There are many talented artists out there, but every now and again one comes along who can perform miracles. Lori Field's oeuvre contains exactly the kind of work that is all wrong for the internet: there is a multi-dimensionality and almost archaeological stratification to each piece that is completely lost in pixel form. Each work is sealed with wax, and embedded with mixed media details so lovingly crafted, one feels as though they have been adorned much in the same way religious followers dress their deity idols. Below, Ms. Field answers my questions with talk of her personal symbology, her love of outsiders, and the blessing of insomnia.
Phantasmaphile: First and foremost, what inspires you?
Lori Field: Everything from a painting I see at a museum or a gallery or in a friend’s studio, a few words or sentences from a great book I’m reading (or sometimes even a not-so-great book), something political or earth shattering or touching that has happened in the news in the world, an old photograph, a song, a piece of something someone else has thrown out by the side of the road, to an event that has happened in my own life that I just need to express something about.
Ph: What is your idea generating process like?
LF: I sometimes start with just a title, and create a piece to go with that title. Currently I’m working on a piece whose title will be ‘The World Has Teeth’. I also name a piece after I’ve done it too, or while I’m working on it I figure out what it’s about and then name it during the process of drawing and painting. I find that my best free associative ideas come to me at two, three in the morning, sometimes after piddling around all the daylight hours and coming up with nothing, all of a sudden, at an hour when everyone else in my house is asleep, BINGO, I have a bolt of lightening hit.
Ph: Your pieces are truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. They are layered, cloudy jewels, encrusted with so many details and talismans. How did you develop this technique?
LF: With great difficulty and dedication. I wanted to find some way to combine my love of color and detailed drawing with my love for collage and encaustic paint’s mysterious painting qualities. I wanted to combine figurative drawings, surrealism, symbolism, and abstract painting in a way that I hadn’t seen before and the medium of encaustic allowed me to create a very unique and idiosyncratic way of working with more traditional materials. I started out doing drawings, mixing them with some appropriated images, sewing into them, gluing them to watercolor paper, painting a watercolor background behind the figures and then painting a few layers of pure melted beeswax over the image and ironing the wax into the paper. I watched as ordinary drawings became extraordinary ones due to the properties of the wax creating transparencies and mists over the figures. After that, I knew I wanted to do more, but I needed to take a workshop to get a greater understanding of encaustic and begin to move on to painting with beeswax, resin, and pigment.
Ph: And without giving away your trade secrets, what is your physical process like when you work?
LF: Even giving away my ‘trade secrets’ won’t help anyone if they are going to be nefarious and attempt to replicate what I do. This medium is so difficult, temperamental, and unpredictable, only the very strong of constitution will have the patience to try and achieve with it what I have. Not conceited about my abilities really, just realistic. Encaustic is so much trouble, trouble shooting, and still you are never able to predict just what will happen. It is very exciting, but not for the faint of heart, not to mention, very hard on your living quarters or studio. Sometimes I think my entire floor is covered with little pieces of ground in wax.
Ph: What are your creativity rituals? Are there certain elements you prefer to have in place when you create? (Time of day, music, beverage, etc.)
LF: Well, I am a night person. I usually spend the mornings looking for references, doing correspondence, making phone calls, packing and sending off artwork, etc. I usually don’t get started actually working on art until noon or so, and really get into it in the evenings, especially late in the evenings. When I’m getting ready for a show, I have to adjust my ideal times to work and pretty much work all day, from 9am until 2 or 3 the next morning, with a dinner break in between (hopefully) and much grazing and much refrigerator raiding throughout the day. I usually have ginger tea with honey once or twice, and listen to liberal talk radio while I work instead of music (music just makes me want to dance and so I waste time that should be used for drawing or painting). I like to be informed, but I have to work, so I multi-task. You’d be amazed what I learn about world events and what’s up with this country by listening all day. I must confess, I’m a bit of a civics geek. Because a great deal of my work is done in reaction to world events, it is ideal for me to constantly have information coming in that I can respond to in an intuitive, stream of consciousness way. I also respond to personal events, sometimes make a phone call to a friend or talk with a family member about something or someone and about relationships that need to be expressed in one of my little ‘psychological portraits’.
I also have tons of reference material that I’m constantly sorting into inspirational piles. There is a black and white portable file with a ribbon that contains ideas for current work, I’m constantly adding to this file or taking things out. I’ll begin the first step of a new piece by sorting through that and laying out the ideas I think will start to comprise a new central figure. Sometimes I have to scan and print out elements in different sizes and then I play with those, coming up with the complete figure that I will begin to draw. Once I have lots of drawings, of heads, bodies, hats, sidekicks, blue roses, flying fish etc. done, then comes my favorite part. It’s like playing with paper dolls: I spread all the finished and cut out drawings out on my worktable and start combining them together to make different creatures. This part often happens very late at night and I won’t go to sleep until I have at least one creature completed and ready to meet his or her background the next day. I am a world-class insomniac, so I usually finish the work day with some yoga or exercise bike and multi-task again by reading at the same time (can’t do that with yoga, but with the exercise bike, yes) to make myself tired enough so that I can shut off my brain and sleep.
