Search Party star Alia Shawkat is spending this coming weekend performing for a live audience—but instead of acting, she will be sculpting in front of fair goers at the Spring Break Art Show Los Angeles.

It turns out, the 32-year-old actress, who first rose to fame for her role as Maeby in Arrested Development, has been painting for years. But as an outsider to the art world, Shawkat had no idea how to how to introduce the world to the dreamlike paintings she started making at just 18, when a then-boyfriend let her use his parents’ basement in New Jersey as a studio.

“I was like, ‘How do I get into this art world? Do I just bring drawings and show people?’” Shawkat told Artnet News at the fair’s preview, while forming a delicate flower out porcelain clay.

Shawkat found a way when a mutual friend introduced her to Spring/Break founders Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly, suggesting they connect while they all happened to be in Italy.

Aliah Shawkat, DOLL (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Aliah Shawkat, DOLL (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

“We met and had a very fun, adventurous week together,” Shawkat said. She was flattered when they invited her to participate in the fair, and immediately knew she wanted to make it a joint presentation with her best friend, Oakland ceramicist Maria Paz, who she met while growing up in Palm Springs.

“When we were kids, we were always doodling and drawing,” Shawkat said. “We were in the desert, and it was kind of boring, so that was our outlet. Smoke pot and draw.”

They two decided to honor their roots in the booth’s title: “Desert Angels.” Shawkat’s first suggestion was “Desert Rats,” an affectionate term for people from the desert, but they eventually deemed it too aggerssive. The title now refers both to the angels that are recurring figures in Paz’s work, and to their own creative paths.

“We’re like angels who made it out of the desert—an evolution from rats to angels,” Shawkat said.

Alia Shawkat and Maria Paz'

Alia Shawkat and Maria Paz’s “Desert Angels” booth at Spring/Break Los Angeles. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Shawkat, of course, went on to a career in film and television, while Paz moved to San Francisco and learned how to glaze ceramics, fire pottery, and even how to source clay by literally digging it out of the Oakland Hills.

In addition to Spring/Break, Paz is currently showing in “Tikkun: For the Cosmos, the Community, and Ourselves,” an exhibition of work by contemporary Bay Area artists, opening today at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. She also has upcoming solo shows at Pt.2 gallery in Oakland and Darren Flook gallery in London.

Maria Paz, The Webs of our Past Lives (2018). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Maria Paz, The Webs of our Past Lives (2018). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Despite their divergent paths as adults, Shawkat and Paz have stayed close—and art has remained a core element of their friendship to this day.

“Every time we hang out in each other’s space, we make work together,” Shawkat said.

Their shared booth at Spring Break “is a little glimpse into that,” Paz added.

When the show closes, Paz will fire the works they make at the fair at Pot, a community pottery studio in Los Angeles. They plan to make just one piece each, and then exchange them to keep as mementos of the experience.

Alia Shawkat and Maria Paz'

Alia Shawkat and Maria Paz’ “Desert Angels” booth at Spring/Break Los Angeles. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Shawkat and Paz have brought in furniture from each of their work spaces to transform the space. Shawkat has also recreated the array of images she has taped on her studio wall for inspiration, including an old photo of her dad doing karate, a Chilean musician, an outtake of a photo shoot where she posed as a glamorous influencer, and a childhood snapshot from the desert.

Her oil and charcoal paintings are often based on reference photographs she takes and then mashes up with images drawn from her dreams, which she has made a habit of writing down. She typically works by stapling seven-foot-long canvases directly to the wall, painting right up to the frayed edges. The works aren’t stretched, lending them an appealingly raw quality.

“If I’m not shooting something, I try to get in the studio as much as possible,” Shawkat said. “I come in, have some coffee, put on some music, dance a little bit, and get at it.”

Alia Shawkat and Maria Paz'

Alia Shawkat and Maria Paz’s “Desert Angels” booth at Spring/Break Los Angeles. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

This creative pursuit works in tandem with her acting career. “They feed each other,” Shawkat said. “When I’m not doing one, I do the the other. That helps me—otherwise I’d quit. I don’t know if I’d ever get tired of painting, but I’d get tired of acting if I didn’t have a studio.”

Recognizing this need in 2019, she bought a studio space about a 20-minute drive from her Los Angeles home.

Shawkat had a solo show at a Palm Desert art gallery last spring, but isn’t currently represented by a dealer, so she set her own prices at Spring/Break. Taking into account both her status as an emerging artist and her acting fame, Shawkat ultimately settled on a range of $10,000 to $20,000 per painting.

Alia Shawkat and Maria Paz'

Alia Shawkat and Maria Paz’s “Desert Angels” booth at Spring/Break Los Angeles. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

(When I pointed out that Hunter Biden attempted to do the same calculus and arrived at a controversial price tag of $500,000, Shawkat was blown away. “No way! Wow, I thought I was going big,” she said.)

“I do care about [the paintings] a lot, so I want them to be appreciated,” Shawkat said. But she could also use the studio space. “I want to sell them so I can make more.”

Shawkat isn’t sure what’s next for her burgeoning art career, but she is on the lookout for more opportunities to share her paintings with the world. “I’d like to show in New York, ideally,” she said. “Just putting that out there.”

Spring Break Art Show is on view at Skylight Culver City, 5880 Adams Boulevard, Culver City Arts District, Los Angles, February 16–20, 2022. 

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