Our meeting with LadyBotas was what you would call a lucky encounter.
After a full day of skating through Madrid with Adrian Del Campo last September, we somehow ended up in a secret bar with very limited lighting.
Hung up in a corner were some surrealist paintings that immediately caught our eye. It seemed like the crew we were with were familiar with them and thus we needed to know more. So we roamed around. Searched for signs. Asked. And ended up talking with LadyBotas.
Can you introduce yourself and talk about your upbringing?
I’m Leila. Leila Rodríguez Alonso Escobar Allande. I was born on an island called La Isla Bonita or “the nice island”, which is true. I’ve moved about 27 times in my life and I’m not even 27 years old. I’m about to turn 27, though. I didn’t have the easiest childhood, but that provided lots of good things at the same time. I like thinking that otherwise it would have been so boring. When I was little I thought I was so smart because I read many books and thought I knew about lots of stuff, so I would talk to adults and try to make an impression. My mom used to get mad at me though: she told me that I couldn’t show arrogance even though I knew more. And then I got grounded without access to books. As I grew up I realised my mom was right. Absolutely no one is better than anyone. Also, I stopped reading that much, especially after getting acquainted with the sport I do best: partying.
What is your main occupation?
Today, I don’t have a main occupation. I studied social work, which is a beautiful career, but over the last year I decided there were things out there that I liked much more. Helping others is amazing, but I needed to check other unexplored parts of myself that were screaming out. That’s when I moved to Madrid. I thought about staying a year and then going abroad, I didn’t know where exactly. But, as it’s happened with many other people, Madrid caught me. I’ve worked at a gas station, at clothing stores, bars, I have cleaned houses…all of this was happening whilst being very stressed out and lost for not knowing what to do with my life, and the uncertainty of my professional future. But there’s a point when I decided to stop stressing out because I realised that all I was doing was wasting time complaining and being all self-indulgent.
Then, I don’t know how, things started to get better. The puzzle pieces started to fit together while I just let myself go, as if I let life decide for me. Obviously, that doesn’t just happen, but I had shooed away that noise in my head and started to listen and become honest with myself. I do not have a permanent job, nor a main occupation; I think you could say that I have many main occupations and that I am also a sort of unqualified worker. This past year I worked a lot as an art assistant at video shootings. Right now I’m working at VICE as a producer for a project that ends in two months. Then I’ll see. You should know that I just felt very uncomfortable talking for so long about myself it crossed my mind that I was being soooo boring and you may think, “Who does she think she is?” But fuck it, I don’t get interviews every day. Days in Madrid are almost always working at the job that gives me actual money, then working on what I really like even if I don’t have much money, and then take time for social life. I don’t get much rest, nope.
Tell us about Ladybotas.
One day I was hanging out with friends at Dos de Mayo square in Madrid and we saw a nice old man dressed as a woman wearing amazing stripper boots, and we named her LadyBotas. I eventually took this pseudonym because I thought that man was wonderful, embodying what we all should be: free to do what we want, no matter what others think.
When and how did you start doing art?
About four or five years ago, I broke my foot after trying to make a ballet jump at a festival. I don’t know how to dance ballet. It was an electronic music festival and I was very drunk. This was at 11pm, and I kept partying until 9am. Then I went to work and I went to another party that I didn’t want to miss. The following Monday I went to the doctor and my ankle was thicker than Homer Simpson’s. I had medical leave for a month and two weeks after I was travelling to China. After two days I was very bored and it came to me, let’s just buy paint and start painting. That’s it. It seemed like something entertaining that didn’t involve walking. And then I realised how relaxing it was. Suddenly, my brain, which thinks at a sickly speed, non-stop, all day long (I’m not joking, sometimes I have genuinely believed that I have a mental illness or something), just felt relaxed. I can spend three hours without thinking of anything while painting. And since then I haven’t stopped, it’s like a drug.
Finding something that actually stops my brain is one of the best things that has happened to me.
I thought this had been my first contact with art, but recently my grandmother sent me some drawings that I had made as a child, and it turns out that I painted and had entered painting competitions and everything. So, this was a reunion rather than a discovery. I have no idea why my head had eliminated these memories until now.
