Between snips, giggles and the soft tousles of strands, Portland artist Lacey Brown transforms her patron with each lock of hair that hits the ground below. Armed with her sharp shears and a turquoise blow drier, she could be some sort of hair-styling superhero. Throughout our interview, Brown discusses how her hair-styling skills challenge the definition of conventional art and demonstrates how color theory and shape can be represented beyond the canvas. Taking a seat in her vintage salon chair, the client becomes an active participant in the collaboration, all the while partaking in some therapeutic gossip.
Eleven: Tell us a little about your background and what got you into art.
Lacey Brown: I grew up in Salt Lake City. A lot of the people in my family are into the arts and are craftsmen and artists. I remember growing up and watching as my grandmother and mom re-upholstered furniture in our house. My grandma went to art school to study photography and painting, and my father, though he doesn’t like to say he is an artist, makes beautiful jewelry. I grew up in a very creative environment. I started out by taking painting classes when I was younger, which later turned into a passion for pottery. I never really knew what I was doing, but I always knew I wanted to make art. I made a lot of prints, drawing, crafts and jewelry, and eventually I made my own painting company.
11: What kind of painting company?
LB: I consulted with clients and helped them choose colors for their homes, which was really artistic and fun. Remember in 2004 when every room in the house was a different color? Rooms were coral, pink, blue and beige and so it was a lot of fun. That was my first independent artistic job where I was able to see a direction that I could follow.
11: How do you get into that type of work?
LB: You make it up. I mean that was in the early 2000s and there was that housing boom and so many people were buying and flipping houses. I would save up money by helping my brother flip homes, and then some of my friends also invited me to do color consulting for them in New York, which was wild. I loved making a connection with someone and their allowing and trusting me into their house.
11: It’s very personal.
LB: It is! Generally, I would then also come over and paint the house as well, so about a two- or three-week process. This allowed me to make enough money to also have the opportunity to make my own art on the side.
11: Why did you transition from that type of business to doing hair?
LB: I wanted something a little more stable. This was a really fun job that helped me pay my way through college in my twenties, but I didn’t feel it was sustainable enough to carry me into a career that I could stick to through my forties. It’s tough to be an interior designer anymore. You need to have a rich husband or parents to kind of invest in you, so I had to move on.
11: Does a lot of your work require collaboration with the person requesting your services?
LB: In both house painting and hair styling, collaboration is important. You are dealing with shape and color like with any other art. In both of those realms, your medium or your client is responding back. As far as hair styling is concerned, you have to be concerned about what the individual wants, but also what their hair does.
11: How did your educational background in art influence your work as a hair stylist?
LB: The thing that transcends all of the mediums I have worked in is the color wheel. Complementary, primary, or secondary colors that you may use in painting for example, are the same thing you have to utilize with hair.
11: Do you think anything could be art? Could everyone be an artist?
LB: There are all these words for art: decorative art, fashion, traditional art, hair styling, cooking. All these things are art. They kind of blur the definitions of art, but everything that you do within these activities that doesn’t just require mindless work and sitting at a computer all day can be art.
11: Is there a style of doing hair that you align with most?
LB: Mine is much more relaxed. There are always styles and trends, but overall I like to work with each individual to express or enhance who they are and the look that they already have. Even with my own hair, I have always been very lazy in the sense that I want to be able to roll out of bed and not have to spend a lot of time getting my hair ready. I always liked that natural look that only enhanced how I already looked. I like easy hair, cutting shapes into hair that can work for people as their hair grows out as well.
11: Does having to work within people’s specific styling requests limit your creativity?
LB: I don’t think it does. The part that I have always loved is working with my hands. I love that innate sense of bringing something out of the collaborative effort of having someone in my chair and having them tell me what they want. Someone can bring me a request and then we use that as a platform for the style that we arrive at.
11: For a lot of artists, their work is very personal, therapeutic even. Does having to work on someone’s image and having to collaborate with someone else change that for you?
LB: You get to connect with someone else and collaborate in what you create. The art is the skill, but the art is also the connection and community that you build from that. It isn’t just a haircut; the therapeutic aspect of doing hair and getting into the zone … that you may also achieve from doing a print or making a painting … is also important. Doing hair, the process is important, but the differentiation is that you get to do it to someone else; it requires trust. You get to talk about what is going on in the neighborhood. Coming to the salon has offered some people a little break, a place to reflect and recuperate.
11: How do you think the Portland culture of style compares to other cities?
LB: Other cities just have different trends, like the big hair culture of Texas, “the bigger the hair the closer to God.” Blowouts look different across cities as well. In Portland, we are much more relaxed. We definitely have the “low maintenance” hairstyles, and we don’t want to get up and have to worry about our hair. We know it’s just going to rain on us anyway. On the other hand, I also think it’s really cool that other cities take hairstyling more seriously, and cities like New York have colorists that specialize in just coloring your hair, for example. I also think that Portlanders aren’t used to having to make appointments two weeks apart just for their hair; it’s not DIY, it’s not Portland.
11: Do you still make art outside of doing hair?
LB: I love to draw, I still go over to the Hippo studio. The one thing that I love about the effect of doing hair on my other art skills is that it has made me a lot faster. When I was doing art in school before, I could do a series that would literally take me a year to finish, and that’s just not sustainable. I love Life drawing, and my view on art has become so much less of the internal and so much more of the external, like showing the art of life, the “this is what we do” part.
11: What do you think Trump’s hairstyle says about him?
LB: Ha, well I hope I would not go to jail because of answering this question. Hair should reflect and follow your lifestyle. The choices that you make should reflect how you look on the outside.
Trumps hair seems fake.
11: It’s all a show?
LB: It’s not how I would cut his hair. The fear of the hair moving as he walks into the wind would be way too much work to worry about. Maybe when you start covering up for one thing, like his bald spots, other problems start to need to be covered up too. Maybe he is hiding something. But yes, your hair does reflect something about who you are.
11: What influence do you think political upheaval might have on hair, now that people seem a little more fired up about politics?
LB:I think the music, the art and the hair will be influenced. I think the style has been very natural, these bohemian, hippy styles. I think we may get really edgy again. Maybe everyone will get gothic again. I think that some of us can now appreciate our history and past, and I hope that understanding will help us to create positive changes moving forward.»
– Lucia Ondruska