By using lipstick, nail polish and eye shadow as painting mediums, Eileen Hickey speaks to women through her art. She also utilizes materials like fabric and thimbles, because she feels they are devalued because of their connection to women. The 68-year-old longtime Tribeca resident spends her days in her home studio and occasional nights on stage. The divorcee uses her marital situation as comedic material and recently made her on-stage debut at Broadway Comedy Club. Since then, she’s performed at open mics throughout Manhattan at venues like the Village Lantern and The Stand. She spoke to us about her earliest art shows, studying at Hunter and what inspires her work.
You recently began to perform stand-up. How did that come about?
I took a class at Gotham Writers’ Workshop for stand-up comedy. But I’d been dying to do it for a long time because I admired Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce so much. I saw that people were able to change the world by making people laugh. I worked at HBO in 1979 when it was starting out, and my boss put on this eight-track tape of Richard Pryor’s first stand. I was with Mickey Kelly who was married to Bill Murray at the time. She was an executive there too. And it changed my life and I saw the power of comedy.
What did it feel like to be on stage?
It feels great. It feels energizing. Like when I’m having an art show, I remember that people want me to succeed. And it’s so great that people will let you in and take some time to listen to what you have to say.
How can you describe your comedy?
I would say dark. But I would say that my interest is bringing out of the shadows the position that women are still in and talking it about in a way to great through to people, which is comedy. So, for example, when I say the marriage years are like dog years. I was 25 when I got married, and three years later, I was 65. Talking about my husband emptying out the bank accounts.
How long were you married? Where did you meet your ex-husband?
Thirty one years. I was working in an art gallery in Soho and he was the architect for the building next door, for the Leo Castelli Gallery. He saw me, and found out his best friend, who I had the world’s shortest date with, knew me.
When did you come to New York?
I grew up in Buffalo, the Queen City of the Great Lakes. I arrived here with my aunt and uncle when I was 18 and pregnant. And I had $250 dollars. I came to New York to be Jackson Pollock. I wanted to take on abstract expressionism and gender discussion of art history and bring it into modern times.
You started painting at an early age.
At 6 or 7. When other kids had lemonade stands, I had an art gallery on a card table on our front yard. I got my little friend to be my art dealer, and she would sit there and I would go paint some more. I got my first art scholarship when I was nine at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
You studied art at Hunter College. What was your experience like there?
It was awesome. It was the best education I ever could have had. The year I graduated, in ‘76, was the last year of free admission and we wore black arm bands at our graduation. Hunter had open and free admission. I studied with Bob Swain and Ron Gorchov. And Leo Steinberg, one of the greatest art historians of all time. I was his librarian. I worked my way through college by working at the Frick Art Reference Library and the Guggenheim Museum.
How do you describe your work?
I use a lot of things that are devalued because they are connected with women, like fabrics and patterns. I did a whole series with nail polish. I paint with lipstick, eye shadow and nail polish.
Your art has been featured in movies.
Yes because I lived in this building in Tribeca for 39 years. My upstairs neighbor for 17 years is a very famous art director in film, Patrizia von Brandenstein. She collected my work and puts me in films that she does, like Eat Pray Love. The most recent one was Phil Spector that was on HBO.
There was an article in the Daily News about an issue you had with your landlord, who accused you of making a profit by subletting your apartment on Airbnb. Was it ever resolved?
No, because I’m a rent-stabilized tenant, he’s trying to get me out so he can charge market rent. That’s the deal. So everything that was in the article, except for the fact that I’m a mini-skirt wearing motorcycle- riding painter, isn’t true. My landlord has broken into my loft, and he also knows that I’m impoverished because of my divorce proceedings, so I think he feels that I’m vulnerable now.