Ph: One of the things that strikes me about your work is that it feels very powerfully feminine. Is this a conscious choice on your part? Is being a "female" artist something you give much thought to?
LF: I had never given that much thought until one day, when I was having an invitational open studio day, one of the people who’d dropped by to see my work mentioned in passing that there were no men depicted anywhere in my paintings and drawings. I started to protest, but after looking around, and thinking about it for awhile, I realized he was mostly correct. While there will be an occasional male figure, it is usually a somewhat androgynous young figure that is somehow boyish without being overtly masculine in any sense. I began to be more conscious of this feminine perspective as I proceeded to work after that point and have since realized that my chosen symbolism and iconography is indeed distinctly female. I wouldn’t characterize my work as feminist however. I think the feminized figures are more about relaying the concept of vulnerability which is a main theme in my work. There are also smaller elements that are extremely ‘feminine’ like my blue roses, cut-paper flowers, silver lace doilies, and flying fish. Even my animal figures are feminine, there are lots of flamingos, monkeys and bluebirds in dresses, giraffes in 1920’s bathing costumes, etc. There are some male animal figures, but usually just a tiny bird in a little Lord Fauntleroy suit riding a bunny bareback or something similarly non-threatening.
Ph: I'm also impressed by how many different types of people and faces populate your work. Is internationality or pan-culturalism important to you?
LF: Yes, having my figures represent a real cross section of multiculturalism is important to me. I consider myself a symbolist rather than a surrealist and my emphasis on other cultures, helps me stress another theme that is important in my work, which is the concept of the ‘other’. People who are misunderstood, marginalized, downtrodden, mistreated, ostracized, categorized or otherwise left separate are of interest to me. The idea that one group of people could assume power or control society to such a degree that they make second class citizens out of ‘others’ who may look differently, think differently, worship differently, or choose to live differently than they do is endlessly playing itself out as drama in the history of the human species. My little creatures, captured in their psychedelic landscapes are exaggerated in their ‘otherness’, their characteristics and fetishistic attire make them stand out like a sore thumb. They are odd.
Ph: What were you like as a child?
LF: I was an only child, a loner, always reading or drawing, an absent minded professor. I did have close friends, but they were all artistic and a little nerdy in their own unique ways. I was very close to older relatives in my family, like my great uncle Helmut (very gay and was friends with Marlene Deitrich when he was a young man - how cool - and he worked for London records, so I always had great music in my life when he was around), his sister, my maternal grandmother, and my grandfather. I was mostly raised by my grandparents and had much more in common with my grandmother than with my own mother. My grandfather was the one who got me started drawing at age two, he drew stick figures for me and I’ve been hooked ever since. My grandmother and my grandfather got me, more so than my parents. My dad was an artist but a very traditional one. He painted seascapes and made the most obsessively detailed ship models. I used to love and sit with him when he worked on those.
I did love warm weather, lived part of the year in Florida (which I still call Fla-la-la) and loved to swim, run really fast, climb trees and roller skate. I still have a home in Fla-la-la, my little pink home away from home.
Ph: What is your favorite a) sight b) sound c) taste d) smell e) tactile sensation?
LF: My favorite sight is seeing my children, asleep, awake, dancing, singing, drawing, whatever they do, I am freshly amazed by them every day, corny but true.
My favorite sound, hmmm, laughter, and summer rain, and this beautiful wind chime on my porch that always lets me know I’m home.
My favorite taste, that’s easy. Caviar, Beluga preferably, with blinis, sour crème, chopped onions, and ice cold Stoli in the freezer waiting. Yum.
Smell: Frangipani blossoms.
Tactile sensation: My cat Dusty Springfield’s fur - it’s like no
other cat’s fur I’ve ever felt. I could
pick her out in a pitch black room full of cats, that’s how uniquely soft and
silky her fur is, almost beyond soft, really.
Ph: What news would you like to share with the readers of Phantasmaphile?
LF: That I would love them to try and see my work in person and tell me what they think about it. I love hearing all about how it makes other people feel and what it makes them think about. That is half the fun of creating it: hearing what other people get out of it, which ones they like more than others, and why.
You can see Lori Field's work in person at Kinz, Tillou, and Feigen until April 26th.