The moment I saw a preview of Lori Nelson‘s current exhibition at Corey Helford Gallery, I was hooked. The whimsical imageries and the vivid colors draw me in to look closer, observe every detail, and wonder about the stories behind each painting. When I got a chance to interview the artist about her latest works, the backstories of her paintings, her painting method, her life, and sources of inspirations; I jumped at the opportunity. Judging from the things she paints and the titles she picks for her works, I knew she has interesting stories and insights to share with us.
May 28 – July 2, 2016
571 S Anderson St (Enter on Willow St)
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12 noon to 6pm
(Above) “There, there” – Oil on wood panel with resin finish, 20″ x 20″
Will you elaborate on the theme of this exhibition and what cryptotweens are?
The Cryptotweens series started about 3 years ago during my own kids’ adolescence. Watching my son and daughter live the drama of schoolyard politics and painful self-doubt, as well as crazy bouts of silliness and noisy weirdness, I was suddenly snapped back to my own youth. I thought I had left behind all the sharp emotions of tween and teen-hood, free to never look back, but there it all was again, fresh and raw, witnessed now through my children. When I paint Cryptotweens, they aren’t anybody in particular, but rather all of us, back at that age, and possibly even now. Even though they may be experiencing something intense, they are not often passive or victims because I hope for strength for all people. They aren’t traditionally beautiful either; I’m sick of passive beauties in art, to be honest! I want real flawed subjects. It’s the flaws that make these monsters human! The “Crypto” in the name suggests a code or puzzle, something I feel all adolescents embody. It also references mysterious cryptids, or unscientifically proven monsters. I feel tweens and teens are certainly monsters, unknown and beautiful. In this series, the Cryptotweens are usually in a position of self-discovery and power, potentially mastering their world.
(Above) “POW” – Oil on wood panel with resin finish, 20″ x 24″
How do you come up with such imaginative creatures and scenes?!
When I think of an emotion or situation I want to portray, I create a little story in my mind with a main subject who will act it out and make a “snapshot” of it, which will become my painting. My characters come from a private cast in my mind. They all have backstories and some of them know each other and reappear in other paintings. The subjects can be cryptids or humans, and they may have superpowers or powerful apps on their smartphones. The thing that is true for all of them is that we can all recognize ourselves in them.
(Above) “Wheather App” – Oil on wood panel with resin finish, 20″ x 20″
I see the presence of electronic devices (such as mobile phones, computers, and televisions) on many of your paintings. Will you share the train of thought that inspires you to include them in your works?
I include technology; fake and real, to draw emphasis to something we are already are so used to that we don’t see it: everyday technological magic. I don’t think a lot of people want to acknowledge technology in a romanticized painting. I do! I’m fascinated by the magic and the Digital Natives who wield it so naturally. It inspires me to think of new crazy techno-magic, and with painting, I’m not limited by reality (or Dev Teams).
(Above) “Seasons of the Supermoon” – Oil on wood panel with resin finish, 42″ x 48″
On your CV, you mentioned that studied at Colegio Boadilla del Monte in Madrid. Will you tell us more about it? And, does it mean that you are fluent in Spanish?
I was in Spain for a year actually, but it blew my teeny mind, coming from a small town in Western Colorado, and set me on the path of Spanish language literature. I was was able to read Magic Realism literature in its own language which ruled. I loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and for the first time thought about magic occurrences taking place in everyday life, unremarkable to the characters, even almost normal to them, and said, “oooooh, I want this weird contrast.” This hallmark of Magic Realism is very important to my painting. I want to create a world that is just a few degrees off our own axis so that we recognize that world, but feel the mystery of an injected magic.
I see that you accept portrait commissions as well. It’s wonderful to see how you paint the subjects in your fun, vibrant, and surrealistic style. Will you tell us the step-by-step process of commissioning a portrait from you? And, how you choose the kind of settings you place your subjects in?
I love talking to children. They live Magic Realism. For my portraits, I visit my young subjects in their domain, surrounded by their favorite objects, and conduct a fact-finding interview. I ask the child what animal they actually are, and where they actually want to be right now, real or not. I also have them lead a tour of their space, showing me what is important to them. During our time together, the child weaves her narrative right before my eyes while I take notes. Even the shyest of them never want to stop! I usually ask the parents not to comment during the couple of hours I spend doing research and often they are blown away with the person their kid is putting out there versus who they thought she was. I enter into the portrait with the understanding that I will paint the child’s world, not the parents’ dream of who their child is. It’s funny how often the parents cry during these interviews. Good crying. In the end, the portrait is collaboration with the child and me.
