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Los Angeles graffiti, squeaky-voiced models, and animals carved into Indian temples all have a home in Deedee Cheriel’s paintings. The L.A.-based artist creates worlds where bird-headed ladies go around with trees on fire and wear evening gowns. A bear on a tandem bike seems very ordinary.

Nalini “Deedee” Cheriel is a visual artist who started out creating record covers and T-shirts for the Oregon music scene in the early ‘90s. She played in several all-girl bands and co-created the semi-autobiographical film
Down and Out with the Dolls. Now residing in Los Angeles, Deedee is currently represented by McCaig-Welles Gallery in Brooklyn. All images © copyright the artist, all rights reserved.

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I’m drawn to the creatures in your work. They seem equally inspired by folklore, fable, and nursery rhymes. Who are these animal-human hybrids?

I traveled to Chile when I was 20. I was reading a bunch of Latin American writers at the time, so perhaps some of the magical realism in the literature affected my painting. The first girl with a bird head I painted was a cartoonish portrait of this girl in Santiago. I was living there, painting and playing in bands. My band mate lived on the twenty-first floor of this building with his girlfriend. We would sit around and drink wine and do lots of drugs, and his skinny, model girlfriend would wander around the apartment talking in a little high-pitched voice. She was like this little beautiful bird in a cage, living up above the dirty city.

What are some of the images, styles, or traditions that influence your paintings?

I am mostly influenced by my surroundings. I live in the Echo Park neighborhood in Los Angeles. I really love all the murals and graffiti here. I like the way that murals tell a story or document a moment in history. I try to use similar narratives in my work. I love the way people try to cover up graffiti with a slightly wrong color of paint and that it is meant to look better than the tags they cover. I mimic the layers sometimes in my work. All the layers of paint stencils and tags and stickers around L.A. add to a vibrant culture of street art here. I am not immune to its impact.

Most of my imagery comes from places I have lived, as well. I grew up in Oregon spending a lot of time camping in the summers, being out in the woods. I love animals. I love nature. I am also dramatically influenced by the time I spent in India visiting family—the extremely bright colors that are used in political propaganda, all of the animal imagery used in temple art.

Are there any particular visual artists you admire?

Laura Owens’s work is very seductive. I like Damien Hirst’s butterflies. I admire Cindy Sherman and Yoko Ono for being ahead of their time—Valie Export, Louise Bourgeois, Meret Oppenheim. I am not sure if “admire” is the right word, but I adore Tracy Emin. I suppose I love her lawless, reckless, unabashed, unapologetic, drunken self-absorbed style of art making. Contemporaries: Maya Hayuk, Mel Kadel. Shepard Fairey inspires me because it seems he dreams limitlessly and is really kind to other people.

How has your work evolved over time?

I guess the same way I have. I feel a lot of my life was spent in the Darkness. I lived in fear of trying, fear of being myself, and buried myself under different addictions. It wasn’t until I freed myself, that I could really create, and my work got a lot better. It seems that my work gets more vibrant and happy and light the older and healthier I become.

What materials have you used in your work and what determines what type of canvas you choose?

I paint with acrylics on wood and paper. I like using found objects, paper, posters, house paint, pens, etc.

How did you go from making album covers and T-Shirts to painting?

I grew up being taught I could do anything I wanted. I used to play in a bunch of girl rock bands. The first band I was in, Adickdid, was on tour in Los Angeles, we were playing at this little club called Jabberjaw, and Beck opened for us. We had run out of T-Shirts so we silk-screened the shirts people were wearing. We put out our records on our own label and did all the art. I guess when I got sick of all the bickering band mates, art was always something to fall back on. I didn’t have to rely upon anyone, or invest a bunch of time working with other people, pouring energy into a project, only to have it not work out.


TMN Editor Nicole Pasulka believes she could beat a lie detector. When she sits in a chair she almost never puts her feet on the floor. Even though she likes the internet a lot, she is convinced that people will always read magazines and she is secretly building one in her basement. More by Nicole Pasulka