And well, then I went to China and I climbed the Great Wall of China and got my foot fucked for life.
Have you been to art school?
Nope, I have absolutely no training in art.
Do you think that not going to art school has actually helped you?
I think that studying art could have helped me a lot to improve my technique, to understand how the art world works and a thousand other things. But I also believe that not studying art has allowed me to be freer with my creations. I just had my imagination to work with and I think this has helped me to achieve a more personal approach to it. But now I really would like to study something like that, I think that at this point I need it to be able to move forward.
What do you like to paint?
Unrealistic stuff. Even if I wanted to paint realistic stuff, I wouldn’t know how to. I paint animal-human mixtures, or anything, really, but in my own way. What I like to do most is to free-paint things that I see in the moment; it could be an object, animal or person. Not having second thoughts and without trying to mirror what I am seeing. Another thing that I like very much is to use a lot of colours, even if there is no harmony between them.
What would you say is your favourite medium?
A huge white canvas is the most satisfying thing there is. I paint with acrylics or oil paints. I like the result with oils better, but most of the time I have no patience to wait for it to dry out. It takes too long. I love painting in the street too, but I have a hard time dealing with the tension that comes with it, from the thought that the law might catch me. Lately I’m starting to paint on clothes too. I don’t like it so much but it’s easier to sell because people wear clothes every day.
Where does your style come from? Are there artists in particular that influenced you?
I’ve never been quite sure about my references. Nobody in particular. I do think that everything we see is stored somewhere in our brain and then pops out at some point without you knowing where it comes from, taking a different shape. So, I think I have many references even though I don’t really know what or who they are. Since I started painting, my style has sort of stayed the same, but it has evolved in some ways. I think that while I paint I try to translate the weird thoughts that often cross my mind.
Tell us about the chickens you paint in the streets?
I don’t understand much about graffiti culture either. I have nothing against it though, in fact I have many friends who are graffiti artists. One day I went out to paint with my friend Felipe. He tagged out there and I started to make my foot-chicken (chickens with a human foot instead of legs. The only explanation for their existence is that I would find it very funny if they were like that in real life). My friend Guille once told me that you could not tag with a drawing and that’s it, but I said: “Hey, I have no idea about the graffiti culture, so yes I can.” One day I got one of my foot-chickens crossed out and I felt like a real graffiti gangster, with rivalries, feuds, etc. I find it quite funny.
Can you tell us about the ‘El dinero es dinero’ paintings?
I have a love-hate relationship with money. I work hard and I waste all my money. It never lasts. I never save. I’ve been through hard times a lot. And I don’t usually worry about it. And that does worry me. Every time something unexpected comes up or a slightly chaotic time that makes me run out of money again, I think “Well, whatever, it’s just money, it’s not a kidney”. In these drawings, I show characters doing anything for money. I think it’s about all of us who go through shitty jobs, or do things we don’t like precisely because money is money and unfortunately we need it to get by. And the better off you want to be, the more money you need.
Would you say that you are provocative through your work?
People often tell me that I’m provocative with my art. But I believe I’m not as provocative as I should be. People say I, as a person, am provocative, but I think I just try to be as free as I can. This could also apply to my work. The truth is that I don’t know what reaction I seek to provoke; I don’t think about it much while painting.
In what environment are you the most creative?
In my day to day, for me, it’s just being alone, wherever it is. A place that inspires me a lot is my father’s place, which is still located on that ‘nice island’ I was born in. He lives with hardly any technology, in the countryside along many animals. It really is a marvellous place that would inspire anyone.
Would you say that you embrace technology?
When it comes to creating, I would a thousand times prefer to work with things I can touch. But right now, I am exploring technological ways that I can apply to what I do as, besides it being interesting, it’s necessary for me. I’m fascinated by social media, if it’s used well. This is my main means of exposure. In fact, I have three Instagram accounts: one for my paintings, another one for the tattoos I do and my personal one, where I publish videos and, why not, let’s recognise it, photos of me pretending to be sexy so that you can contribute to the reinforcement of my self-esteem.
