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June 20, 2018

With her bright, bold paintings and murals, Annaleis Chermisqui, also known as “TalkAboutBarbie,” is making her mark on the LA art scene.

Like many success stories in Los Angeles, Annaleis Chermisqui’s began with waiting tables.

At 20, she decided to leave college, packed up her car, and headed west, intent on making her name as an artist. Then, as it so often does for aspiring stars in La La Land, reality set in. Chermisqui was faced with the fact that she had few connections in her new hometown and didn’t even really know her way around.

Chermisqui eventually landed a waitress job, and she convinced the restaurant to hang one of her paintings on the wall. Within three hours, it sold for $1,000—and she had her proverbial big break.

Today, Chermisqui describes herself as a fantasy pop artist—also known as “TalkAboutBarbie” on social media, where she has amassed a loyal following—who uses spray paint, glitter, and other mediums to create bold, colorful works.

We recently took a tour of Chermisqui’s studio and asked the artist and busy new mom about the inspiration behind her work, how artists can stand out in the age of social media, and the power of "art therapy."

Most artists discover their passion at an early age. How did you get started?

I was always weird and artistic. I felt like I was always cool, even if some people didn’t think I was. I have a really profound memory of being in fourth grade, I did a piece that the teacher held up, and I still remember how proud of it I was. It was an Egyptian mosaic. I really respected my teacher, and when she was that proud of my work and I was too, it gave me that validation.

What came next?

I started out doing a lot of music festivals on the East Coast, live canvas-painting. I was young, in college, and I started really selling. And I realized I wasn’t only saving on the $200 ticket they were comping me to attend the shows—I was getting work. That transformed me and the direction of my career.

You say you “felt trapped” in college and came to LA at 20. What was that adventure like?

I just packed up the car. Kind of cliche, but I was over the cold. And it’s a different feeling in New York—there’s a lot of hustle, but I feel like my destiny is supposed to be in Los Angeles, so I had to make it here. I saved up some money, but I didn’t know anything. I was at a restaurant job for a couple of months and rented a room. I got one of my paintings on the restaurant wall within two weeks, and within three hours, it sold for $1,000. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a sign from God. You move somewhere knowing no one. It was reassuring.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Fashion, pop culture, and drag queens. The gays have always accepted me. I always say, the only thing straight about me is my husband. My best friend has been on RuPaul’s Drag Race. They’re very inspiring. Their whole life is art—they make their own clothes, they bedazzle their shoes, they paint their faces. I’ve always been drawn to it.

How much of your art is the performance behind it, versus the finished product itself?

To me, the finished product is number one. The performance is like, you’ve got to work to get it done. I feel like my whole image is everything that has to do with my art. I have to keep up with the image I set forth and always be who I am. I always hold myself to a high standard.

What are your thoughts on the state of art today, with multimedia and social playing a bigger role? Does that help or hurt?

I do OK with it, but there are moments where I wish it didn’t exist, because I know some really huge artists who don’t have social media, because before social media, they were just known for their art. Now you have to do both. But there’s no turning back time, so I’m sticking with it. I’d prefer people just see your work rather than asking, “Oh, what’s your Instagram?” But you’ve got to keep up with it all.

How have you found success in spreading your work?

With social media, it’s kind of like you don’t have to pay for your concert ticket anymore—you can see people’s work all the time. You can’t feel their energy, but you can see their work. I find artists also respect their followers, so that’s done well for business. It kind of makes you feel good too. Everyone’s their own worst critic, but when you look at fans and fellow artists and they really love your work, it makes you feel good about yourself and what you do.

We don’t necessarily think of artists as entrepreneurs, but in many ways they are. Would you agree?

It takes more than just what a painting looks like—there’s hard work too. If you’re very smart and good at what you do, really good at manifestation, you can do it all. I don’t think there are any really famous or great artists that weren’t smart. Because if they weren’t smart and didn’t reach that point, it was a hobby.

What’s your advice to young artists out there?

Never give up, of course. But whatever type of artist you describe yourself as—if you say you’re a painter or a designer and that’s what you do, that’s what you should actively do every day. Someone once said to me, “I’m a painter.” And I was like, “I haven’t seen you paint.” You have to do it, physically, every day. If you don’t do it every day, your work starts to suffer. Life has its highs and lows, my journey wasn’t easy, but eventually it worked out and blossomed. I found success because I stuck with it.

You’re also actively involved in charity work, using art to reach young people. Tell us about that.

I’m on the board of the Dee Dee Jackson Foundation and we do art therapy, to inspire kids that have tough home lives. We want to show them there’s always a creative outlet. The hope is, instead of going down a drug path or a violence path, that they use the creative arts instead in those moments of emotional desperation. I’m really big into that. If it’s painting a painting or writing a song or dancing a dance, I support it. It’s very important to me and I put a lot of work into it. We go to Boys & Girls Clubs in tough neighborhoods and we do either a six-week workshop or sometimes we do day visits or two-hour, how-to-write-music classes. It’s inspiring.

As someone with a creative eye on fashion, what are your thoughts on American Made Supply Co.?

Comfortable basics that will outlast time. The style never gets old. And the quality is very good. When you open up the box, the wrapping paper says “You Are Awesome”—that’s very nice. Makes anyone feel good. Very smart thinking.

What does it mean to you to be American Made?

You take for granted what you’re born into, but when you hear about countries where people literally have no access to anything outside of their system, that puts it in perspective. Me, I maybe came from nothing, but inside of me, I still always knew what I was going to be and how I would get there. I would die if I didn’t fulfill it. It’s inside of me. Some countries, women aren’t allowed to do anything—and I’m grateful I’m not there. Because I’ve got a mouth and I talk back. Some countries don’t really believe in the arts at all. I’m grateful you really can be who you want to be in America, freely.

By Rod Kurtz