Camille Lema is the founder of Free Rent, a zine and non-profit art collective, promoting "art for art's sake." Camille is meeting with her mom, who's visiting from Portland. Eating a sandwich on a sunny day at Cherrywood Coffeehouse. The two of them were gracious enough to let me butt into their quality time to chat about starting a zine, artistic freedom, community building, and the art scene in Portland VS. Austin:
it's just total and complete freedom to make whatever you want..."
Rebecca: How long has Free Rent been around?
Camille: We just had our two year anniversary a couple weeks ago.
Rebecca: Do you remember when you first had the idea to start your own zine?
Camille: I wanted to start a zine, maybe four years ago. It was back in Portland, I was dating this guy my very first boyfriend who was a comic book artist and he had made a zine long ago, but he's the one that actually got me into the whole zine world and just the fact that you can do whatever you want with a zine, it can be whatever you want- really caught my attention. And so when I move to Austin, I gathered some artists and shot the idea and people were down for it.
Rebecca: Tell me about the artistic environment or scene in Austin vs. Portland
Camille: Austin is a little more open, and progressive I'd say and groups, you know- the community is very strong. People wanna help each other, and just make cool stuff happen. Portland I feel is a little more reclusive, and artists are kinda already if they're already doing their own thing, or if their part of a group- they kinda just stick to that. And so it was hard, we tried doing a zine with some artists, but everyone was just doing their own thing and didn't wanna take that time to make a zine with us. But here it's so different, everybody's ready to jump on board with what you're doing which is great.
Rebecca: So, would you say that Free Rent really took off once you moved to Austin?
Camille: Yea. The way we started was we set up at Pine Street Station, and we knew the owner and the artists that worked there, and that's where it all started really. We released the first issue at an art market they had there, and that night the girl who was originally in it with me, Elaine- we just ran around to bars, all night- just showing our zine to random people. And people were so excited about it, we had a clipboard so everyone could write their email and that's just sort of how we built our community was taking the time to go out at night and go to shows and go to bars and share our zine with people physically- so it took a lot of work, and a lot of our time, but I think it was really helpful in the start of Free Rent.
Rebecca: What was the very first step you took when you discovered you wanted to start this zine?
Camille: When I first had the idea, I had Elaine, I knew her from some friends here and she was doing her own independent art thing, but she wanted an outlet to show her work more and so I shot the idea with her, and she was all about it, and so she introduced me to some people she knew, and funny- I met a guy at some Christmas party, random Christmas party, and I talked about my idea with this stranger and he was like, "you need to meet my brother who's an artist at Pine Street Station." He had his own studio in there and we had a whole meet up everybody together, and they were all about it. These two twin brothers, and one of their girlfriends who ends up becoming one of my best friends. Yea, I remember the night that we all met up- it was freezing cold, there was no heat in this studio and we're all just sitting there shooting ideas for this zine and what we want to do- and, it ended up just being me and Elaine, but we had a lot of friends that helped us- just kinda gave us that push and helped us set up and things like that.
Rebecca: So, how do you feel personally you keep your personal momentum going, and how do you avoid burnout?
Camille: Just really, not saying "no" to anybody that invites us to set up and any event, and we've had a lot of help from Raw Paw and definitely SprATX, and we've done stuff with all of these art groups- and eventually, when you meet these people they keep inviting you back to other things, and then you meet people from other collectives at these event, so it's just really- just not turning down anything, even if it sounds like something you totally don't fit in to, you just do it anyway.
Rebecca: Do you see yourself as a very self-motivated person, go-getter kind thing?
Camille: Yea- Cus yea, I definitely give myself goals and, if there's a will, there's a way. But, you know, meeting all these artists and being a part of these events keep the creative juices flowing, it keeps me inspired and, it makes me feel good when people are inspired by what we're doing too, so it's a win win sort of deal.
if this is something that totally sparks
an idea in somebody's mind- that to me is worth more than any amount of money I can get for that piece."
Rebecca: I don't want to be presumptuous, but do you view yourself as a "latina?"
Camille: No, not because I don't want to, I mean I've been involved in a lot of different communities around here. But my dads side is actually from Ecuador- and I don't really, I recently discovered like one collective that promotes South American artists, like very very recently I found that, cus I don't know anybody really who's involved in sorta South American art here. Yea, that's more my place, I don't know, I just like to be part of it all.
Rebecca: Did you have a lot of Ecuadorian culture growing up?
Camille: No, not at all- My mom and I are from Portland, Oregan. I never met my dad, and I found my family, maybe three years ago now, but I came in contact, and I have some family in Seattle who I started to go see... But yea, I didn't really grow up around any of that.
Rebecca: Does your experience as a woman influence your art at all? A- Does that influence you in your personal art? and How do you feel as a woman in the art community, especially as kind of a woman who's in charge and out there, creating Free Rent and keeping it going after two years.
