Thursday, August 09, 2007

Art Space Talk: Laurie Lipton

Laurie Lipton was born in New York. She was the first person to graduate from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pennsylvania with a Fine Arts Degree in Drawing (with honours). She has lived in Holland, Belgium, Germany and France and has made her home in London since 1986.

Inspired by the hyper-realistic paintings of the 15th-Century Flemish masters, Laurie's drawings are known for their intense detail. In a sense, pencils are her paint and paper is her canvas. Her work is smooth and appears to be almost photographic at first glance. However, a closer look reveals the intricate detail of her work. From thousands upon thousands of distinct, precise, cross-hatched pencil-strokes, Laurie builds up rich, monochrome tones. It is rare to find an artist who can draw as she does- I consider her to be a contemporary master.

Laurie's art has been exhibited internationally and has been widely published and documented- including Juxtapoz magazine and the book 'Metamorphosis: 50 Contemporary Surreal, Fantastic and Visionary Artists'- by Jon Beinart.

Brian Sherwin: Laurie, can you go into detail about your youth? Can you recall any experiences that helped to guide you to where you are today with your art?

Laurie Lipton: My father used to take my brother and I to museums on Sundays so my mother could have the day to herself. I was enthralled, especially by the religious paintings. I wondered how the artists managed to create such beautifully detailed worlds. I thought it was the most magical thing I'd ever seen, and used to stand in front of a painting for hours, trying to burn it into my eyeballs so that I'd never forget it.

I begged for art supplies and used to sit in my bedroom for hours painting and drawing. My mother was quite worried about me and wanted me to go out and play with other children.

BS: Laurie, you were the first person to graduate from the Carnegie-Mellon University in Pennsylvania with a Fine Arts Degree in Drawing (with honours). Can you tell our readers about the art program there? Who were your mentors?

LL: A professor called Herb Olds inspired me when I was a freshman at CMU to see objects as forms caressed by light. He taught my eyes to see differently. He also showed me how to use the composition of a whole page and how important each mark was. Otherwise..... I was bored. Everyone was splashing paint everywhere. So what?

BS: While in college you desired to paint like the 17th century Flemish Master, but no one could teach you. You took it upon yourself to study Durer, Memling and Van Eyck- cutting classes in order to copy their works at the university library. Can you go into detail about how you learned to draw in a manner that captured as much detail, if not more, than you could have done had your learned to paint in this manner?

LL: I was one of 3 students who were allowed to spend their Junior Year Abroad just traveling around Europe. It was an experiment CMU tried with us. At the end of the year, we were supposed to present a portfolio to the faculty and get a year's credit. They had to end the program with us, however, as the entire Junior year class wanted to leave and travel around Europe.... so we were the only ones who got to have the experience. It changed my life. When I saw Memling, Durer, Van Eyck, Michelangelo, Da Vinci in the flesh I felt as though I had seen a part of God. I know that sounds very dramatic, but that's how moved I was.

At first it depressed the shit out of me: how could I possibly hope to create anything near to those works of genius? and if I can't, why bother? Then I reasoned that I am not Da Vinci, Memling, Van Eyck, etc. I am Laurie Lipton....... and if I can somehow touch/leave behind my essence, my Laurie Liptoness, then I'll have done something unique with my talent.

I went back to the States to finish my year at University and worked so hard that I almost had a nervous breakdown. I didn't care. It was as if I was on fire. I went to classes in order to get my grades, but stayed up all night drawing. I was a wreck and looked like a zombie, but by the end of the term I had my own Liptonesque vision and unique technique.

BS: I've read that you see your pencils as "colours" and that "no one in their right mind would have the patience to draw in this way, which is why it works for me so well.". Would you say that your method is a mix of pleasure and pain? What reactions do you get when people discover how long you spend on your drawings?

LL: I am not a masochist. My work is pure pleasure. I am pleased by people's reactions to my work. It's hard to tell when you see photos of my drawings, but when you are actually standing in front of one, you can see all the zillions of little lines I've used to make the picture. It's very impressive. Even I'm impressed.

BS: Laurie, you were also inspired by Diane Arbus and her use of black and white. Can you go into detail about how she inspired you?

