Long before she christened herself Lipstick Lex and even longer before she became a gallery owner in the Rosemary District, Alexis Fraser had resigned herself to keeping in touch with her love of art by becoming a school teacher. She had moved from Chicago to Toronto in 2011 with her husband, Josh, and although her portraits were drawing nominal attention, it wasn’t enough to provide for a growing family.
She had earned her teaching degree before she left the U.S., and her love of painting would have to take a back seat to a steady job.
Canadian law intervened.
“I couldn’t legally work in Canada,” says Fraser, who had to apply for permanent residency, a process that would take two years. “It was a blessing in disguise.”
With time on her hands, Fraser concentrated on her art. This time, though, she wanted to separate herself from the crowd.
“If I was going to do this art thing, I wanted to be successful,” she says. “So I dabbled in unconventional mediums. I was going to paint in outlandish ways.”
She started by painting with beer and wine, eventually selling a painting of two beer mugs for $1,500.
The demand for bar art, though, was low. Next, she did dog portraits using dog food as her medium. She got $500 for one of those.
Fraser created an abstract of dancer Gene Kelly using only her feet to apply the paint. That work brought $2,000.
She followed with a portrait of British royal Kate Middleton using tea instead of paint. That one didn’t sell, so she painted over the canvas.
Josh Fraser, meanwhile, would take video of his wife as she worked on various forms of art. He would post the videos online, and they would draw many positive replies. But that wasn’t translating to sales.
Then came a 5-by-7-foot painting of Marilyn Monroe.
“I wanted to do it in a way that correlated with Marilyn herself,” Fraser says. “Marilyn was famous for blowing kisses. I wanted to utilize kisses.”
Fraser applied red lipstick and began kissing the canvas. If a kiss was smacked outside the boundaries of where she wanted it, she would use a little Mr. Clean to remove it.
When she finished the painting, the process was put up on YouTube. She sold her painting to a Toronto resident for $4,000.
By 2014, dog food, tea and wine were out. Alexis Fraser had become Lipstick Lex.
There were a few problems to resolve. In working on raw canvas, her lips were in agony by the time she finished. She found Claybord, which she says has a silky smooth surface. Because she was painting with cosmetics, she says Mr. Clean and oil erasers help her to alter the kisses. When she would finish a painting, she’d to take it to an auto body shop for an epoxy spray.
Everything was coming together, except for money.
The Frasers moved to Sarasota in 2017 because Toronto became too expensive. Once again, they weren’t sure if they could make it without Alexis Fraser getting a full-time job. Her husband, who sells real estate, told her it was time to get serious about her art or let it go. They had one child with another on the way. Rue is now 6 years old, and Lonnie is 2 1/2.
“It kicked my butt into high gear,” she says. “That terrified me. I started taking everything more seriously, and I put myself out there.”
The biggest turning point in her career came in March 2018 when Japanese company Isehan Cosmetics flew her to Japan to be part of a campaign for its products. It commissioned her to do a 7-by-7-foot painting using its lipsticks.
Other cosmetic companies followed suit. She began working with MAC Cosmetics and Sephora Cosmetics and traveled to Hong Kong and London.
Here in the U.S., TV stations began calling. She did the morning show “Pickler & Ben” in Nashville with country music star Kelly Pickler and Ben Aaron. “Access Hollywood” featured her, and on Valentine’s Day 2019, Lipstick Lex appeared on “Good Morning America,” where she got hosts Sara Haines and Michael Strahan to don lipstick and smack a canvas.
Locally, she has built her reputation with workshops and live exhibitions.
Kathleen Gagg, who handles lifestyle programming for Pope Properties in the region, approached Fraser during a painting exhibition at Cafe Barbosso. She commissioned her to do a painting for the new culinary center at Esplanade in Lakewood Ranch along with workshops for the residents.
“She drew my eye because she was doing something different,” Gagg says. “I loved her energy, … her vibe of love and positivity.”
Her successes have led to the studio in the Rosemary District, the Lipstick Lex Gallery, at 1419 Fifth St., which opened Feb. 29.
“This is all so weird, awesome, hilarious,” Fraser says. “I do feel a little silly sometimes, but I think it encapsulates love, self-love, positive vibes — all those warm, fuzzy feelings.”
It’s been an adventure for a woman who described herself as a “Chapstick only kind of girl” who never wore lipstick.
“Now if I want to wear fire engine red lipstick, I am going to wear it,” she says. “Lipstick is a symbol of confidence. I’m trying to spread that message. It’s about personal empowerment.”
Does her husband feel empowered by kissing the canvas? He tried once.
Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.