Character study: Laurie Simmons dons Hollywood personas in her first feature film

In her first feature film, Laurie Simmons’ titular character, Ellie Shine, dons a number of famous Hollywood personas, including Marlene Dietrich. Photography: Dylan Nelson

It should come as no surprise that artist, and one-time Wallpaper* guest editor, Laurie Simmons, has released her first feature film, My Art. The veteran, whose work has spanned both photography and film, initially unveiled the film at the 2016 Venice Film Festival, and premiered it to domestic audiences for the first time at the Tribeca Film Festival over the weekend.

The film deals with familiar fodder as it follows a struggling New York artist (played by herself) as she tries to jump start her decades-old dream of establishing her place in the art world. Simmons’ character, the endearingly named Ellie Shine, is a relatable one: she possesses a stable teaching job and successful friends, but success as an artist has continued to elude her. When a famous friend offers her their summer house and studio to stay and work at, Shine grasps the chance and finds inspiration among two out-of-work actors, who tend to the property’s gardens.

A Clockwork Orange

Josh Safdie as Tom, Robert Clohessy as Frank, Laurie Simmons as Ellie, John Rothman as John, all portraying characters from ‘A Clockwork Orange’

(Image credit: Dylan Nelson)

Simmons began writing the film in 2011 and shooting commenced in 2013. The enterprise was inspired after her own portrayal of an artist-mother in her daughter Lena Dunham’s film, Tiny Furniture. ‘I became preoccupied with the depiction of artists, particularly women artists. Almost invariably, they are mythologised, romanticised, and made to seem tragic and crazy, which has no bearing on my own experience as an artist,’ says Simmons in her director’s statement.

While My Art ranges from romance to comedy and fantasy, with threads of feminism woven in, it’s Simmons’ depiction of Shine’s art-making that is truly magnetic to watch. As Shine tries to find her artistic path, she eventually gravitates towards producing homespun (and improbable) recreations of iconic Hollywood films.

Simmons says, ‘Believe it or not the biggest challenge in conceptualising Ellie was figuring out what her artwork would be. I agonised over this decision for months, realising it could be any art discipline I chose. I needed to find a way for Ellie to make art that audiences could relate to. It’s not always that interesting to see an artist paint or sculpt on screen. Every artist I know is something of a cinephile so it didn’t seem like a stretch to have Ellie’s obsession with old movies become the basis of her art.'

She continues, 'Video and performance has become more familiar to the general public so I thought video art might provide a more transparent way to show Ellie’s process. The technique of shooting in front of a rear screen projection is something I’ve done for many years. It’s a visual language and style I’ve developed and feel comfortable with. My production team and DP were all really worried that it wouldn’t work. I finally had to say: “Guys, I’ve got this one.”’

Book and Candle

Simmons as Ellie (portraying Kim Novak as Gillian ‘Gil’ Holroyd in Bell, Book and Candle)

(Image credit: Dylan Nelson)

My Art

Simmons as Ellie (portraying Marilyn Monroe as Roslyn in The Misfits) in My Art

(Image credit: Dylan Nelson)


For more information, visit Laurie Simmons’ website and the Tribeca Film Festival website

Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.