Camille: You know, it is empowering. And I want to be a good role model in that being a female artist and stuff- but I don't use that as the basis of my own art and our collective and stuff, really, I just want community. I want everyone, I don't wanna single anyone out. And we go to all these Boss Babes events, and it's great you know, I love like- As a woman, I need to be with just women from time to time, like women empowering women sort of events, and I like that I really do, and I'm glad that there's such strong community of that here in Austin. But, like I said- I wanna be involved with everybody , I don't ever just want a specific scene or a specific community.
Rebecca: What's your biggest motivation? What keeps you going? Whether it's for Free Rent, but if you could single down one feeling or thing in particular?
Camille: I think, people! People, really, just seeing people progress whether it's in their art or their music or just anything that people love doing and have a talent for. That inspires me, and it's really like there's a huge variety of what inspires me. But- just people really.
Rebecca: What's next for Free Rent?
Camille: I don't really know, I've thought a lot about our future, and where I want Free Rent to go and how do I want us to grow, and what areas do I want us to grow- but really I just wanna take it step by step, and it's already gotten so- like where it is now is a lot further then where I expected it to go, period. I had no intentions of making it you know, "making it big!" or "everyone's gonna know our name and know who we are!" I just wanna have fun, and make art, and meet artists and travel with our zine. I don't wanna just keep it in Austin, but I wanna take it everywhere that I can go, cus people really appreciate that. We put in a lot of work, and a lot of effort, and people see that and that inspires other people, other artists, other musicians, whoever because hard work really does pay off.
"I wanna take it
everywhere I can go"
Rebecca: Tell me about "art for arts sake," that's the entire motivation behind the zine... Can you go in a little bit more to what that means to you?
Camille: Yea, cus when you start involving money and stuff like that, that puts limits on what you can and can't do and I didn't want it to be about money. And, as an artist I never did any commission stuff really. I never used my art for money at all, I designed show flyers for like house shows and stuff and would go post them up, and people really liked them, and people liked my work, and all this stuff just kinda sits and piles up in my room and I know so many artists like that too, where I don't really have time to be a commission artists, I have other commitments, but I also really love what I do... So it's an outlet for those kinds of artists as well. These talented people... I've been in so many houses and apartments and studios of just amazing work, but just piled u in a corner and it's like- you gotta do something with it, even if you don't wanna sell it. You don't have to sell it, but just show it to people, cus that can inspire people to do something else or to start something cool. You know, or work harder on what they're already into. You know what it looks like, I guess that's me trying to be selfless and inspire others and encourage other people. I know what it looks like and I've had it, it's just sitting here in my room, you know? But if this is something that totally sparks an idea in somebodies mind- that to me is worth more than any amount of money I can get for that piece.
Rebecca: Is "art for arts sake" supposed to be a reminder to those artists, like "remember! you're doing this because you love art." Is that kinda what that saying is supposed to do?
Camille: Yea, basically. It is a reminder. And going back to what I've experienced in the art scene in Portland, there are so many artists that could make like hundreds of dollars on whatever they make. I knew one artist that did spray painting on vinyl records- and I don't know how much this guy make, but he make so much money off of these like: Clint Eastwood on a record, or Marilyn Monroe, just like icons, that you see everywhere already, and I remember this artists really bragging about it- like "o, I can make this much and blah, blah, blah, and my response to that is, "you know, I'd rather just do it because I love to not because I need to pay my bills." Like I already have that work stuff to worry about, I don't wanna stress out, like "o! I need to get this piece out, so I can pay my rent or something- like I don't ever ever ever want that stress associated with this gift that I have and this passion that I have. Cus it just ruins things when you start doing things for money, money is not a motivator to me at all. In fact, I try to just stay away from that as much as I can... We do have to do the business part of Free Rent, but I try my best to remember the root of it. What it was made for in the first place.
Rebecca: Is "Free Rent" something to do with that idea? Where did the name come from?
Camille: I hate finding names for anything, or trying to create a title, I'm not creative with that at all. It took us awhile to think of something, like: what is gonna represent this raw magazine of just all different kinds of art and poetry and photography and mixed media? And this one day I was in New York for New Year's of 2014 and I was looking in a book store and I was looking in all these photo books and I came across this one that I had found in Portland. I remembered this book, because it really stood out to me, I don't know who the photographer was but he basically ran around with all these train hoppers and traveler kids and photographed all of the adventures- and there's this one photo that really hit home for me, and it's this other guy helping somebody up into a train cart, and on his knuckles was tattooed "FREE RENT" and I was just like- "That's it! That's what we're gonna be called!" In Portland, there's so many train hoppers and I had a lot of friends who traveled around, so not only was it a personal meaning to me, but also because, it doesn't get any more raw than that.
Rebecca: How did you decide specifically to start a zine to promote other artists?
Camille: Cus a zine is whatever you want it to be, whether it's just photography or short stories or poetry, or just art work, or all of the above, you know, it's however you want to make it and so that just gives me no limits at all and nobody to tell me how to edit things, or how I need to print, anything like that- it's just total and complete freedom to make whatever you want.
We are proud to announce that we will be carrying Free Rent online and at our pop-up events!
We are very excited to work with the community of artists and makers in Austin and throughout the world- Stay tuned for our developing partnership with this amazing collective,
and for futures updates to our growing network of compadres!