The Truth In Alice In Wonderland, Of Reality, About Gaia Matisse
A few weeks after interviewing Gaia Matisse, I read an article about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Anthony Lane. The essay talks about the story’s state of relevance—everybody knows who Alice is, he says, but nobody actually reads the book anymore. The author, Lewis Carroll, was probably a pedophile, which I was completely unaware of. Another point I liked, and what reminded me of Gaia, was what he said about a child’s method of identifying their self:
“Conversations about what is real, what is possible, and how rubbery the rules that govern such distinctions turn out to be abound in the tales of Alice. Yet they are sold as children’s books, and rightly so. A philosopher will ask how the identity of the self can be preserved amid the ceaseless flux of experience, but a child—especially a child who is growing so fast that she suddenly fills an entire room—will ask more urgently, as Alice does, “Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different.” Children, viewed from one angle, are philosophy in motion.”
I thought of Gaia Matisse, the way her presence fills a room. Although no longer a child, she does have some expertise on the self. More specifically, she has a bachelor’s degree in “The Self and Other: Integrative Performance and Eastern Psychology” from NYU’s Gallatin school, with Honors. She’s an aspiring actress. A descendant of Henri Matisse, and daughter of the late pioneering European pop artist Alain Jacquet, she’s also known to her 12,000 Instagram followers for her representations of self—or selfies—and photographic glimpses into the gorgeous life of an extremely gorgeous person. She’s featured on Rich Kids Of Instagram, Page Six (most recently, after a pretty embarrassing debacle involving her group of friends, Kyra Kennedy, and the denial to a club in Syracuse, New York). Her location tags often read “Indochine”, Montauk’s “Surf Lodge”, or some other place known for its exclusivity, and she’s always dressed for the occasion. Her sartorial choices frequently incorporate diamonds or weed leaves. Every year, she celebrates her birthday at Coachella, one of her favorite places in the world. It’s her wonderland of choice.
But why should I care? There are a million pretty girls in the world, and a lot of them are famous on Instagram. But I’ve known Gaia all of her life, as my younger sister’s best friend, and I like her. We’d watch Law and Order: SVU for hours together, passing bags of Sour Patch Kids and gummy worms back and forth to each other on my couch, uniting in a team effort to bully my sister, whose sweet temperament never stood a chance.
I remember attending her housewarming party a few years ago. My sister and I hadn’t spent much time with her around her other friends. “It’s so weird,” I whispered to Nora. “I don’t think anybody is drinking” The party could, and should have been popping. It was a beautiful night in June, there were various handles of liquor available, and copious penis-themed party favors to play with. All of her uptown socialite friends were sober, and spent most of the evening taking pictures of themselves looking like they were having fun, instead of actually having fun. “They can’t even drink because they can’t get fat,” I whispered again to my sister, in awe of my own realization.
Except for Gaia. She was having enough fun for the entire party, dancing on her (bewildered, but thrilled) landlord’s lap, with a very precarious sense of balance. It’s a talent to be vulgar and charming at the same time—and she’s never especially subtle—but she owns it. Don’t believe everything you see on Instagram, but believe in Gaia Matisse.
“‘I know there are going to be books written about me,’ she said. Later, when I asked her if she was afraid of death, she told me, ‘I’m not scared of dying.’ She paused. ‘But I can’t die until all those books are written.'”
“I just never am too fucked up,” she boasted to me later. That’s a talent in itself, but I don’t really believe her. I mean, there’s no one in the world who never gets too fucked up. But I do believe in her performance—every night out, every time she’s ‘fucked up’, is a performance. I’ve watched her walk into clubs, shifting her movements as she walks through the front door. Actors are strange people. I know that she’ll have a lot of competition as an aspiring actress, but take it from Gaia—”I know there are going to be books written about me,” she said. Later, when I asked her if she was afraid of death, she told me, “I’m not scared of dying.” She paused. “But I can’t die until all those books are written.”
She’s her own biggest fan, and her own best friend, but partially because she’s had to be. As a girl who’s taken a huge part in raising herself, part of the energy that defines her is something she may be unaware of, or even disconnected from. In the same way that a child’s identity is constantly in flux, so is hers—but when surrounded by kids with too much money, doing too many drugs, it’s a testament to her character that she remains herself throughout any and every traumatic event. She feels pain, then she moves on. While in her teens, Gaia’s father died following a long battle with lung cancer, and soon after, she enrolled in her first acting class. The program involved a summer-long intensive dream workshop and required hours of work, both in class and at home.
She told me about the workshop one day, while in line for an Alexander Wang sample sale. She told me about how hard it was, but how much she loved it, about how every member of the class was to be pushed past their emotional boundaries daily. They were each asked to choose one character that they would keep and explore for the summer. Gaia chose Frances Farmer, the beautiful 30s-era actress perhaps best known for her descent into paranoid schizophrenia. She looked exhausted while she talked—the acting exercise was taking a huge toll on her, forcing her to access intense emotions, then perform them for a group of much older professionals. That summer, she didn’t just learn to express herself, I think. She also learned to how to cope with holding the pain of others.
The biggest misconception about Gaia lies in the notion that her approach to life is avoidant of ‘reality’, because she’s wealthy, beautiful and slightly crazy. Whatever reality is, though, she might know better than the rest of us—she’s constantly grappling with life, playing with it, disrespecting it, loving it, seducing and twisting it to fit her needs and dreams, and finally, forcing us to align ourselves with very distinct philosophies. What’s more important—who you are, or who you pretend to be? Is there even a difference? Were you different when you got up this morning? The difference between children and adults is that an adult’s identity is built from other’s opinions—a child is forgiven and understood for just being a child. With so many people focused on deciding whether what Gaia wears makes her dumb, or whether she’s girlfriend material, or if she’s ‘just another hot girl’, I wonder if she cares what people thinks.
“Sometimes I care, and sometimes I don’t,” she said. “I’m aware of how much I feed into conventional ideas and norms or whatever, but I’m also just fine being who I am.”
Most beautiful women are canvases for those surrounding them—you see what you want to see inside of them. But Gaia is a Matisse, and a Jacquet, and there is no canvas created more beautiful or more important. We’ll watch her go on with her life, through selfies, in magazines, and eventually, in films. We can’t forget where she came from, or that she was always a masterpiece to be reckoned with.
All photos courtesy of Jack Irving