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Life's Rich Palette

Life's Rich Palette

Los Angeles–based artist Shae Acopian Detar uses old-time techniques to otherworldly effect. Behold the photos she took in the hills of L.A.—each lovingly painted over by hand—exclusively for Aritzia. By Caitlin Smith

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Looking at Shae Acopian Detar’s sublime hand-painted photos, it comes as no surprise to learn that the artist grew up dancing around her room wearing antique corsets. “I had wanted to be an actress until I was 18,” says the Los Angeles–based artist. “All through my childhood and teen years, I would dress up in 1800s clothing in my room and act all by myself. I was homeschooled from 13 years old onwards, which is probably why I never cared what people thought of me. I didn’t have to worry about school bullies or being made fun of for being different, so I was very free and happy.”

Rather than pursuing an acting career, Detar moved to Milan from New York after high school to work as a model. But it wasn’t until her roommate praised a collage she’d made and then painted over that Detar decided to get serious about pursuing art, which led her to Parsons, where she studied fashion design, and then to an internship for Zac Posen. From there, Detar started her own online vintage shop, but closed it after she discovered her true passion: combining photography and painting.

Detar uses bromoil, a photographic printing process popular in the first half of the 20th century, and then applies designs to the photos themselves, making them look like Impressionist paintings come to life. From vivid gem tones to pale pastels in watery colours or thickly textured paint that swirls, drips in splotches, and spreads in languid, streaming strokes, her works are a dreamlike escape into a beautifully landscaped world inhabited by pretty girls who climb in trees, sit proudly atop boulders, and meander through forests of cacti in elaborate headdresses and theatrical clothing. It’s a world that Detar works hard at curating and perfecting every aspect of. “ Location scouting is always really a fun part of my process. I rarely ever shoot in a studio. In fact,” she says, “I can’t recall the last time I did. I drive around for days and days looking for locations that speak to me. Usually, I shoot in mountains, forests, or deserts. I work with what is near me but if I could shoot in Iceland or India, or any other exotic place, that would be absolutely fantastic.”

“Something always speaks to me when I come up with a theme,” Detar explains. “This painting I was recently inspired by had just four strokes of paint, nothing more to the canvas—no person, no landscape—just these moments of colour. Inspiration just hit me, and I made a story out of that moment.” Detar went on to use this inspiration to paint a portrait of a friend of hers. “It never looks anything like the painting that inspires me,” she continues, “not even a tiny bit, which is odd—but clearly something happens in my brain to get me motivated and excited.”

Model: LERA PEN
Makeup: JENNIFER ZILIOTTO
Styling, photography and artwork: SHAE ACOPIAN DETAR