Jason Altaan is a photographer currently in art school at Central Saint Martins in London. He was recently singled out in VICE magazine's Full Bleed column as an artist to watch, so over the next few of weeks we'll be featuring some of his recent celebrity portraits. This week, Jason did a portrait shoot with LA celebrity Angelyne, then went out for Mexican food with her to talk about God, the state of the universe, and how to get your look totally dialed in.
Angelyne, a self-made star, was once regarded as the most famous woman in Hollywood. A pioneer in the "famous for being famous" generation of celebrity, she has paved the way for appearance-driven stars like Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and Courtney Stodden.
Her rise to fame took place in the mid-80s when a shockingly large number of self-promotional billboards began popping up all over Los Angeles, featuring the star sprawled out beside her name and management contact number with no further explanation. While it was rumored all of this was paid for by way of a rich ex-husband, Angelyne denies these claims, hinting that she was instead backed by a team of unnamed investors who launched her into intergalactic superstardom.
Angelyne billboard photo by Flickr user Thomas Hawk
Today, she's recognized everywhere she goes. Her cult following has landed her in countless gigs in movies, music videos, and advertisements—and she doesn't seem to have any intention of stopping.
After shooting some portraits in her office building overlooking Hollywood Boulevard, we took a ride in her signature hot-pink Corvette down to El Coyote, her favorite Mexican spot on Beverly Boulevard. Over a plate of beans and cheese (with extra cheese), she shared her outlook on life and what's she's learned after 30 years of being a billboard queen.
VICE: What was your first impression of Hollywood?
Angelyne: My babysitter had wall-to-wall pictures of celebrities and rockstars everywhere, even on the ceiling. So that was my first impression. I've never told anyone that.
Did you have any pets growing up?
I had a St. Bernard when I was two. Now I have a Maltese.
Did you have any different aspirations as a child?
I wanted to be a chemist. I love mixing things! I mix my own coffee.
What do you look for in a relationship?
I like guys who have an innocent quality. Not stupid, but innocent. Pure, as much as you can get from this reality.
When I was five, I had matrimony phobia. I thought if I had to get married, I would want my husband to live on the other side of the world and he would come over only when I wanted him to.
What's the biggest contrast between 80s media and pop culture and today's?
The most obvious thing is that everyone's promoting themselves now. I didn't even know what I was doing. I was doing what I felt I wanted to do. I wanted everyone to see how beautiful I was. I am beautiful, aren't I?
Of course. How would you comment on your exchange of creativity with other artists?
The bratty answer is no one affects me. I do the affecting. I bring out the best in everyone and empower people. I make people truly feel good. I'm also very selective with who I work with. I have the luxury of not working with assholes.
Do you believe in God?
I believe God is all good. God is a concept, not an entity or person. If there is a God, then God equals all pure good.
How do your feelings guide you?
What's the one thing that you know? How you feel. Mentally, emotionally, physically. All you know is what you feel for the moment. What do you do with that knowledge? Animals, plants, humans—everything goes by feel. If you're frightened, you get away. If you love it, you want to stay. My quest is to feel good all the time, but it's not possible in this reality. There's waves, gaps of this year, next year, maybe now, maybe not…
What do you think about the world today?
More and more people are realizing that this is not a good place. My good friend who is going through a bad breakup got down on her knees and said, "God, I'm giving you a report. Earth is not a good place." She was so in love with this guy, and after he left her all she wanted was to die and get away from it all. Human beings are in denial. Cavemen or modern-day people, it's all about survival. Killing to eat, even if it's just plucking tomatoes out of the ground. If we evolved, we wouldn't be humans. We'd be a whole different entity. When I had my out-of-body experience, I just became pure energy.
What was that like?
I was getting up to do Earth Girls Are Easy (1988). I got up to turn off the alarm and I floated up to the skylight. It was so warm and loving and perpetually good, I couldn't believe it. Nothing here compares. Nothing. It was like all the climaxes you've ever had—all at once.
There was no longer a flesh encasement. I floated out of my body. It was the most awesome thing ever. Coming back to Earth is the most depressing aspect.
How do you define spirituality and higher consciousness?
Everyone defines it on their own personal level. I derive my spiritual concept from my out-of-body experience. I came out of my bed and this message said "All the good is out of this reality." Even the good here, like this delicious food, or a relationship, is something that is combined with the bad. The Buddhists and Eastern philosophers say that bad things create a cavity which can be filled with good.
What's your opinion on psychedelics?
Just another human way to tinker with the brain.
When did you get your first Corvette?
In the 80s, but that one's not around anymore. Some girl torched it. She was a crazy stalker of mine. She's dead now. Lucky girl.
Who shot the original images of you for the billboards?
Larry Lombardi. He was an amazing person. He only worked for me. He was the keyboarder in my band. He wrote music with me. He was very faithful.
Do you feel like an icon?
Yes, I feel like a unicorn icon. If you take a couple letters out of unicorn, it's icon. That's why people call me a "unicorn."
What's next for Angelyne?
I know who I am. I feel my look is totally dialed in. I know what I want. What my mission is. I've established myself, and now I can do whatever I want. I'm not a publicity whore. In the beginning I did thousands of shows, images, movies just to get myself established.
So my next goal is to achieve a painless existence. This is so important to me. Just like I made it as the epitome of a human being who can do what they want and not let anyone get in their way. Once I achieve [a painless existence], I think that everyone else can get it too. I've already done what everyone's trying to achieve [in my career], so what else is there?
If you could do anything you wanted, how would you change the world? Oh, I'd blow it up!