Interview, Voyager Chicago
Laurie, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I grew up in a household full of wonderful woodcraft made by my father, who never considered himself an artist. I continued in his tradition, making art happily, but very casually. I made mixed media sculptures, incorporating wooden blocks, plastic figures, popsicle sticks, beads and various other offbeat items. While this was long before I knew what an artist’s statement was, I was already working to understand something in my life: loss, the need for protection, the need for community. Like my father, I didn’t consider myself an artist, partly because I was raising a family and working in the nonprofit community on social justice issues at the same time.
In my 40s I was introduced to artists’ books (through my work), and I took my first art classes since elementary school. I loved them, and eventually took a two-week workshop in book binding at the Penland School of Crafts. At Penland I saw that I was much more serious about art than I had realized, that I was in fact an artist. When I was close to retirement I began graduate school in the book and paper art at Columbia College in Chicago. I got my MFA in 2010. I’ve been making and showing my “new” art since then.
My years making art without formal training (as an outsider artist) allowed me to work unselfconsciously. I developed a rather whimsical style and point of view while confronting serious subjects. During graduate school I learned to articulate this point of view more coherently, and I found a medium that I love, paper sculpture.
Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I make sculptures with handmade paper. With these sculptures I try to access something beyond our concrete world and to find meaning and comfort through doing so. Sometimes I do this very directly, as in my piece “A Full Taste of Happiness”, an installation of hundreds of Buddha-like sculptures, and at other times indirectly, as in the abstract hanging sculptures I call “Healing Machines.”
For me, paper is the ideal medium to explore these ideas. Paper itself is complex. It is light, responds to movement and appears fragile. As a paper sculptor, I know that it is also pliable, absorbs color beautifully, and is very strong. Abaca, the fiber I use most often, shrinks as it dries, adding the element of chance to all my work. I also enjoy the process of papermaking because of my love of water, for its beauty, sensuality and for its healing qualities.
Working with multiples is a strong component of my work. It is both a metaphor and a strategy. Multiples, especially those with variations, point to the simple yet complicated nature of just about everything. As an artistic strategy, they offer an opportunity for experimentation within a structure, for stillness with many variations. As a visual strategy, they calm a busy eye, with each object informing the others. I often suspend these multiples from the ceiling on fine line. Their movement in response to the movement in the air means that the display itself is impermanent, that it also has many variations.
What responsibility, if any, do you think artists have to use their art to help alleviate problems faced by others? Has your art been affected by issues you’ve concerned about?
That’s complicated, isn’t it? Most important, artists are making work for ourselves. We just don’t have any choice about it. Sending it out into the world is really secondary. When we do, the message is very personal.
The novelist Marilynne Robinson said in an interview that artists have to have the courage to testify about serious things. She said she wants to say, “I have a sense of something sacred.” I think I want to say that too. What I mean by “sacred,” though, is very loose. Perhaps my most important role as an artist is to convey a sense of comfort and peace.
What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
I have two solo shows coming up this fall, at the Robert DeCaprio Gallery at Moraine Valley Community College and at the Dorothea Thiel Gallery at South Suburban College. It’s going to be a busy summer! Later in the year I’ll be part of a three-person show at the Evanstons Art Center.