Interview with LYLE XOX: Underneath the sculpture

Meet LYLE XOX: The Mixed-Media Self Portrait Artist who is Turning Trash Into Fine Art

LYLE XOX has reinvented the self-portrait. Using nothing but recycled pieces of ‘rubbish’, the Vancouver-based artist crafts facial sculptures, which he showcases to his 147K admirers on Instagram. There is, however, quite literally, more to Lyle than meets the eye. This former makeup artist is an author, he is one of the 2019 Vogue World 100, and he is such good friends with Rolf from Viktor and Rolf that they sent his mum a handbag, which she uses for “very special occasions”. LYLE XOX also made the top 10 list of Club Kids in New York, all without being a club kid or living in New York. “I just couldn’t stop laughing” revealed Lyle. “I don’t party or do drugs. It just has nothing to do with me”.

LYLE XOX is not a club kid, but if anybody were to ever hack his phone, they might not be as convinced.“Smile therapy. Wild horses couldn’t drag. Bit and Buffy. Sidesaddle salad. Jockey. Long names that make no sense. Giddy-up!” Began Lyle, in sharing one of his recent phone notes which he left himself in the middle of the night, while high on nothing more than remnants of an earlier mug of coffee and his passion for the craft. Without expanding on any other context, the artist continued: “Sad sack Sally’s always bringing the energy down at the local polo club. You can’t ride with us. Stallion’s and scallion’s cooking group chomping at the bits. Glue factories”. 

“People are going to think I was on recreational drugs while I wrote this, but I wasn’t. Drugs are not part of my life, despite what people might think from looking at my persona on social media”. 

It seems that leaving yourself hallucinatory notes at 3 am are, however, the key to success, as LYLE XOX is currently one of the most talked-about mixed-media artists on the planet. Lyle’s reputation has led to collaborations with the likes of Gucci, Moschino and Viktor and Rolf, with the latter standing out to the artist as one of the most memorable partnerships from his career thus far. 

“I woke up one morning, and Rolf had sent a message from his personal email saying that he wanted to meet me. I had to do a double-take because I was receiving this from somebody I had admired for so long. I used to have a creative journal where I would cut out pictures from magazines, and many of the images I used were from Viktor and Rolf fashion shows. So, when they told me that they were fans of my work, I was incredibly honoured”.

Lyle expanded on his trip to Amsterdam to meet the designers, sharing: “I remember having an amazing conversation with them. There were no pretences, and there were no airs that were put on. It was just humans, in a room, having a real conversation about art and life and struggles, and everything was incredibly real. That was the start of the relationship”. 

It was a friendship which later saw the Dutch duo write the forward for Lyle’s book, Lyle XOX: Head of Design. Their gesture was matched by the artist, who created a look inspired by their work to coincide with their words at the beginning of his book. “I remember just creating the piece in gratitude to them, and the whole experience was so magical” shared Lyle:

“It’s a piece that I will always have with me because my book is like my baby. I will never have children, but it is the closest thing I will get, and it means a lot to me that they are a part of that process”. 

The publication of Lyle XOX: Head of Design was a momentous milestone for the artist, who revealed the personal message behind the book:“It reminds me to dream big, to set those goals and not be afraid to put something out there that may have previously seemed unattainable. It is also a reminder to work hard, to preserve, and to dedicate your life to your craft because amazing things can happen if you do. I wanted it to be published by Rizzoli, and I wanted to work with Fabien Baron, who did the art direction. I have so much respect for him and his team in New York. I was so moved when I brought them into the project. It was just an amazing experience”. 

LYLE XOX then went on to address the external motives behind the book, sharing: “Within the pages of the book, I really just wanted people to challenge their perception of beauty to re-evaluate what they deem as trash, and what they dispose of on a daily basis. I hope it challenges their idea of what rubbish is because certain rubbish can be elevated to fine art.

My work has continued to evolve since its publication, and I feel as though it is a lot more sculptural, so I am looking forward to publishing my next book”.

