Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mind Body Spirit Artist Series: Lori Field

I first became introduced to Lori Field and her enchanting world of art around 13 or 14 years ago.  Her work was part of an artists' studio tour that the town of Montclair, New Jersey use to host annually.  There were many homes and studios that were scheduled to be open that day, but I had been told under good authority that Lori's work in particular was not to be missed.  My source was correct as usual. Her work stood head and shoulders above the rest, and over the ensuing years I would inevitably cross paths with Lori over and over through various groups and events.  Every time her work would pop into my field of vision, it would have grown again, becoming more and more accomplished as she gained her full stride as an artist.  Lori's work is now exhibited all over the world and has been used in many publications.  Her facility with the mediums she chooses to use combined with the characters she creates has produced a volume of work that truly does embody the phrase, 'je ne sais quoi'.  I'm very happy and appreciative that she agreed to be interviewed for the Mind Body Spirit Odyssey.  Thank you Lori! 

                                                                                                                ~ diane fergurson

Beany and Cecil in the Garden of Earthly Delights
MBS: Can you tell us a little bit about your background. How you got started in art?

Lori: 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 courses 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 started out doing collage work while my third child was an infant - I made one every day while she slept in her portable car seat. I began to submit them to juried shows and very soon afterwards had my first invitation to have a solo show at the Pierro Gallery in South Orange, New Jersey. I have never stopped showing since. Life begins at 40 is most definitely true when it comes to my art career.

Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails
MBS:  I'm finding that sentiment true with a lot of artists I talk to.  Being over 40 definitely alters a person's perspective.  What insights as an artist do you find that you have had over the age 40 that you did not have before?

Lori:  When I think about the rebirth of my fine art career after the age of 40 I keep coming up with the phrase 'I'm dancing as fast as I can....' I think that once I got started doing what I loved, and no longer trying to have an art career that didn't express my true voice I just attacked the whole process with a hunger I didn't know I had inside of me. The fact that I had three still young children whose lives and care I had to incorporate into my own was daunting. I think that the main insight I had was that being fulfilled as an artist would make me more fulfilled in every aspect of my life, including being a parent. When I was younger, procrastinating about what I wanted to 'do with my life' seemed less problematic. Once I began, as an older person, I just couldn't believe what I'd been missing all those years I put off doing what I really was meant to do.

MBS:  I remember that time period, when you started exhibiting in a really big way.  There are several aspects of your work in particular that have always interested me.  First, the mediums that you choose to use and in addition, how you choose to use them. Also your subject matter. As far as mediums, what do you use in your work?

Lori:  I have been concentrating on either archaic art materials, those that have fallen out of use for centuries until a recent revival of interest, and materials that are not usually considered art materials like slate chalkboards, embroidery thread etc. I like the idea of putting a contemporary spin on an ancient or incongruous material. The mediums I've been using the most in recent years are encaustic painting combined with colored pencil drawing or silverpoint drawing. I have a detailed description of the processes I use for both mediums on my website.

MBS: What sizes do you usually work in?  Your artwork seems very labor intensive.  How much time to you normally devote to a particular piece?

Lori:  The encaustic work becomes formally difficult if I go over 36" in any dimension. I have done one 48" piece but since a part of my process involves pouring molten wax over the piece, it isn't practical at that size. I'm getting some 12" square and 16" square mixed media and encaustic paintings ready for a solo show in Nashville this September. The 111 silverpoint drawings I am getting ready for my next solo exhibition in the fall in NYC range in size from teeny tiny 7"h x 5"w up to 50"square ones. The pieces vary in the time it takes to prepare them depending on medium or complexity. I also don't always work in a linear way from start to finish on an encaustic piece. Sometimes I'll spend weeks doing the drawings and then weeks more working on the backgrounds. Then more weeks adhering the drawings to the backgrounds and pouring and scraping to finalized the piece. In general the encaustic work and the silverpoint work are equally labor intensive, it's just different in that the process for the encaustic work is so complex and the silverpoint is comparatively simple, although in many cases takes as long to finish the detailed drawings. The largest silverpoint drawings (50"square) can take up to 2 or 3 months from planning stage through final drawing.

Be Careful What You Wish For
MBS:   You often refer to your love of drawing as "obsessive" and that it is a very important component to your work.  Has that always been the case, or did that passion for drawing grow more intense as you got older?  Have you figured out why?

Lori:  Drawing has always been a passion. Obsessive artwork has always been my favorite, the more obsessive the better. I think it is connected to the subconscious somehow, an underlying passion that goes unrecognized unless you tap into it , and then there's no stopping it. I go into a trance when I'm drawing, especially with silverpoint because you can't really erase. It lends itself to obsessive detail and to letting your mind take you places while you render the center of a protea flower or the lace jabot on a dandy's ensemble. A lot of outsider art that I admire is obsessive, and the obsession is almost the point with those artists, rather than the art making itself. It is not meant as artmaking, but as a purging of the mind almost. While I am conscious of art making, I am also indulging myself with mark making to get out feelings, to express inner thoughts, to tell a story, an obsessive narrative. The act of drawing becomes a surprising necessity. The compulsive, accumulative quality of much of my drawing work is deeply satisfying.
I'm Just Wild About Saffron
MBS:  Yes, obsession is definitely a huge component of outsider art particularly because the artists
are so totally taken over with transcendent states of consciousness when they create (and often when they don't create) - which is much different then just being in a creative "zone" that most artists (hope) they get into when they make art. Your drawings, the characters you create and their worlds are probably really a form of automatic writing. Any thoughts about that?

