A Conversation with Will Lemon

Exotic produce, a 7 act rock opera, and a cacophony of “psychedelicate” tiles are just a few reasons to get behind artist Will Lemon.  The Los Angeles-based artist answered 10 questions about his culinary skills, the beginning of his art career in New York, his hand-engraved tiles made for Kneeland Co. Rarities, and much more.

1. Let’s start from the beginning!  One of your many skills is cooking, and you attended the Culinary Academy of San Francisco.  Tell me about your first memories of making food and how you found your way to the Culinary Academy.

I love this beginning because cooking really was my first art, and to date my only real artistic training.

I was a latchkey kid in San Jose with a single dad, so learning how to cook for myself was a necessity. I remember watching cooking shows when I was as young as six years old being and enthralled by all the techniques and amazed at all the exotic produce. I was a big fan of Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Martin Yan and Jeff Smith. I remember trying to make crazy kid style French cuisine for my dad after he got off work; I took a lot of pride early on in my food. I followed this passion and ended up in San Francisco at the Culinary Academy.

2. In what year did you move to New York, and when did you begin making art?

I spent my first summer in New York in 2001, and through skateboarding, found my way into a vibrant scene of artists and musicians that were living creatively and trying to make the best art they could.  After a sheltered upbringing totally separate from any type of artistic scene, New York seemed exotic and totally irresistible. I lived there for a decade and the community and struggle it took to survive informed much of my art practice which began in earnest a few years earlier while I lived in San Francisco in the late '90s.

3. What are some of your most memorable experiences as an artist in New York, and what made you decide to move to Los Angeles?

I made a lot of artistic discoveries in New York but what hits hardest are the following:

Using dead stock screen prints that I dumpster dived from a wallpaper factory to make paintings (and eventually clothes that I sold at Opening Ceremony when they first opened).

Starting a band and performing a 7 act rock opera I wrote and directed: VII Acts of an Iron King.

Starting to work as a makeup artist after I discovered a novel technique no one else was doing to enhance our Opera performances.  Someone from Visionaire Magazine saw the live footage of our performance and gave me a shot. This was my introduction to working in the fashion photography and commercial industry which I love dearly (I still work as a makeup artist occasionally for fun projects).

My first solo show at Fuse gallery in NYC where I showed tapestries, embossings, and the prints that later became the tiles I’m working on today.

Starting a world tour as a backup dancer for my friend Devendra Banhart (sounds like a lie but I have footage).

It was just a constant flex of my hustle, trying to find ways to make money while expressing myself and gaining creative skill the best way I knew how.

4. When did you begin exploring tiles?

About 3 years ago, I was sitting in my studio imagining the wall covered in a cacophony of tiles and I couldn’t get it out of my head. That was the beginning of my obsession with creating a line of tiles that were truly different.

5. Your tiles are inspired by ancient symbology, early writing systems, and antiquity.  We both share a love of tantra art, specifically yantra, which is filled with symbology.  When I first visited your studio and saw your tiles I felt an immediate kinship, and then you dropped the word yantra and the deal was sealed!  What is it about all things ancient that speaks to you? 

Having a religious background exposed me to all types of religious iconography, and it’s always stuck with me.  There’s something wonderful about a grand metaphor, and that’s everywhere in my work. Symbology is essential, it’s basic, pure, and I think it acts on an older part of our brain.  It wakes up something ancient in us, or at least in me.  When I'm in a room with sacred decor it opens up something and I am fascinated with that feeling.

6. I am madly in love with the Troupe tiles.  It reminds me of the late, great dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham.  To see movement like that in the form of a tile just blows my mind, and the title is absolute perfection.  What inspired you to create the Troupe?

Thank you so much for that! As a lover of dance, I am deeply stoked and so happy you saw that in the Troupe. When I was making the tile, which I created specifically for Kneeland, I wanted to convey movement, but not in an overt photo realistic way. I was very loose in the forms - I was just kind of thinking about a body, bending into all of its possible poses. Writing this really makes me want to go dancing. :-)

7. You are also a musician and have excellent taste in music.  I’m curious to know if you find a connection between making food, making music, and making art?

There is an absolute connection between those practices. I’ve always believed that creativity in all its forms is always coming from the same place and you never get truly creatively exhausted as long as you move between a couple of different forms. I often find myself working on tiles and painting all day and then I get burned out on that, but jump immediately into making a beautiful dinner and I just keep the creativity flowing as long as I can until I pass out.

8. Describe your dream project.

I've got some big dreams these days but I think the first one that pops into my head would be working with a hotel to create tile entryways and site specific murals and spaced out tile walls in the rooms. Modern architecture needs more exterior texture too, and I would love to do outdoor spaces and work in different materials like concrete, resin, and ceramics. Everything is in the works and nothing is impossible.

9. You’re on the board of the Hollywood Food Coalition, whose mission is to feed and serve the immediate needs of the hungry every day of the year so they can build better lives.  How did you get involved, and how can others get involved?

I love Hofoco.org - it really changed my life! Just previous to the pandemic I started working for HOFOCO, making soups on Sundays.  When Covid hit, a lot of their older cooks couldn’t come into the kitchen so I gladly stepped into the Sunday leader role.  Over the next three years I started building a crew of cooks that would come in every week and make meals. It’s a really fun crew, mostly artists and musicians that want to give back. We crank the techno music and chop vegetables and talk shit - it's a blast. I still do it every Sunday, it’s kind of my church. Anyone who wants to volunteer is welcome! They can reach out to me or directly to Hollywood Food Coalition.  We always need people.

10. Tell me about 3 cool things happening in your life right now.

My wife Joanna and my son Billy are the most exciting and cool thing happening to me right now.  I thought being a dad would just be totally exhausting but I'm feeling so creative and psyched these days. I've got that killer dad energy just pumping through me. It helps that they're both total angels.

Me and my very good friend Devendra Banhart started a benefit concert called "KITCHEN SINK FEST" for the food coalition last year and we’re scheduled to hold it again this December at Lodge Room. We had a really great turnout and raised a lot of money for the food coalition so we’re gonna do it again this year, and it’s gonna be siiiiick!

I am also so excited about working with you and Kneeland on these “psychedelicate” tiles and interiors projects to bring some beauty into the homes of people and into the world. Thank you so much, Joanna, for having such great taste and for being such a champion for artists!