The Kaplan Twins on Painting Nude Selfies and the Malleability of Social Media
While the other students in their class played in after-school sports and typical middle school happenings, now 24-year-old twins Lexi and Allie Kaplan were busy frequenting New York City's best museums and Broadway shows with their mom, and now momager, Amy. Growing up in Short Hills, New Jersey, the twins, who at first glance conjure up an image of the Olsen sisters, got a taste of city life and its art scene, and were hooked. While enrollment at NYU was a predictable next step, what they would do with their painting degrees post graduation was not—specifically NSFW (not safe for work). After upping and moving to LA, Lexi and Allie hit the ground running with oil paintings of leaked celebrity selfies, and the rest is almost history. Here, the twins talk about their journey to becoming artists, how conversations on social media shape their strokes, their naturally tousled manes, and more.
Job title: Artists
Neighborhood: Brentwood, Los Angeles
You guys have amazing Olsen sister-esque strands. Can you tell us your everyday hair routine?
Everyone loves our hair, we could always use a little extra something to enhance the waves but for the most part we let it air dry. We were doing a shoot for Flaunt Magazine, and [the hairstylist] wrapped our hair up in little rollers and used a diffuser, it looked almost the same [as it does when it air dries] but with more volume. But for going-out hair, we use Kerastase L'incroyable Blowdry Lotion before blowing it out, then to get rid of the frizz we apply Moroccanoil Treatment Original to slick it down.
Who does your gorgeous blonde color?
We go to Dom Forletta at 454 North Salon in LA. We have dark brows so we needed a balance, but something that wasn't high maintenance. Dom brightened up our blonde perfectly for summer.
You also have great skin. What’s the secret?
We use Johnson’s Baby Lotion every single day after the shower. My mom has been doing that forever, and she has the best, softest skin. We also never wear heavy makeup. We keep it natural.
Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming artists.
We were never the girls into after-school activities or sports or clubs. We really just loved doing art, going home and drawing and painting. We’ve been doing it since we were little. We grew up very close to the city so my mom would take us out of school some Mondays and take us to museums, galleries and Broadway shows almost every Monday—she calls it Mama Monday—because we wanted to do something in the Arts. We did art all throughout high school so when it came time to choosing a college, we wanted a school where we could learn and be part of the city life close to the art galleries. But we didn’t want to be behind the scenes, we said we should be doing the art so we enrolled in NYU, and we majored in painting. We each had our own professors and classes. Eventually we thought, well this isn’t fun, why aren’t we painting together? So we started taking classes together, but our professors said, you can’t collaborate, but then they’d see our work and say oh, this makes sense. We moved out to [LA] after graduation and asked our mom to give us a year, and let’s see what happens. We started posting on Instagram and it went from there.
I (Allie) interned at Paul Kasmin Gallery and Christie’s, then worked corporate at Louis Vuitton for a little. I went into work [at Louis Vuitton] one day, half of my hair was in braids and I was wearing red lipstick, and my boss came to me and said, “We’re going to have to dress a bit more corporate,” and I thought this is not for me. I (Lexi) interned at Abrons Art Center, a non-profit where I was teaching kids 6-13 art. From there I went to the New Museum in the education department. In LA, we once taught a nude figure drawing class at SoHo House.
What inspired you to paint nude selfie art?
We like to think a lot about what we see on social media, and the topics people are talking about. So when we did [the nude selfie art] it was around the time when celebrity females’ photos were leaked, and about how these women felt like they were being slut shamed and made to feel bad about themselves so we said, what if we make these into art works, and say it’s okay to feel beautiful in that moment, it’s okay to love yourself and put it out here. We painted Kim Kardashian’s naked body because we wanted to include people who promote body positivity. I would love to hear what she would have to say about it.
We painted ourselves nude too, because we had to include ourselves in the conversation. Of course, those [leaked celebrity] photos are never meant for the public, but in the moment those women felt beautiful and they wanted to show themselves off to whomever they want, and that’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with that. When we make work, we look at conversations that are being had or conversations we want to open up. But we’ll never tell people how to feel about our art—we just want to start a conversation.
Confidence, body image, and social media—your paintings exude all these elements. Do you think social media is hurting or helping women’s perceptions of themselves?