Lori:  Yes, I guess it is a form of 'automatic writing' in a sense, or stream of consciousness drawing. First, before I ever start to draw I sift through piles and piles of references I've gathered for years. These consist of heads, bodies, hats, flowers, tattoo books, medical illustrations, poems and quotations, animal imagery, antique acupuncture manuals, lives of the saints (with pictures), Hindu paintings, etc. etc. etc. Only after I've done a very intuitive process of separating out the imagery that is speaking to me for that piece do I then begin to compose a figure that will be what I draw. So, that is a process of using my subconscious as the medium in a spiritual, deeply connected way. 

Homeward Bound
MBS:  Years ago I saw you finishing up a painting titled "Mother From Another Planet".  I had an immediate connection to it and knew at that moment that there was a much, much deeper element to your work then just the application of encaustic medium and drawing "really cool looking" characters.  As your work has progressed, I feel that this component has only become stronger.  How does spirituality play a role in your artwork and for you as an artist?

Lori:  Spirituality plays an enormous part in my art practice. Drawing is my drug of choice and as I've said, when really in the drawing state of mind I go into a trance. I listen to the news, and podcasts covering world events all day while I work, plus some podcasts about psychology, stand up comedians, science, art etc. I am constantly processing the world in my head and experiencing a reaction to the things I hear. Often a piece will be about something story that has struck me in a very deep, elemental, human way - I respond with the imagery. My work is primarily symbolism, the symbols being my own glossary of images that stand in for human feelings, foibles and relationships to the unknown. Drawing this way is the closest I come to spirituality, it is my spirituality.

Mr. Softee
MBS:  Of the work you create - the characters, figures, highly imaginative landscaped worlds - is there a common core theme or idea that runs through everything?   If so, what is it?  In addition, do you have one image or character in particular that you feel a special connection to?

Lori:  The common themes that run through my work are probably the idea of giving a symbolic voice to the 'other' in our society and expressing the concept of the vulnerability of the human condition. I have an affinity for all of my characters, in fact, they are a recurring cast of characters. Sometimes you will see the same head on a different body, or one character reappear in a different landscape or be realized in a different medium. I am sort of inventing my own mythology of little gods and goddesses, lesser beings, sidekicks, and supporting characters. There is one little guy who I call Mr. Softee, who has appeared about a dozen times in various pieces, from collage to drawing to encaustic. I am going to redraw him in silverpoint very soon.

MBS:   What is a typical work day like for you?

Lori:  Typical work day involves office hours, correspondence, searching for references, preparing backgrounds, making enlargements and reductions and planning out actually drawings in the morning say from 9-12 noon. Then drawing straight through until dinner time, break for dinner, then back in the studio. This varies depending on family stuff, but since two of my kids are off at school and my remaining child is in high school, not a lot of 'mom' duties to break up the day like there used to be. When I'm getting ready for a show or shows, as I am now, my day is longer, and I work well past midnight (sometimes to 3 or 4 am) in the studio. I like to percolate ideas and plan new drawings between 2 and 3 am. Whenever I do go to sleep, I always read a bit before turning off the light and finally closing my eyes.

Teeny Tiny and The Witch Woman
MBS:  I've noticed you've had an online presence for quite a long time, and that's something that
 until recently a lot artists have been very hesitant to do.  How has your online experience
 benefited you as an artist?

Lori:   An online presence is absolutely essential these days. My daughter is graduating from Pratt next month and the school actually requires you to establish a website as part of the curriculum and graduation requirements. My website has helped me immensely in being able to approach galleries and collectors both. I don't update it as much as I should but aside from that little bit of procrastination on my part, it's an invaluable tool. I even have a link on the front page to my NYC gallery for anyone perusing who wants to inquire about a work.

Paradise Lost
MBS: Where is your work available and can you share more details with us about your upcoming shows?

Lori:   My work is available through my primary dealer in New York City, Claire Oliver Gallery. I also have had exhibitions and have a working project relationship with Cumberland Gallery in Nashville, TN in Berlin, Germany with Janine Bean Gallery, and in Brussels, Belgium with Galerie d'YS .

I am working on a couple of exhibitions now that are coming up this fall. In September in Nashville, I will have an exhibition of new encaustic work at Cumberland Gallery and In October in NYC I will have an exhibition of my silverpoint drawings at Claire Oliver Gallery.

MBS: What advice do you have to anyone who wishes to (seriously) pursue an 
artistic path?  (besides not 
waiting until you are 40!  lol)

Lori:  My advice, short, sweet, and sincere (and somewhat corny but true)....Do what you love and the rest will follow. It is never too late to explore your creative self and pursue a career in the arts (one aspect of my life did indeed begin at 40), it becomes harder as you get older to gain a foothold, but it's not impossible. Don't be an art snob, seek out and be open to and inspired by a variety of other people's art.

Thank you Lori!

Lori's work can be found online at her website
Photo courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery, NYC

Lori also did a series of YouTube videos showing part of process she uses in her artwork.
There are 3 parts.  Below is part 1.  Enjoy!

Part 2:

Part 3:

Links to other interviews in the Mind Body Spirit Artist Series.

Follow the daily updates of the Mind Body Spirit Marketplace on Facebook and Tumblr.

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Artist,Writer, Jewelry Design