Tell us about your background.
I grew up just outside of NYC. I attended art school in the fine arts program at SUNY Purchase for one year. This is my only formal educational background in art other than taking couses over the years at various schools in NYC during the twenty years I lived there after leaving school (printmaking, jewelry design, textile design, fashion illustration). For the first few years I did no art at all supporting myself as a bartender and cocktail waitress at restaurants and comedy nightclubs around the city. While still working nights I put together a textile design portfolio and got a job designing children’s textile and lace and embroidery (designed for lingerie and home furnishings) for a company I’d work for for the next ten years both on staff and freelance later on. I never went back to art school to get a degree. While at this company, I put together an illustration portfolio and began to get freelance work in that field. I designed book covers, did editorial work, some album covers etc. for the eight or so years I did illustration. This overlapped with my textile design job, where I began to take on the role of art director after awhile.
During this time I married, had a family, and moved to the burbs. In 1996, after a series of life-altering events, I began the work that would be my re-introduction to the fine art world. I was encouraged to submit this work (collage and drawing on slate) to shows and worked up to having my first solo show in 1997 at the Pierro Gallery in South Orange, NJ. I began my current work with silverpoint drawing and mixed media encaustic painting as my main mediums in 2000, and, after showing a lot in many group shows, had my first solo show in NYC in 2008 at Kinz and Tillou Fine Art on 20th St. in Chelsea (they are now private dealers). I am currently represented by Claire Oliver Gallery in Chelsea and will have my second solo show with them in the fall of 2012. I received the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Award in Painting in 2008 and the Brodsky Centery for Print and Paper Fellowship Award in Printmaking in 2004. My work is in the collections of museums in the state of NJ. I have had solo shows in NYC, Nashville, Berlin, Chicago, and Denver and taken part in many gallery and museum shows around the world. I think about going back to school all the time and might actually apply either for printmaking or jewelry design next year after some exhibitions planned this year are up and over.
Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.
I’ve been influenced primarily by outsider artists over the years. I remember attending the Outsider Art Fair in NYC at the Puck Building way back when it began and being transported and almost overwhelmed by my response to that work. I later had my work represented both by Henry Boxer Gallery and Bourbon Lally Gallery at the Outsider Art Fair starting in 2006. It was a peak experience for me and led to a lot of wonderful opportunities in future. The biggest influence on my work and sensibility are two Outsider artists, Henry Darger and Chris Hipkiss. I love art that deals with myth and narrative, and focuses on portraiture, the body, nature and the animal world in a psychological and obsessive way. An underlying psychological narrative, a hint of chiarascuro, an atmospheric and obsessive quality and very fine detail are all things that ‘ring my chimes’. Some of my favorite artists in no particular order are Kiki Smith, Hans Holbein, Roger van der Weyden, El Anasui, Nick Cave, Louise Despont, Alison Schulnick, Judith Schaecther, Beth Cavener Stichter, Sybille Peretti, Christina Bothwell, Hanna von Goeler, Nusch Eluard, Frida Kahlo, Clyfford Styll, Liza Lou, Henri Rousseau (I could go on and on but I won’t). I seem to be heavily swayed in the direction of female artists. My own children and my students are my biggest inspirations however since they inspire me with their direct and sincere love of art for arts sake, because it touches them and affords them a unique expression for their inner life.
Where and how do you get your ideas?
I get lots of great ideas while chanting and meditating and also in the shower. I seem to get the best ideas while chanting and meditating while actually in the shower. This is a relatively new phenomenon, but it never disappoints. The ultimate incubator for ideas it seems. I also tend to plan work at 2 or 3 or even 4 in the morning. Thats’s when I get the best rhythm going, lots of ideas spin in and out of my head during the wee hours when mostly everyone else in my house is asleep. The cats keep me company then while I’m in the studio. I’m drawn to elements of the natural world for inspiration so sifting through my flat files that contain drawers of reference material, some of it gathered over decades, comes first. I also sift through books on flowers and animals adding to the plans for the figures. Sometimes I have a title in mind before I do the piece (titles are very important to me, I don’t do ‘Untitled’) and I find images or references that resonate for me with that title. Sometimes I’m inspired by a particular background image idea and work everything around that, sometimes a theme, or a color. I tend to work on a body of work at a time. Right now, the theme is the title for my first silverpoint show ‘ Wild Horses and Wallflowers’ – lots of horse imagery, lots of botanical drawings incorporated. Another show I’m working on will be based on a dream I had about the color yellow – so everything will organically spring from that dream and that color pallette. No matter what the theme or particular inspiration, I sift through refereneces, gather them, enlarge and or reduce them, and then cut out and reconfigure and recompose them into collaged figures, usually consisting of a head a body and a hat, maybe with a sidekick creature alongside. I pin the collage figures all over the walls of the studio and then decide which goes with which, who stands alone, and what medium I’d like to ultimately use to redraw and repaint the collaged creatures, what background they will need, what pieces of what will go into the backgrounds etc. It’s a very intuitive and obsesssive process before I ever start to draw and actually put together the final piece. Sort of like a visual Dr. Frankenstein molding little creatures of seductive, vaguely disconcerting, and slightly odd beauty.
What materials do you work with? Describe your technical process.