Do you think you can dissociate what an artist does, and who he/she is as a person?
I don’t think so. I think there is always a part of you in what you do. After all, it comes from your gut. It’s like having a kid and trying to dissociate from him/her. No matter how hard you try, it will always be your kid and will always be a part of you.
Tell us about your crew in Madrid? It seems like you’re surrounded by a lot of talented people and you all support each other.
Thanks for saying that! It’s one of the most precious things I have. I have ended up being surrounded by the nicest people around who do amazing things with their brains. And I think we all contribute to the growth of each other’s talent. And I feel that we never stop growing, that we are always evolving, helping each other, inspiring each other. I believe that, in a context where your group of friends is dedicated to creative things, it’s really easy to end up getting too competitive and jealous. But that hasn’t happened here. On the contrary, we constantly help each other and we are very genuinely glad of the wins of others. We are a family that won’t stop growing. Kruman, Joana, Anna, JD, Roge, Pipa, Javis, Isi, Jerva, Antón, Didi, Borja, Carla, Rocío, Adriana, Cristian, Dani, Jai, Alba, Rocios, Carlos, Paula, Sofias, Dimas, Sabrina, Manu, Beto, Bea, Felipe, Teresa, Maria, Santos, Alex, Sandra, Rafa (and a long etcetera, you know who you are) – thank you for inspiring me from the first second we met.
What is the social-political context in Spain and in Madrid like right now?
We are experiencing moments of great tension right now in Spain. I am afraid, because the consequences of a dictatorship that many of us thought were extinct are coming back. And it’s hard to believe that a political party with xenophobic, misogynistic and very, very retrograde ideals has achieved so much representation. It’s like a nightmare. Spain is a divided country that’s always had trouble moving forward. Sometimes I feel a civil war approaching. I’m not good at talking about this and I don’t like it either, it puts me in an incredibly bad mood. And I like to always be in a good mood. But hey, if you don’t know what’s going on in Spain, I encourage you to look it up, because it is disturbing. Just be careful with the source you go to; the information is usually being manipulated.
Would you say Madrid is a good city to be an artist in?
Madrid is an incredible city to make art in. It’s a city that’s in constant motion. It never sleeps. To be able to make a living out of it, it sure is not the best though. I know many people who have had to leave so they could develop their talent.
What would you love to see change in Madrid?
Since we have just brought up the subject, for Nazis and fascists to get the fuck out. They are far from gone; it seems that there’s more of them every day.
Tell us your day in the form of music.
This depends more on my mood than on the moment. To wake up, start the day off right or go to work, I like to listen to lively music. A good salsa that puts me in a good mood or a merengue that I can’t help dancing to while I walk. Also, for any commute, I like to picture the people I see walking like being in a music video, always keeping up and moving along with the music I am listening to. So it has to be very lively music, because city people everywhere go at an extreme pace I don’t understand. When I want to chill out I listen to flamenco or classical music. And when I go out, I like electronic music.
If you had a magic power, what would it be?
I have asked myself this many times and I never know what to choose. But I’ll take this opportunity to tell you that my grandfather Luis dreams – and has dreamt every single night without exception – that he flies. And he howls with happiness. I guess I would like to fly like my grandfather Luis. He has a really good time doing it.
If you could have dinner with someone dead, who would it be, and why?
I think Freddie Mercury. I love his weird mouth and I would like to spend a couple of hours watching him eat.
What would you eat/drink? What music would you play?
I would eat and drink what I always eat and drink. That works just fine. And music…I just recorded a song with Jerva, which is absolute crap. I’m the worst singer of all the people I know, and I don’t think I would ever like to become a singer at all. So, great! Another day fulfilling another human’s dreams. Welcome to my life as an unqualified worker one more time. You will hear it someday, I guess.
What does the future look like for Ladybotas?
Uncertain, as it’s been so far. But good things will come I’m sure. If you don’t believe it, they will never come. I will keep doing things non-stop because, as a wise person once told me, “to rest is to start to die”, and this quote has been stuck in my brain ever since. I won’t explain it, I don’t think that’s necessary.