LL: I came across Arbus' work when I was a teenager and felt an instant affinity with her and her vision. Her use of black and white was a revelation to me. It made the subject matter even more bizarre and disturbing. The viewer wasn't being distracted by colors. Nothing got in the way of the image. Her grays were a stark, frozen almost nightmarish palette. I experimented with it and found that it was exactly what my imagination needed.

BS: What else has inspired or influenced your art? I've noticed that several of your pieces seem to draw inspiration from the traditions of Mexico... can you go into further detail about these influences?

LL: I think in images. My emotions get filtered in my brain and come out as images.

I was taken to the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico and was amazed. What a different approach to mortality! My culture tries to ignore death and aging. If you get old or die you're considered a loser. People spend billions on keeping death at bay. In Mexico, however, it was celebrated, embraced, made fun of. What a relief. I've experienced the deaths of many people that I loved, so I found the Day of the Dead a good playground for my repressed emotions.

BS: Laurie, you were born in New York... since that time you have lived in Holland, Belgium, Germany and France- you now reside in London. How has your travels enhanced your art? I will assume that each location has had an influence on your work.

LL: What a complex question! Well... just by leaving my "Comfort Zone" (as they say) and putting myself in a new situation and new culture, I was able to expand my life and reality. It not only enhanced my art, it enriched my life. When everything is new and unpredictable, even the language, it wakes you up. You become aware of everything.... street signs, shops, clothing, everything.

Leaving your country of origin also gives you a unique, outsider's view of your home. I always felt like an outsider, but actually being one has helped me to see things differently, more objectively, in the USA.

BS: Laurie, you have been featured in Juxtapoz and your work can be found in 'Metamorphosis: 50 Contemporary Surreal, Fantastic and Visionary Artists' published by Jon Beinart. How do you feel when your work is reviewed or featured in a publication? Do you get excited? Nervous?

LL: I have been doing this for 30 years now so I'm a bit jaded, though it's always nice to be appreciated and noticed.

BS: What are you working on at this time? Also, can you tell our readers about your studio space? What are the conditions you need for working? Do certain types of music inspire you... do you prefer to have company when your working- or do you like to work alone? Give us the details.

LL: I live alone and work on an architect's table. I always put headphones on to cut out the outside world. I blast music all day, from opera to blues to folk to rock.... it depends on the mood I'm in.

I'm working on a 2nd Day of the Dead show for the CoproNason gallery in Los Angeles for October 2008. I have also just signed up with the Strychnin Gallery and have several group shows with them, as well as a solo show in Madrid this October inspired by the work of Goya.

You can see where and when my shows are on my website:

BS: Laurie, do you think you will ever put the pencils away in exchange for paint or some other medium to focus upon? Or do you see yourself drawing until the day you die?

LL: I have painted. I have worked with sculpture. I have done lithography and etchings. I will draw till the day I die. Hopefully.

BS: Do you have any suggestions or advice for artists who have chosen to focus on drawing? What kind of pencils do you use? Can you suggest a certain brand? What about advice for artists in general? Any suggestions for emerging artists who are just starting out?

LL: The only advice I have to give artists just starting out is this: work. Work. Work. Experiment with all the pencils and papers you can find and see what fits you best. The more you work, the more you try, the better you'll be. It's simple. There are no short cuts. If there were, I would have found them by now.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the artworld?

LL: No thank you, Brian. I think that just about covers it all.

You can learn more about Laurie and her art by visiting her website: You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- Laurie is involved with the beinArt International Surreal Art Collective.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Claudio Parentela said...

Really good interviews on the blog...I love Laurie Lipton's art...I've interviewed her too on 1 of my art blogs(I've 5 art blogs).
I like much too the other interviews however.
Claudio Parentela

Unknown said...

WOW--I see the Los Dias de Los Muertos theme throughout your work. Powerful images and thank you for sharing.
Sharon R Aldridge

Joe Chiappetta said...

This really is incredible and riveting work.

MBKKR said...

Great interview, inspiring.
Seen her work on the internet and it's nice to have the story behind the artist. And i think her work is great.

Anonymous said...

There is a bit of humour etc. in those drawings however that does not change the simple fact that these drawings are a kitsch.

Anonymous said...

A Greek philopsopher used to walk around the city of Athens and whisper in peoples ear,"Remember death." Your work reminds me of that idea like the 'vanitas' paintings of the late Renaissance and Baroque period.