Laurie Lipton: I have been drawing since the age of four. It served as my main means of communicating, so my work has more facets to it than a mere engagement with an “issue.” When I sit down to draw a whole life time of experience comes into play. How do other people engage with my work? Everyone is different. I can only tell you how I personally respond to a work of art. When I see a painting, read a book, or listen to music it is a deeply subjective experience. If the work connects to me it hits me on a number of levels; intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, but not necessarily all three. It speaks to me about the "story" of my life and tells me something about who or where I am. It gives me another piece of myself and or clarifies something I've felt to be true. I feel a sense of self recognition in a good work of art, a “yes! that's it!” moment. I hope to do this for the viewers of my work. Whether I succeed or not is debatable and changes in degree from individual to individual.
LL: I've always drawn and created art, but an Artist seemed like a rarefied Being. I felt it would be too grandiose to crown myself with that title. I traveled a lot between Europe and the USA and you need to fill out a Landing Card every time you pass between countries. I finally wrote in the Occupation section, “Self-Employed Artist,” when I was 26. I remember it distictly. It hit me: “I am an artist!”
JC: Is there a narrative running behind your work? Do you think it's important for that to explicitly carry through to the audience, or just remain a part of the creation process?
JC: A couple things that you said just now are interesting to me. First off, you said you are embracing the subjective so as to reach the objective. These two things are often shown as diametrical opposites, certainly the myth of objectivity is most commonly related to science and mathematics. Can you expand a bit on what you mean by that?
LL: Why do myths and legends, written thousands of years ago, still affect us today? How can a work of art by a dead Italian Catholic man in Renaissance Europe speak to a live Jewish girl in 21st century New York? What makes certain things reach beyond their time and culture? I believe it is because the artist somehow hit a core subjective truth within himself. All of humanity, from the beginning of history, has experienced certain fears, yearnings, questions. Look at The Epic of Gilgamesh: thousands of years ago mankind was asking “why am I here, what is the meaning of all this?” just as we are today. So the personal becomes the Universal, the subjective becomes Objective… to a degree.
JC: And we define ourselves by how we answer that question, yes. That's one of the reasons I decided to organize this anthology. With as much has been said about myth and the arts, it oftentimes gets framed as separate from daily life. When a person or place gets mythologized, it takes on an element of being “other,” or leaves this world altogether. But ground zero for myth is our daily lives. It's very interesting to me that you can go so far into the “inside” as an artist you can wind up communicating to thousands or millions from your hermit cave. These are difficult things to talk about sensibly. Are there any processes that you use to try to access what you call your unconscious self? It's very mysterious how art seems to constantly shore up material from those liminal states, between waking and sleep, living and dying, and so on. Also, these seem to be themes that come up quite frequently in your work...
JC: That's true of many artists. On the more technical end, I'm curious about the process you use to get such detail.
LL: Simple: I sit for hours and work my butt off.
JC: I don't doubt that a bit. When composing a piece, do you envision the image ahead of time- like that idea of sculpture existing somehow "inside" unhewn stone, or is it more of an exploratory process?
LL: I keep small sketch books around or near me and either write out images in words as they appear in my head, or do a tiny, quick sketch. Then I let them simmer. I play with the composition for a while. When I feel fired enough to actually put an image down on a large piece of paper, the basics are there. For example: a woman standing in a living room. The details are not yet formed (i.e. the woman's face, her clothing, the furniture). I suppose it is similar to a writer composing a story: he sees the characters and the situations, but then has to dive in to get at the core, the meat of it all. Forgive the metaphor mix. Once I surround myself with the drawing, it becomes clearer to me bit by bit. It reveals itself to me slowly and I have to be patient. If I hurry or force anything, I cut off the life-flow and it dies. So to answer your question: it is both.
Laurie Lipton was born in New York and began drawing at the age of four. 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. Her work has been exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the USA.
Lipton was inspired by the religious paintings of the Flemish School. She tried to teach herself how to paint in the style of the 17th century Dutch Masters and failed. When traveling around Europe as a student, she began developing her very own peculiar drawing technique building up tone with thousands of fine cross-hatching lines like an egg tempera painting. “It's an insane way to draw,” she says, “but the resulting detail and luminosity is worth the amount of effort.”