It’s a little bit of both. There’s always going to be a positive and negative aspect to it. It’s all about how you use it and what you’re looking at. Social media is very useful in promoting positivity but there will always be people who are going to bring you down, but that’s going to happen regardless of whether you’re on social media or in real life. We have a lot of young artists asking us how we got to where we are, and we tell them to really go for it, fight for it, believe in yourself—because if you don’t believe in yourself, who else will?
How has your art changed since the NSFW oil paintings?
It’s becoming more pop art for today’s society. It’s what we’re seeing specifically on Instagram. For example, we have a piece that includes a painting of a pair of Yeezys and it says “Shit! I just spilled kombucha on my Yeezys.” What people are interested in talking about drives our next series and so on, based on what’s going on in the world and our culture. As that changes, we respond to it and make work about it. I think we’re very interested in hearing what millennials are talking about. Topics that are relatable resonate with us and our art.
Describe a typical work day.
We go to the studio, we’ll start painting and then maybe need paint so we run to the art store. We sent mom to the art store once and she broke the canvas so we never did that again. Unless we have meetings or a photo shoot, we’re in the studio making art. It’s in an office complex down the street which is amazing because if we forget something, we can just run back home to get it.
Do you guys strictly work on pieces together, simultaneously?
For the most part. Unless one of us has a kidney infection, like now. Ha.
Curious—how do you transport your art?
If it’s local, we rent a U-haul, load, it, drive it, and do it ourselves. You can hire art handlers, but we don’t trust anyone. Plus, it’s so expensive, and we’re strong, we can do it. It took a while, but we did it. Unless we have to ship it, then we paint the art on an unstretched canvas, roll it up, then the receiver stretches it upon arrival.
Inquiring minds also want to know: what does it take to sell art?
There’s a lot that goes into it. We never wanted it to be just about our art, we wanted people to know us. It’s important for people to have a connection to the artist themselves in addition to the art. We compare it to like going to a concert and not seeing the artist perform on stage—you’re missing something.
Where can we view your paintings right now?
They'll be in Montauk Beach House in the Hamptons this summer from July 3rd through the 8th. It’s also gong to be on display in Roman Fine Art.
What kind of pieces do you have hung in your house?
We have some pieces by Romero Britto, Damian Hirst, and Paul Gerben. Britto, he’s a pretty big artist in Miami, and once we did a pop-up performance in Miami at our friend’s space, the Factory, at Delano, where art by various artists was on display. Long story short, we met Britto there and that’s cool because we’ve been fans of his art for a while. It’s cool when the art community overlaps.
What’s it like having Amy, your mom, as your momager?
We’ve been doing everything ourselves for the past two years. Then it got to a point when there was so much stuff pouring in, and we couldn’t make the work and do all the emails and manage our Instagram. So we said, here mom, this is your role, run with it.
How does one snag collaborations with Good American, Uggs, and Juicy Couture?
Sometimes we’ll wear the brand and tag them, then they’ll notice. For example, we interviewed with The Coveteur in our matching Juicy Couture tracksuits and they reached out to us then we met over coffee in New York. I think it’s just about building relationships.
You often wear the same outfits. Has that been a thing since you were little?
My mom would dress us similarly or dress us in the same things but in different colors. We used to try to look different. We actually thought we were fraternal until three or four years ago. We had to do a DNA test, it came back identical. Joke’s on us.
In one of your Instagram captions you wrote, “Miami is all about posing in front of exotic cars you don’t own.” If that’s the case, then what is LA?
Posing in front of popular walls or doing anything that looks good on Instagram.
You have a friend in town for 48 hours. Where do you tell them to go?
One day go to the Broad and LACMA, do a whole art day. The next day, go to Venice and ride the bird scooters, it’s so fun! Afterwards go shopping on Abbot Kinney, and later to Poppy for drinks.
What’s your ultimate longterm goal?
We want to sell art left and right, work non-stop and become full household names. Especially with the art we’re doing now there aren’t many major female artists who’ve achieved that level of success. Also, we would love to change people’s perspective of fine artists, and to merge fine art with entertainment and music.
Follow the Kaplan twins on Instagram: @the_kaplan_twins