It’s a complicated, and sometimes terrifying world. From the privacy minefields and bullying on social media, to natural and societal nightmares, a deep sense of anxiety has penetrated our individual and collective consciousness. In the wake of our wasted resources, hate-mongering politicians, and the all-powerful “selfie” culture, at times, it seems we are a species of doom.
It’s also unclear whether the technological advances we have made in the name of information and communications are, after all, worth it. Needless to say, the best of us have adopted a sense of humor that is, if nothing else, dark. And as much as we bicker over the source of our problems, we avoid reflections of ourselves that we’re just not willing to see.
But artist Laurie Lipton is handing us the mirror. Her work is dark, detailed, and purposeful, some as social commentary… on topics both personal and interpersonal. In overconsumption of materials and media, politics, greed, spirituality, murder, and even sexuality, Laurie has explored some of the most hazardous themes of our culture. However, she has maintained an incredibly humble philosophy concerning the perception of her works. In her artist discussion at La Luz de Jesus Gallery, she spoke about wanting the experience of her work to be personal to the viewer. And although she went on to describe what she was thinking about in drawing certain pieces, she also urged the audience to take her ideas with a “grain of salt.” So, although our own reflection may be revealed through Laurie’s drawings, this attitude seems appropriate. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
In the Eric Minh Swenson film, “Laurie Lipton: Drawing it Out,” Laurie spoke specifically about her piece, “Network.” The piece seems to comment on the trappings of the digital world. She said, “It’s about being online, and how we’re trapped in our little screens and our modems and everything, and this man—people ask me, oh, who is he—he’s just a fleshy human being caught in circuits. And he’s here in the iPhone, he’s an app, he is skyping himself, he’s everywhere. He’s sort of caught in this tremendous techno-babble.”
Laurie’s works are not only deeply insightful, though. They’re dark, complex, ultra-detailed, and on a scale that sprawls in all directions. The sheer amount of multi-dimensional content in her pieces is astounding. And upon a close look, you can find layers of even finer detail than perceived from a distance, in a book, or on a screen.
Laurie Lipton draws from her imagination. She isn’t copying photographs. She must invent it. All of it. Even the techniques she uses are invented from scratch. The technique she has harnessed uses millions upon millions of tiny pencil strokes. Her process sounds excruciating at times. She first creates a huge outline, and when that is finished, she slowly but surely “fleshes it all out.” In “Drawing it Out,” she explained that once she applies charcoal and graphite to accomplish this detail, she hardly ever erases anything. She has even invented a special rod that slides over the drawing, so that she can rest her hand on it —as not to expose it to the skin’s oils and cause a smudge.
Her website bio explains more about her inspiration and technique, stating, “Lipton was inspired by the religious paintings of the Flemish School. She tried to teach herself how to paint in the style of the 16th 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. My drawings take longer to create than a painting of equal size and detail.’”
Laurie Lipton has been drawing since she was four years old. Born in New York, and later having graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pennsylvania, Laurie has had an interesting life to say the least. She has lived in six different countries, including Holland, France, and the UK, and is now living in Los Angeles.
Although her work has been extensively exhibited and published throughout the world, her art has largely escaped the societal mainstream. For that, of course, we would have to embrace a portrait of ourselves that may not be all that flattering. Nevertheless, Laurie’s career has been an incredible one so far. But her journey has been anything but a straight line. She explained, “It was all abstract and conceptual art when I attended university. My teachers told me that figurative art went ‘out’ in the Middle Ages and that I should express myself using form and shapes, but splashes on canvas and rocks on the floor bored me. I knew what I wanted: I wanted to create something no one had ever seen before, something that was brewing in the back of my brain. I used to sit for hours in the library copying Durer, Memling, Van Eyck, Goya and Rembrandt. The photographer, Diane Arbus, was another of my inspirations. Her use of black and white hit me at the core of my Being. Black and white is the color of ancient photographs and old TV shows… it is the color of ghosts, longing, time passing, memory, and madness. Black and white ached. I realized that it was perfect for the imagery in my work.”
What can we expect from Laurie Lipton in the near future? Hopefully, she’ll be showing us all our true faces for decades to come. She has been the subject of a film currently being shown, called “Love Bite: Laurie Lipton and Her Disturbing Black & White Drawings.” “Love Bite” is a documentary by filmmaker James Scott, chronicling Laurie’s life and work over fifty years. It also follows her creation of a series of nine-foot tall gallery drawings, which each take six months to complete. The film is currently only being shown in special screenings. Upcoming screenings include dates in Florida, California, North Carolina, Missouri, UK and Guam. You can find out more, and see full listings for the film.
Although Laurie Lipton maintains that the interpretation of her work is intended only to be personal, she is still stirring us, and moving us in an honest way. And just as Laurie’s pieces are meant to be seen up close; maybe it’s time to examine our individual and collective selves more critically… despite our gruesome face.