“All of New York came up to Aurel,” Chloë Sevigny says, gesturing to a large crowd gathered outside Lucien, a restaurant on First Ave. and E. 1st St. which is practically a New York City institution. She references her longtime friend Aurel Schmidt, the artist behind Lucien’s first-ever art show — and the reason why all manner of pests that are a restaurant’s worst nightmare can be found in the many photos taken by clients like Sevigny. and Fran Lebowitz on his yellow walls for the next week. The size and placement of the small illustrations are suitably subtle for a place where you can reliably find Timothée Chalamet tucked away in a corner, or Julia Fox surrounded by friends like Jeremy O. Harris in a packed booth. And while spies who submit to the crowd-sourced celebrity gossip hub @deuxmoi love to take photos of clients, none of those in attendance at the opening went on to post photos from the evening on their roster.
Since it became the site where Kanye gave West Fox and her best friends Birkins for her birthday earlier this year, the restaurant has been popping up in the mainstream. But for regulars like Sevigny and Smith, it still feels like a word New Yorkers often associate with Lucien: home. It was therefore only natural that Smith’s last naked self-portraits showed Lucien, as well as a number of other scenes, such as Paul’s Casablanca in New York and Chez Francis in Paris. They all hold a special place in the artist’s heart, but none quite as much as Lucien, who is only a block from where she lives. “I come here and have breakfast off menu, keep my stuff,” she says. “It’s just home away from home.”
The naked blond figure that appears in each illustration “isn’t really an alter ego — he looks just like me,” says Schmidt. “The only thing that ‘changes’ about it is that New York has changed.” She walks me through a taxonomy of the character’s filthy company: “The regular pests are my friends. Pigeons are always normies. The roaches are usually skaters, but they can be anyone. Rats, I usually have a little more feelings for those. ‘Cause even in your normal life, you see the rat and you think, EBah! But you’re also like, oh, he’s pretty cute.”
If you couldn’t see it by now, the drawings aren’t for everyone. (The above sampling is on the tame side.) One shows a rat eating Schmidt, and in another Schmidt returns the favor. She looks especially merry with the cockroaches, who take her for a ride through the air and join her for dinner at Lucien’s. “Her drawings are often so controlled and sleazy — you can tell she’s kind of free and really expressing herself,” says Sevigny, who recalls being intimidated by Schmidt at first. ‘They are also very funny. We like humor in art. There are not enough of those.” She plans to “definitely” buy one of the drawings, which will cost $1,000. (Schmidt has also compiled them in an already out-of-print book published by Bunk Club.)
Schmidt says she has harassed Lucien’s founder Lucien Bahaj’s son, Zac, into letting her show her art there repeatedly since she met him a dozen years ago at Bahaj’s other restaurant, the Pink Pony. As for how she eventually convinced him, Schmidt doesn’t have time to tell: Something has yet to be mixed up, and as Sevigny put it, all of New York is here.