because it’s not really possible for everything to always be up here. That’s what life consists of.

Clearly as sisters, you two have a complementary energy. Would you agree and can you describe that?

AP: We are very different in many ways but I think when it comes to freaking out over art we understand that really well. Ideally we are not freaking out at the same time, so one of us can always balance the other out.

Where do you feel your work is the most misunderstood?

AP: Well, within the art world—perhaps because people aren’t used to seeing such produced films starring beautiful women, which my work often does—one thing that happens sometimes is there’s a tendency to group my films into fashion films, as art films are thought to be abstract or conceptual. That can make me feel misunderstood. Because when I think of fashion, I think of selling a brand, and that’s not what my films are about. Of course they are about beauty, but they are also about a lot of other things.

VP: The thing is, with art it has to be somewhat beautiful, but it doesn’t matter what kind of beauty. It might be ugly-beautiful. So the thing that most people consider beautiful will usually come into play in the most acceptable areas, just because that’s the first thing that will make them look. Or that’s the thing that most agreed upon.

AP: And perhaps that’s the very reason that you don’t see as much surface beauty in the art world, because it’s too easy. Maybe they think it’s too easy and that automatically makes them think that there is no layer, which is a misconception.

Much of you two’s work is distinctly American, from tone to subject matter to iterations of days long gone. What is Americana to you?

VP: Classic ’50s cars, the relationship of the family. A lot’s changed today but it’s still based on the “go get them” values and you-can-be-what-you-want kind of attitude, which is still true in some regards.

AP: I don’t know if I agree with it still being true. The whole idea of coming to America—no matter who you are or where you came from, you can always make it if you work hard enough—I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore. I don’t think the idea of Americana—that you can have one man in the family work, with two kids and a wife, and afford the house and the car—is logistically possible anymore.

VP: Well, it wasn’t even possible then. Nobody was living that idealism, but the concept was there.

The same could be said for Los Angeles—a city founded on great idealism, but deeply flawed. What are the challenges of being in L.A., or producing art here?

VP: People struggle with the layers of L.A. They see nothing at first, or they see one layer, and it’s really hard for some people to take. It can really push you around, and a lot of people lose themselves, but L.A. has a lot to offer if you look for it. It’s a nice place to work and be.

AP: One thing Vanessa and I did that I don’t often see people doing, which I thought was normal when we were doing it, was just putting on our own shows—not waiting for someone to be interested in our art—until we finally got representation. We would just do whatever we needed to do independently to generate interest. I kind of assumed that’s what every artist was doing until I went to New York. In L.A., we don’t have as much of an obvious art scene, so in New York you can see a lot easier what the artists are up to. It seems like a lot of people are going to school and waiting for a gallery to offer them a show. Vanessa and I didn’t take that route at all. I think the alternative is a very workable route, but you have to have a lot more patience, and possibly a bit more money.

Looking forward, where do you see the biggest challenges in evolving your work?

VP: I never find a problem evolving my work. I almost change it too much, I think, but I don’t see that as my challenge.

AP: I don’t either, I could be wrong. Maybe I’ll look and one day see everything the same. But right now, I still feel full of excitement.

VP: My challenge is often completion; I have too many ideas to see through to the end. I’m really good at getting an idea and wanting it done immediately. And when you are working in the real world, you have to finish it and then show it, and enjoy that whole experience before moving on to the next thing.

AP: Yeah, enjoying the whole experience is probably my biggest challenge because usually by the time I’m showing an exhibition of work that I have been working on for a year and a half, I have already moved on to a new project. It’s almost an annoyance that I have to go through the motions of going to the shows and receiving the acknowledgment (if I should so happen to be receiving any). But that’s the business side of the work, which I don’t think any artist really likes that much. It’s much more fun to just be back at work. So that’s probably the most challenging part right now.


Photographer: Geoff Moore at Stylist: Jimi Urquiaga for Hair: Paul Rizzo for Makeup: Nichole Servin for Photography Assistants: Tae Kwon, Ricky Steel, and Gabi Esenten. Image Retouching: Dylan Borgman.