Lucia Ribisi Is Working Harder And Reaching Farther

by E. Ryan Ellis

The teenage artist is intersectional, interdisciplinary, and indubitably fecund

Lucia Ribisi doesn’t look uncomfortable. She’s sitting down and underneath her butt lie assorted flowers. Her legs are out, knees upward and pressed together, and her feet are outstretched. In the background sits a white vessel, I wouldn’t describe it as Rococo, but it’s decorative. She’s wearing fresh white undergarments—a bra and panties—her eyes are closed and the locks of her hair look damp and are pulled back, seemingly to create a smooth surface. Ribisi’s left hand is cupped under her chin feeling the passing honey that descends from the top of her head; her right hand grasps a ladle or comb out of which the honey falls.

This is the first image you see when you visit Lucia Ribisi’s website. It’s a still from a three-part video performance entitled “Honey.” The caption reads, “The piece addresses rites of passage associated with womanhood.” Perhaps the piece is meant to confront the viewer with the progressive sexuality of a young woman, but is it only sexual because it’s a young woman in her underwear? Is Ribisi challenging us to just see what is there, regardless of preconceived notions? So goes one of the most important aspects of art: the viewer— man or woman— will see in “Honey,” a reflection of their own cultural experiences.



"Eighteen : Legal . Part II : Honey" (2015). Video stills. 6:20 minutes. Courtesy the artist.

I ask Ribisi what “feminine” means to her.

“It’s complicated because feminine in culture means ‘makeup’ and ‘boobs’ but feminine is also, ‘I woke up in a pool of blood, and that’s my week this week.’”

An awareness of the patriarchy, the male gaze, and feminist ideals are evident in Ribisi’s art, and is ingrained in her worldview. The 18-year-old—the daughter of Giovanni Ribisi and Mariah O’Brien—is a hard-working artist and meets with me in the backyard of her home. She’s wearing a tiara and her eyes are outlined in metallic blue.

Ribisi has been busy with multiple projects; namely a 15 x 25-foot mural for Hedi Slimane and Saint Laurent, which served as the backdrop for their men’s and women’s AW16 presentation at the Palladium in L.A. in mid-February. For the mural, she worked 18 hours a day for the week preceding the event. She says “I was working so non-stop that I’d come home and pass out. All my plants died.” The partnership began when Slimane happened upon Ribisi’s “Pet Names” painting and incorporated it into his collection, the painting has the word BABY, in large letters surrounded by abstract pink swirls. “When I made that painting I was thinking about my stupid, older boyfriend calling me ‘baby,’ and if it was gross or not, and what that meant. Was it disrespectful? Was it diminutive? I was also on my way out of high school. I left high school early because I wanted to be in college, all my friends were older and my boyfriend was older, and I was making a lot of work. I wanted to jump into adulthood, I guess."

After testing out of high school, Ribisi attended an art boarding school in Napa Valley. Having primarily only worked in painting, the Oxbow School expanded Ribisi’s artistry to include performance and more. “It’s probably the best thing that I’ve ever done for myself. There were 40 kids and there were only, like, five or six boys. I thought that I was going to this place that was supposed to be ‘Wine Country’ with lots of weird, fancy, rich people and you get there and there’s only Walmart. So I was just making stuff and learning how to do stuff. I ended up learning how to document the performance work that I wanted to put out so I made this video and I grew to love it and I did mostly performance art at that point.”

Maybe it’s cliché but I feel Ribisi has a good head on her shoulders for being only 18. She seems to maneuver through the rotting leftovers of millennial and post-millennial media and nepotistic exploitation with grace, “I’m dealing now with trying to navigate being young, and everyone trying to fuck me over, and also making great work.”


Detail from "From My Window" (2016). Graphite, Paper. 42 X 128 inches. Courtesy the artist.

The obligatory sun is setting over the obligatory palm tree silhouettes as I ask her if she finds making art to be the creating of the secrets, or their revealing; “I think every piece is its own entity. I think my mom is such a word-vomit person. Everyone knows everything all the time and [she’s a] highly emotional person and I’m the same way. I think for that reason, I have always been attracted to very mysterious people. I don’t really have a lot of secrets,” Ribisi says.

I find it comforting to see within Ribisi the next generation of art and activism. At the end of the “Honey” performance, the camera pans horizontally showing Lucia Ribisi lying on a table, her arms at her side and her back arched, staring at the ceiling. She’s still in her bra and panties and a single egg rests on her abdomen. “I make artwork so that I can communicate to other people. I’ve [been] lucky enough to be able to communicate to a huge audience, and the longer I can reach my arms, the better.”

Photographer: Eddie Chacon at Metropolis of Vice.

Stylist: Sissy Sainte-Marie.

Follow E. Ryan Ellis on Twitter (@erellis). He's elevating his meme game one animal at a time.