Sam McKinniss, Lana Del Rey Reading The Paris Review, 2023, five-color offset lithograph with hot foil stamping on acid-free 352-gsm Sappi McCoy Silk, plate size 24 ½ x 18 ¾ in, paper size 30 x 22 in.
The latest image in our recently relaunched print series is by Sam McKinniss and features the singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey—white-gloved, in a sun hat—reading the Review. The lithograph print, based on a painting by McKinniss, was made with the help of Dusty Hollensteiner at Publicide Inc.; on Friday, September 8, at 9 P.M., the print, made in a limited edition of twenty-five, will be made available for sale to the public at parisreviewprints.org. McKinniss and I talked on the phone a few weeks ago about his process, Lana’s latest album, and images of women reading on the internet.
What led you to make an image of Lana Del Rey reading The Paris Review?
A friend of mine told me that once upon a time she was having a bad day, so her boyfriend bought her a copy of Lana Del Rey’s poetry book to cheer her up. It worked. Then I thought: What if Lana Del Rey has been photographed somewhere reading? I started googling for pictures of “Lana Del Rey reading,” and I found a photograph of her reading her own book of poetry. Based on that, I decided to make a picture of Lana Del Rey reading The Paris Review, which is not so hard to believe that she does, from time to time.
What do you think she would be reading in The Paris Review?
What did you think of her latest album, by the way? I like a lot of its geographical references—“I say I live in Rosemead / Really, I’m at the Ramada,” and all that.
It’s wildly inventive—and a long album for her. I’ll listen to it while I’m driving or working, on repeat. And there are moments over the course of the album, which feels like a big, long, novel-length story in the form of pop songs, that still sneak up on me. “Margaret,” featuring Bleachers, is a good one. I can’t believe it, the way she sings “By the way, the party is December 18.” What is she even talking about?
Lana Del Rey is an important figure to me—I think she’s a genius. Incidentally, when I’m not in New York, I happen to live and work in the small town where she went to boarding school. Also, she was born the day before I was, on the summer solstice in 1985. Many people of my generation feel strongly about her—that she’s so intelligent and so stylish and so creative, and so tapped into whatever the zeitgeist is. She’s a poet, but she’s a pop star, but she’s a style icon, but she’s a touring musician. She’s visionary while using pastiche and cliché. She does something that very few people can do well, which is to take existing material and rework it into something fresh and revealing. I mean, the second part of “Taco Truck x VB” is self-plagiarism, for Christ’s sake. Remarkable. She’s done it time and again, and has done since the advent of Lana Del Rey the persona, a pastiche of a name.
You made a painting of her in 2018 that is quite different: she’s standing up singing and holding a microphone and a cigarette. Her hair is brown there. How does this new version of her feel distinct?
It has a lot do with the styling. She’s wearing liquid black cat eyeliner in the photo my lithograph is based on. Lana has pulled so much fashion and other pop-cultural references from the fifties and sixties and seventies. I wanted to paint her in that eye makeup because it looks so great in print—it’s a vintage look from the heyday of magazines. It harkens back to the visual achievement of older magazine editorials in general.
How long did the painting take? Did you make multiple versions, or did it come all at once?
The process begins on the internet, with a search. I relate to that as a quest—which might sound corny, but I try to think in terms of the most antique understanding of a search—not the way we understand it now, as something that takes five seconds. It’s like I’m trying to recall or recollect something that I believe is out there but that has gone missing. There’s an image I would like to see again, even though I never know exactly what it is. The instant recovery of so much visual memory via internet searching reveals something about the accumulated excess of habitual media consumption, of living through these extended periods of high cognitive load, but that’s a story for another day. Finding it took a day or two.
I printed it out and I lived with it for a few weeks. I looked at it for a long time. Then I made an oil painting on paper. I wanted to make a big, quick portrait, and I made it in an afternoon so it looked immediate and sudden. I didn’t want it to look like I struggled, and I did not struggle with it. I had several sheets primed and ready to go in case I wasn’t happy with what I did, but I was happy with it. I think I hit all the notes in one take, so to speak. Once the painting was dry, I brought it over to Dusty Hollensteiner, my printing guy at Publicide Inc., so he could help me turn it into a lithograph. I painted on Lanaquarelle paper, by the way—cotton rag developed by sixteenth-century monks, still in production at a French mill called Lana.
This idea of not struggling is interesting to me. Do you often struggle with paintings, or do they come quickly to you?
It’s not a struggle to bring the brush to the canvas. I do struggle, but not with the process, and not with the physical act of going to a studio and making a painting. I struggle with knowing that if I make a painting or a print or some other kind of image, it will enter the media landscape and it will have to go toe to toe with every other visual asset that already exists and is bouncing around across the digital universe. There, it will have to compete for viewers’ attention, and how it goes at that stage will determine its success or failure—not entirely, but certainly something about it.
When I first saw the print, I thought of the photographs of famous women reading books that float around the internet from time to time, like the one of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses. Were you thinking about that genre when you were working on your print?
I didn’t think about it, but there’s a lot to be mined there. I don’t like that genre, often, because it can be used to poke fun, as if these women are nincompoops. And I just don’t believe that you can have a successful media career and be stupid. It doesn’t make sense to me. But some of those photographs are great, like the ones of Paris Hilton reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. She’s a brilliant woman and a published author herself. She’s been through a lot and she manipulates the media in fascinating ways.
You gave this image a very literal, deadpan title, which appears on the print itself: Lana Del Rey Reading The Paris Review.
Well, there’s no reason to beat around the bush. It is what it is. My work can seem on the nose while also feeling deeply sincere to me. It’s fun to be deadpan, but sometimes a good poem is just repeating the obvious—repeating it over and over again until the words feel newer or older or less meaningful or more meaningful. You can do that sometimes just by arranging them on the page correctly.
The Paris Review launched its print series in 1965 with original works by over twenty major contemporary artists. The series was underwritten by Drue Heinz, a literary philanthropist and former publisher of the magazine, and was directed by the American painter Jane Wilson, who also contributed a print. The series has since grown to include more than five dozen original works by acclaimed artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning, Marisol Escobar, and Sol LeWitt. MoMA purchased a full set for their permanent collection in 1967, and the series has been exhibited internationally. The print series was revived in 2022 with four prints by Rashid Johnson, Dana Schutz, Julie Mehretu, and Ed Ruscha.
Sophie Haigney is the web editor of The Paris Review.
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