I’ll take this straight from my process page on my website. I also have some links to youtube videos showing part of my encaustic process as well which I’ll stick in at the end:
MIXED MEDIA AND ENCAUSTIC PAINTINGS:
On a wooden panel I begin to paint layers of encaustic. Using a heated palette, I warm the paint until liquid, building up to 15 layers of encaustic (pigmented beeswax and resin). After applying the layers, I begin to alter the surface with a variety of techniques. I use a heat gun and stamp the heated wax with wooden carved blocks, score the surface with dental tools and fill the indentations with oil sticks. I make impressions with pieces of lace and metal stamps. After scoring the surface I repaint with more layers of encaustic to fill in the markings. Once the wax cools, I scrape back the surface with razor blades to reveal inlays of color upon color and reveal under-layers. This process prepares and smooths the surface to receive my drawings. Before beginning to paint, I’ve drawn detailed colored pencil figures and faces on rice paper and cut them out. Once the drawings are ready, I heat up unpigmented encaustic and soak the back of the drawings. I sew into the figures with the lurex thread I use to indicate a ‘heartbeat’. The cut drawings are then placed in position on the encaustic backgrounds. I gently heat the drawings and rub them down into the wax, gently but firmly, with a bookmaking tool. I then sometimes add small collage elements. I then heat beeswax on my palette until liquid. After it’s melted, I pour the beeswax over the painting. Afterwards, I leave it to cool for awhile. I scrape the poured beeswax surface of the painting with blades revealing what’s obscured. The pouring makes the wax smooth and cloudy. I scrape down and stop before I rip the delicate drawing just beneath. The top layer might have goldleaf, printing, or stenciling and is fused with an all-over heating to harden it.
Silverpoint drawing is done with a metal stylus (real silver point embedded in wood) on a prepared gesso surface. The gesso is a rabbit skin glue and chalk based one that has to be heated on the stove and applied to the paper or board surface while warm. I heat the gesso and apply 15 to 20 coats in order to prepare the surface to receive the markings from the silverpoint. I wait for it to dry between coats and alternate directions of the coats as they are applied. After the gesso is completely dried (at least 72 hours) I lightly sand the top surface with an extra fine jewelers sandpaper to make it as smooth as possible. I then begin the drawing. I have to work slowly and carefully because unlike pencil, silverpoint cannot be erased. After the drawing is finished it eventually will tarnish as it oxidizes due to sulfer content in the air much like silverware does in the drawer in between polishing. That is part of the unique quality of the line and the fully oxidized drawing will have a softer burnished sepia tone to it.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative? What is the best part of being creative?
Being fully creative for me is a very obsessive process and part of my life. I am a workaholic. I spent a lot of my earlier creative life pursuing the kind of art career that was ultimately unfulfilling and unsuited to my temperament and bypassing what I really wanted to express. As a result of my detour and procrastination in a realm of art making that was commercial and ‘not me’ – I felt I’d reinvented myself when, at the age of 40, and being primarily self-taught, I ended up starting my truly chosen career at the same time I was raising a young family of three children. So, in order to work as hard as I had to to make up for lost time, I had to throw myself headlong, full tilt, over the top into my new creative life while still trying to maintain and devote time and energy to my family. Sometimes there just wasn’t a way to continue to grow and succeed as an artist without sacrificing something else to a degree. We managed but my kids spent a lot of time in the studio with me while I worked and there weren’t enough sit down home cooked meals to get me any mom awards that’s for sure. Now that my kids are older (two of them talented artists already and in art school themselves) it still is a nagging doubt and a challenge. Does the overwhelming urge I have to create, which often shuts out all other desires, become obsessive and isolating to the point where it is depriving me of the equal fulfillment that comes from interacting with other people. I become a hermit at times, and work non-stop for 18 hour days (especially when getting ready for a larger show), foregoing sleep, time spent with family and friends, relaxation, recreational pursuits, physical activity, vacations etc. Balance eludes me sometimes, the creative process becomes all-consuming.
The best part of being creative is the sheer joy I get in expressing ideas and emotions, thoughts, and insights that I’m processing all the time, getting them out on paper, painting, or my newest obsession, jewelry making. I listen to podcasts all day while I’m working, progressive political ones, current events, comedic interviews etc..watch films and read tons before bedtime as well. A lot of what I’m doing in creating my artwork is processing information and interpreting stories that I take in and finding a visual way to express how they make me feel. Interpreting stories with my own visually invented ones, translating, mutating, and ultimately letting go, being vulnerable and expressing that vulnerability and sharing it with the world, a great release. Expressing my creative inner self is like therapy and spirituality all rolled into one and it’s an addictive rush.
What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?
What I’d tell someone as advice about being or becoming an artist is first of all, corny as it sounds ‘Do what you love and the rest will follow.’ Simple yet true and I wish someone had told me. Love to learn, love the process of evolving and growing and changing as an artist. The artist you are will change – the things that inspire you might be very different from what inspired you 10 years or even 10 months ago. Go with it. Look at other people’s art as often as you can. Seek out the things that ‘hurt your heart’ – meaning touch you in profound ways you can’t fully articulate, you just feel them. Be intuitive, and trust your intuition. Be open to the possibility that you might never earn the kind of living you might earn in another more lucrative and stable profession, but also work hard enough and push through with your ideas so that maybe you will earn your living from your art professionally. Be kind, helpful, supportive, and inspired by other artists, collaborate often, even if its just an exchange of ideas, or even curating together. Allow your head as well as your heart into the work. Put in the time, do the hard work, but love what you do. Read, travel, volunteer for a cause, push through inertia, live your life and then you’ll have something to say, something to express. Strive for balance and integrate all aspects of your life with your art as much as possible. Don’t be an art snob.
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Claire Oliver Gallery
Lori on Youtube I, encaustic painting techniques
Lori on Youtube II, encaustic painting techniques
Lori on Youtube III, encaustic painting techniques
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