(Above) “Tuffy” – Oil on wood panel with resin finish, 16″ x 20″
This exhibition’s press release mentions that you grew up in Utah in a religious Mormon family. How does this influence who you are today as both a person and an artist?
I grew up in Colorado on the border of Utah and later ended up in Utah as a young adult. The Mormon Church publicly presents it as being mainstream these days, but its origins are incredibly magical. Much of the Church history involves peep-stones, heavenly visions, and miracles. All of this for me was striking as a child, and was the part I retain as an adult. As scripture, the Mormon Church has its own history of the Americas, complete with painted illustrations that I absorbed during long meetings. These stories and pictures became the basis of Narrative for me. Today I am no longer a practicing Mormon, but I still appreciate the mysterious roots of this religion and gravitate toward anyone who has an unusual belief-structure.
What are your main sources of inspirations?
Kids, technology, monsters, and squirrels.
(Above) “Contact” – Oil on wood panel with resin finish, 24″ x 30″
What’s your typical day like?
My teens, husband, dog and I all have family coffee on our natty sofa for an hour or more before work and school (we don’t do family dinner, really, but coffee) and talk about current events or personal problems. Then, if it’s Winter and Spring, I bike or subway off to a studio in an old factory in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and in Summer and Fall, I ferry off to a residency I direct for 4heads.org on Governors Island (an island in NYC’s East River). On the island, I get to use an old abandoned house with beautifully peeling paint and no running-water with other artists as a studio. I often paint in solitude for 8 or more hours straight. It’s a lost-time situation where I forget to eat and don’t talk to anybody all day. I really live more in my painted world than in the solid world around me during this time. I have no Internet or computer in my studio, as I believe it’s important to NOT have a computer in the studio. They’re such a time-hole. Then around evening, I start getting texts that it’s time to come home. I photograph my work to critique on my subway or ferry ride and then, at home, I collapse on the sofa to discuss the day with the family. Then we all take Melatonin because we’re insomniacs, and try to go to sleep.
(Above) “Craft Club” – Oil on wood panel with resin finish, 30″ x 40″
What is your typical working process (from start to finish)?
First, I think of a funny/sad scenario, my “snapshot”. Then I create a digital collage from references like old magazines and storybooks and photos of my son or daughter posed in costumes. I then do a drawing or study from that collage in graphite. After I’m okay with the drawing, I scan it and tweak it a little in Photoshop so that it’s centered, etc. I then print out the “corrected” drawing, and if the painting surface is big, create a poster sized version of the drawing and use graphite transfer paper to trace the image onto the wood panel. I’ve learned that doing the tedious composition and prep work really pays off in the end.
Finally, I get to start painting. I use layers and layers of transparent oils and then toward the end go hard on some of the highlights: harder than I think, I ought to. I push them ’til they glow. Then, often, I do a resin pour after the painting is dry, to get that hard-gloss surface. The resin gives the work a sort of “dimensionality” that’s hard to describe.
(Above) “With Your Feet n the Air and Your Head on the Ground” – Oil on wood panel with resin finish, 24″ x 30″
What other projects are you working on at the moment? Can we expect to see your works in other exhibitions in a near future?
The nonprofit I work with, 4heads.org, will present the Governors Island Art Fair every weekend in September where artists take over 4 or 5 of the abandoned houses on the Island. I will be creating a Cryptotweens room! Visitors can freely wander through the houses, so please come visit me at my crumbling hearth if you happen to be in NYC in September. I will also be contributing art to the Life is Beautiful Festival in late September in Las Vegas, curated by Jay Nailor, MiShell Modern, and Jessicka Addams.
(Above) “Dearly Departed App” – Oil on wood panel with resin finish, 20″ x 20″
Art holds different meanings to different people. Will you tell us what does art mean to you?
Old ideas of “Art” can really be somewhat outdated, probably created to distance people and put work up on a high shelf so it’s exclusive. I hate it when people say, “I’m not qualified to decide if something is good”. Of course you are! I’m more interested in the idea of “Creation”, because it’s less judgmental and hopefully more accessible. I like a lot of things that people create and don’t feel very concerned about whether or not they fit into that slim category, Art. I want to see people’s’ Creations.
Thank you so much for spending some time answering my interview questions! I’m in love with every single painting you created for this show and can’t wait to share them with beautiful.bizarre’s readers.
THANK YOU! These were great questions. I love beautiful.bizarre and am completely honored that you have asked me to be included!