I grew up in a middle class Minnesota family where art was not on our radar. Later, when I became a stay-at-home Mom, I did the traditional female arts: knitting, quilting, crocheting, etc. When we left Minnesota for my husband's career, I starting taking classes at the local community college. One of the first classes I took was ceramics, which I loved, but when I took my first 2D class, I was hooked. It was during that time that I accustomed myself to the idea that I could actually be an artist. It was so out of my perception of myself that it took a while. I was divorced in 2000, which forced me into making a decision to fully commit to painting. I was accepted at Laguna College of Art and Design that year, at the age of 44: it was a bit of a late start! With hindsight, I realize that the 'female arts' were my outlet for expression before I discovered the fine arts and knew that I was an artist.
I graduated from LCAD with my BFA in 2004 and MFA in 2008. During my undergraduate years two teachers were pivotal in my experience and progress: Betty Shelton and Jonathan Burke. My confidence was in a particularly low place because of the divorce and they gave me added support and guidance that made all the difference. In graduate school, Jon Swihart was my mentor, for which we have taken much ribbing! Jon likes to joke that he was paid to date me. All kidding aside, we had so much in common artistically and aesthetically, that it was a great match. People sometimes assume that Jon is responsible for influencing me with his style, but the truth is that we already had that in common. He has been instrumental in helping me evolve as a painter and has been my biggest champion.
I haven't been painting all that long, but in the course of painting this show, I felt myself moving toward more simplicity. I love the emotional power of isolation and how in the isolation of a figure, the viewer can find connection to our human sense of being in this life alone, which ironically, we are all in together. In some of this work, I have used isolation from other people to focus on our connection to something bigger than us and to describe the phenomenon of being physically alone, but never alone in the true sense of the word.
Your recent work features the figure of Pierrot. Tell me about your interest in this character and what he stands for in your work.
The Pierrot character originated in the 17th century as part of the commedia dell'Arte, which was a type of Italian theatre made up of masked characters. He has evolved over the years in both appearance and purpose, but this isn't actually relevant to my work. My interest in Pierrot had a serendipitous start... We were planning a party for Jerry Ackerman's birthday and decided to do a live replication of one of Gerome's paintings, 'The Duel after the Masquerade,' in which there is a Pierrot character. This character originated in the 17th century as a part of a type of Italian theatre made up of masked characters. I was struck by the character, how in his costume and make-up he lost connection to race or nationality, or even age. He became an icon for the everyday man. To me, the white shimmering costume, on the other hand, is a generic reference to religious or ceremonial robes. The costume on the 'everyday man' is a reference to the spiritual nature, or 'saintliness' of us all. With this, I have to say, I am not associated with any formal religion, but I do believe this connection is our life-force and our connection to each other.
I have focused just on oil painting for the last several years and work in a traditional academic style. A large percentage of my pieces are quite small, which suits my temperament and studio size well. I have always taken an intuitive approach to my work, but in the beginning I thought it was just being naïve. Now, I realize this is authentic for me. I'm not an intellectual painter. If I work just from my head, the work seems contrived and flat, because it lacks the emotions I feel most driven to relate.
What are your interests outside of art? We have great friends that we enjoy spending time with and I have come full circle and re-embraced knitting and sewing, which surprises me more than anyone. I love the meditative quality of knitting and, as it turns out I'm not bad at it, so I've been taking commissions and selling my work. It's a great thing to be making money while watching TV in the evenings! I love to read, although I haven't been spending much time at it lately.
Lora Schlesinger Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave. #T3
Santa Monica, CA 90404
January 17 - February 21, 2015