interviews

Voyager Chicago

April 2018

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.


365 Artists / 365 Days

March 2015

Briefly describe the work you do. 

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.

Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.

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.

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.

The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

In fact, I have two studios, both on the North Side of Chicago, where I live. One is for making paper, and one for making sculptures of the paper. Papermaking is very wet, so my papermaking studio is in a basement. The space is dark and damp, but it has the essential, good drainage. My “dry studio” is in a loft building that I share with a other artists. It is a very pleasant space, with high ceilings and good light. I make all my sculptures in the dry studio, although I often read and sketch at home.

I often say that I think with my hands. I make many maquettes until I find one that works. Then I relax into the process of making multiples of a successful one, with the number of multiples as high as 300. In earlier years all of the multiples were very similar. Now I’m more interested in wider variations on a theme.

What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

Sometimes when I’m lugging around heavy buckets of paper pulp or climbing up and down a ladder to install work in a gallery I feel as if I’m working in heavy construction! I never expected that being an artist would be so demanding physically.

I am also surprised that the community organizing skills I learned in my career are very useful in my artist’s life. I helped form an artists’ critique group that meets every month. I’m also active with a local sculpture organization, finding venues for exhibits.

When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time every day or do you have to work whenever time allows?

I try to set aside two or three full days each week when I can work. I don’t have internet access at my studio, and it is a huge relief to put aside that distraction. I listen to music and I work very intensely.

How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?

I moved away from figurative work in graduate school at the urging of my teachers. When I moved my studio last year, though, I unpacked many years of old sculptures and sketchbooks. I realized that figures have been a strong element of my work for many, many years. I decided to pursue figurative work again.

How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?

I love popular religious art; its message always seems so direct and poignant. I’m drawn to the aesthetic of Asia, whether it’s roadside shrines in India or caves with thousands of Buddhas in Laos. I enjoy nontraditional materials, and I often shop in craft and dollar stores.

One very recent influence is an exhibit of Haitian art at the Field Museum in Chicago. I was mesmerized by the large red and black figures that were created as sentinels for a ceremonial space. In response I created forty small, whimsical paper sculptures that are also sentinels.

Another recent and very strong influence are the novels of Marilynne Robinson. 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.

Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests? 

I spent many years in a career working for social justice, and I think I’ll always be pulled in that direction. I limit that involvement now because art is calling me much more strongly. My other great interest is travel. Travel, of course, feeds my artistic life, so there is no conflict there.