The canals of Amsterdam may have been LYLE XOX’s playground with Viktor and Rolf; however, they are only a short hop to the streets of London Town, where the Canadian artist also recently travelled to collaborate with FKA twigs. The artist shared how he met the singer in the basement of a theatre after her show in Vancouver, revealing how “we had a really beautiful connection, and I think of her as an amazing artist on many levels”. He continued: “She has an aura which is just so bright and warm and we just completely connected. I flew to London to work with her, and for much of the time while I was creating, she wasn’t even in the city, but she trusted me to do my work. We have mutual respect and adoration for each others craft, which I think is lovely”. 

LYLE XOX’s ability to turn rubbish into a high form of art continues to move his fans across the globe; however, it is his humble roots in the rural municipality of Saskatchewan that first allowed Lyle to master his unique craft. “My mum is an artist, and so, growing up, I would always immerse in craft time with her” began Lyle, who expanded: 

“We did not have access to any high-end art stores, and so I just grew up in that world of creating something from nothing.

 I still remember the first time I watched my mum create a sculpture of a peacock, and she made it entirely out of egg cartons. I remember thinking that she was a magician because she could create a beautiful piece out of nothing. When I look back on my life, that moment was pivotal. So, over the years, the art practice has always been rooted in that notion and concept: to find ways to take trash, turn it into art, and challenge people’s perception of what is actually rubbish.”

Another influential figure from his childhood was his aunt, who also left a powerful impact on a young-Lyle. “I always looked up to her and admired her because she travelled all over the world and she was just an amazing woman who was oozing with culture and worldliness” began the artist, in his admiration for his relative.

“When she visited me in this small town, it felt like an idol who was coming to visit me, and she really was an inspiration to me in terms of makeup, fashion and art, and what exists beyond the four walls of that small town”.

“She just painted the picture of possibility”.

In combining the inspiring elements of his aunt’s art and fashion choices, LYLE XOX highlights the intertwining relationship between the two industries, which is such a prevalent theme at Runway Gallery. “I definitely feel that the relationship between art and fashion is incredibly symbiotic. We both feed from each other and have a mutual respect which elevates each genre” shared Lyle, on the subject of the parallels between the two worlds. “Both industries address social climate issues and play off one another. Even in my world of art, I am constantly looking to designers and working with fashion houses. 

One day, Rolf specifically shared how ‘we are both storytellers’, and that was the commonality and the tie between us. They are telling the story that takes place in one particular part of the world, and I’m telling the story of another”. 

In the discussion of LYLE XOX, it is impossible not to draw attention to the artist’s role in the ever-important fight for sustainability, which he addresses through his recycled creations and stand against waste.

“In the past year, I have seen consumers pushing for sustainability, and they are holding people accountable. I love the conversations which are taking place. I think that the first thing businesses should do is re-examine their business model because there are so many factors that become overlooked. Individuals need to find a way to lower their carbon footprint and their level of waste while still honouring their roots. I know that much of this is overlooked in the name of luxury, but the move towards new luxury will not be for the masses”. 

Lyle continued: “Even in the art world, I am constantly having conversations with other artists and telling them not to discard old materials. I want to use them in my pieces because it is one less thing for me to go out an purchase. The fact I can give these things new life is material”. 

In recent months, consumers have become noticeably aware of their carbon footprint; however, they have also adapted to life under the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Lyle also addressed when asked how he maintained his creativity during such a strange time. “As challenging as the situation is, I have my own studio space, meaning I was able to self- isolate in my creative nest.

I have spent every day in the studio creating, and the work is just pouring out. I can’t even keep up with shooting them all at the moment” 

“Artists all over the world are creating work that will be looked back upon years from now. It will be known that there is an additional and subconscious layer to their work, and this will speak volume over time. I would urge all artists to keep creating during this time. What they are doing right now is just so important”. 

Keep up to date with LYLE XOX’s work by following his Instagram @lylexox and pick up his book from Rizzoli here.