I first met painter Kim West almost ten years ago when our then three year old sons were at the same nursery school in Los Angeles. Even though I’m now back in London, the miracle that is social media has meant that we’ve kept in touch and up to date on each other’s careers in recent years. It’s been thrilling to see the incredible things she’s been up to, including painting huge murals on walls around Los Angeles, many of which are now featured in commericals, photo shoots, and serve as backdrops for many a posing instagrammer. I was dying to catch up with her in person when I visited LA recently and I also thought she’d be a perfect candidate for a Secret Life Of Bags snoop. So on a roasting hot day in a gritty but rapidly gentrifying part of Los Angeles, Kim welcomed me into her plant-filled studio where we drank icy cold beers, reminicised about the past, and of course emptied out her handbag.
As a wannabe artist myself, a visit to the studio of an actual real-life artist is always inspiring. Paint-splattered concrete floors, high ceilings, huge windows flooding the space with that gorgeous Southern Californian light, and massive canvases propped up on every wall. Just days after our shoot, Kim reluctantly had to relocate to a new studio because of planned redevelopment in her building. I’m so happy I got to visit before she moved on, although I’m sure her new space is just as good.
Having just returned from a cross-country roadtrip with her young sons, Kim’s bag was still full of good stuff, not your run of the mill handbag clutter. A few of my favourites: a mini watercolour set; leftover handwritten reward ‘tokens’ from a game invented to occupy her sons; and tiny paintings Kim begins with a simple outline and her boys paint in the rest. Here’s what she had to say about the secret life of her bag.
What is the first handbag you remember having and how old were you?
Sometime in grade school, like 4th or 5th grade (?) I saved up all my gifted birthday money and some summer job money (True story: I had a job at age 10, and it was to put the green measuring spoons into boxes of fertilizer as they came down the assembly line at my uncle’s fertilizer plant.) to buy what I thought was the epitome of cool: a highly logo-ed Liz Claiborne purse. I think it was puce, off white, and beige.
Is your handbag an important part of your daily outfit and do you change it depending on what you’re wearing?
My daily outfit is usually pretty functional for the studio, and the bag is too; ie – large enough to tote anything and everything I might need at the studio or throughout my after work kiddo-pick up shuffle. However, I am a sucker for, and collector of, vintage purses. When I go out at night or on the weekends, those bags definitely change depending on what I’ve thrown on. I also usually have at least one or two of the small vintage guys doubling up as pouches for everyday smaller items. I guess this makes me always impromptu cocktails-bag ready. Just in case that ‘impromptu’ part ever happens again.
Tell me about the bag we shot? Where is it from and what do you like about it?
The bag we shot is a pretty basic soft leather tote with coppery-colored leather handles. My two favorite things about it are that it’s large but not too large size, and that it has this little leather strap inside to which I can hook my keys. Otherwise, the bag-dive effort to find them is really annoying. I wish I could say this bag was found in some out of the way place and handcrafted by someone with a great story, but I found it in the sale pile at Anthropologie.
As a mum do you carry a separate ‘kid stuff’ bag in addition to your purse or do you just cram it all into one?
My daily bag is for sure a cram-fest. If I have more than one bag to carry, I inevitably leave behind something important somewhere. So in addition to my own stuff, I’ve also usually got kid snacks, wipes & hand sanitizers, tiny maze books…matchbox cars…legos…essentially, whatever I’ve anticipated they might need and whatever they have dropped into the bag at some point and is still there.
What is the most unusual item that can sometimes be found in your bag?
I think it might be a toss up between a parasol and my portable watercolor set.
What is your must have item that is always in your bag?
Hand lotion & chap stick.
Are there any designer bags that you covet?
I’m sure there are. I almost logged on to Pinterest to see what they might be.
Tell the readers about the game your mum invented for the road trip? What did they get for their points earned?
In anticipation for a recent (insanely long, meandering path through the southwest in AUGUST) road trip with me and my two kiddos (ages 12 & 4), my mom made and assembled all kinds of car activity books and games in an attempt to have the kids actually look out the windows and not insist on playing video games for the entire ride. She also devised an elaborate system of reward coupons that would let them earn video game time at the end of the day. I’m not going to say the system was an utter failure, but I’m also not going to say that it was successful.
Lastly, tell us a little bit about your background.
I grew up bouncing up and down the east coast – NJ, NY, GA, and lots of time in FLA. My mom was an art teacher, and I never lacked for art supplies. I have always painted, but didn’t really think about becoming an artist as a profession. I have always been an artist, always been a painter. I just never really named it. For most of my middle & high school years I thought I might go to law school. I started on that path my first year at a classic New England college, and though the experience of the school itself was wonderful, I ended up transferring to studying painting full time at an art school. The decision to take that fork in the road is in the Top Ten Good Life Choices I’ve made thus far.
Follow Kim on Instagram for inspiring studio images and her stunning #theuniverseisonmyfloor hashtag, kind of like the shot below.