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If 19th-century French artist Toulouse-Lautrec were a hot young girl living in L.A., he would be painter Natalia Fabia. "He's an amazing draftsman," Fabia says of her favorite artist. "He can draw like a motherfucker. I like that he paints and interprets what's in his life. That's what I do. I paint my life." Like Lautrec, Fabia is obsessed with prostitutes. Unlike Lautrec, Fabia's subjects aren't actual sex-for-money prostitutes. Instead, her cute girlfriends stand in as models. She transforms them into hookers on safari in Africa. Or hookers dressed as clowns. Or hookers draped in pearls, lounging in hot tubs or in mansions on bearskin rugs. They become glamorous seductresses rendered in glorious explosions of garish, candy-colored oil on panel. "I used to love calling my girlfriends hookers. I like the idea of someone who sells their talents and abilities for money," she says.
By that definition, who isn't a hooker?
A classic perfectionist, Fabia will work on "some little thing" for forever. It's a compulsion she inherited from her father, who was a woodworker, a carver of intricate baroque-looking frames. Recently, she spent hours staring at an alarm clock in her bedroom and painting a tiny postage stamp–sized version of it into a giant 6-foot-by-8-foot painting. As a reminder, her boyfriend wrote "It's good enough" on a Post-it and stuck it on the wall above the alarm clock. Fabia painted the Post-it into the piece, too.
Fabia grew up in Sherman Oaks by way of Poland. Her parents are Polish, and though she was raised in the San Fernando Valley, she didn't speak English for the first five years of her life. She always knew she would be a painter. "Can't you tell?" she asks, pulling a framed photograph of herself from the fireplace mantel. In the photo, baby Natalia sits on the floor, surrounded by drawings. "I was selling my art when I was a kid. Each of these were, like, 50 cents. And my parents' friends wouldn't buy them. Assholes!"
Fabia, 27, is a recent graduate of Art Center's rigorous illustration program, where all students do is "paint, paint, paint." Now people buy her paintings for thousands of dollars. Her shows (at Corey Helford Gallery, Royal/T, Jonathan Levine and other galleries) have sold out. She doesn't work a day job. She just paints, sometimes for 18 hours a day.
Her upcoming July solo show at Corey Helford Gallery is based on the Japanese concept of kawaii, or "cute." She points to a pink bunny rabbit tucked into the background of one painting. "This little bitch took me hours last night. Hours! I was, like, why?"
Letting go of paintings, surrendering a piece she's spent day and night with and poured her soul into, is tough. "These are my babies," she says. "I can't think about it. But if I don't sell them, I wouldn't make any money."
View more photos from inside her studio in the Style Council blog, "Natalia Fabia House Tour: Hookers, Pink, & Chandeliers."