Photograph of Lori Field. Courtesy of Facebook.
Chatting with Ms. Lori Field about her innovative work was an enlightening experience. As one of the very few self-taught artists who has become successful within the fine art world, Field has a fiercely individual vision that reflects both a playful and serious attitude towards various issues ranging from the nature of outsider art to the hybrid confluence of animal and human forms.
Her new work reflects her ongoing concern about the necessity of maintaining humanity within a world that has become more obsessed with reality television shows than the innate reality that we participate in. These mixed media paintings make us hunger for a primal need to connect with other people and nature in a productive way. The ecology of these subjects within the work allows us to focus on the basic necessities of spiritual living. Here we are forced to contemplate in a good way on our existence.
If you have any questions about Field’s artwork, feel free to contact Cumberland Gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (615) 297-0296. Field’s New York gallery Kinz + Tillou Fine Art will be reopening soon.
Now here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s poetic details of the “assassination”:
qi peng: You mention that your mixed media pieces, both paintings and drawings, are based on preliminary collages that you use as a reference point. Would this be the basis for your philosophy of perception and of art? You mention about deconstructing the boundaries between dreams and reality. Would this approach be akin to religion? Walter Benjamin mentions about “the aura” and does your work run in league with or counter to the concept of mechanical reproduction?
Lori Field: Using the collages as reference points is just a way for me to crystalize the image I want to draw. I used to do finished works of art in collage format and then draw from those as reference. Now, most often I compose a figure using various elements and never bother to actually glue the pieces together. I just have an envelope of heads, one of bodies, one of ‘hats’ (which for me can be all sorts of things, pelvic bone hats, antlers, hydra, embryos) and I play paper dolls with them until I find a combination of head, body, hat that just rings true for me, kind of like a benign Dr. Frankenstein. Then I draw the elements separately. Once I have a few or a dozen elements drawn in prismacolor pencil on the rice paper I use, I cut them out and once again, play paper dolls with them, making a final decision as to which elements will be combined to make the final figure to be trapped under the wax in my painting.
My approach is somewhat akin to religion for me, the process of drawing these creatures is as close to spirituality as I can get, and I actually enjoy the ritual, even embrace it. So, I guess I’d say my working trance is the opposite of mechanical reproduction for me. The deconstructing of the boundaries between dream and reality is a very subconscious step for me. I make the decisions visually, and then interpret or understand the imagery later.
qi peng: In your statement, you allude to your work as a form of “obsessive drawing with encaustic painting.” Is there a “conflict” or “harmony” between the act of drawing and the act of painting? What is your opinion about the critics’ discussion about the “death of painting” during the era of new media art and Internet-based work? Also using the myths of creatures, you examine the differences between the quality of “animal-ness” and the characteristics of being “human.” What is the driving force behind our survival within the postmodern world? What is our obligation to the animal kingdom? How does your artwork reflect this biological slant? Do you consider your color palette muted or vibrant from both aesthetic and physical stances?
Lori Field: There is no conflict for me, quite the contrary. I am thrilled to be able to combine my two loves in one body of work. First, I get to practice my most obsessive love, drawing, and then I get to also practice my secret desire, abstract painting. I’ve always been sort of trapped within my ability to render things in a detailed, representational way. The method I use for my encaustic, mixed media paintings allows me to escape those confines to a degree. There are two distinct phases of the process for creating these paintings. The drawing phase, which is very contemplative, reverential, and painstakingly executed, and then, the painting process, which is the opposite. The abstract wax paintings that form the backgrounds of the pieces allow me to experiment, and create in a very different mental state from the drawing portion. I work spontaneously, and in an art brut fashion, hurling paint at the backgrounds, heating, stamping, scratching, incising, and generally being unruly to achieve a very immediate and unpredictable backdrop for my figures.
I often laugh at the phrase ‘painting is dead’. In my case it’ll only be dead once I run out of paint, which in the case of my particular paint, encaustic, might happen sooner rather than later. There is the mysterious bee colony collapse disorder to deal with. If that happens however, civilization will be having a much more serious conversation than whether or not there is the death of painting. I have actually applied for a beekeeping course so that I might harvest honey and paint materials simultaneously.
qi peng: With the hybrid of human and animal characters, does your work reflect a sense of our need to tell myths and place our history within the net of fiction and historical realism or scientific truth? With the ideas of the centaur and the transformation of humans into god(deses)s or god(desese) into animals, etc., you seem to add a new viewpoint into the traditional dichotomy between “human-ness” and “animal-ness.” How does your work reflect on this underlying division? Does the Western concept of biology differ much from that of the African or Asian view on the same discipline?
Lori Field: My use of animal and human hybrid creatures definitely reflects my need to express narratives and create myths and iconography for my own purposes. It is a way of expressing the emotional entanglements of the human condition for me, a way of getting out the inner demons and turmoil of processing those emotions. I don’t think of it as a way to establish a place in cultural history per se. I think ancient mythology was really just a precursor to religion anyway, a way for people to explain their predicament, to imagine answers. Anthropomorphism just seems a very potent symbology to draw upon, its been done forever, but it still has so much potential to be newly interpreted, as I hope I’m doing. The distinction between human-ness and animal-ness is quite minimal actually. Humans just have a harder time reconciling with their animal nature. My ‘creatures’ kind of distill the differences down to the basic elements of emotions we both share. The Western concept of biology differs greatly from the Asian view. I just have to visit my acupuncturist regularly to be made aware of the differences in a mind blowing way.
qi peng: You work with a rather difficult medium called silverpoint for some of your works. How did you get into learning this esoteric technique? What are the main challenges that you face with attaining a high level of detail without sacrificing spontaneous imagination and a loose exploration of theme? What are your joys of working with this medium?
Lori Field: I researched for awhile before I was even able to find suitable tools for working in silverpoint. I am very intrigued with archaic art making tools and mediums, silverpoint was always fascinating to me. I’m hoping to learn fresco painting someday, I have a friend who might be willing to teach me. Tempera paint is another thing I’d like to master someday soon.
Silverpoint is very labor intensive, it takes so much time to just prepare the surface ground to receive the drawing. Therefore when I get the chance to work in that medium, when there’s a lull in getting my other work ready for shows, I am delighted. The process is really just a more intense, more hyper-contemplative method of drawing, but quite different in that you can’t erase, and you can’t really trace an outline onto the ground at all to begin. So, there is no preliminary drawing, you just begin.
I work from references much like I do with the colored pencil drawings, but I really work much slower, and it becomes a very heightened exercise in hand-eye coordination as the piece evolves. There is still some level of spontaneity in working on the silverpoints, however, the contemplative nature of the drawing process almost allows me to go into a trance. I can only see what I’m rendering at the moment and the sloooowness of it, makes the world slow down too. The obsessive quality of all the detail, coupled with the elaborate rendering, feels very removed from mundane life, and makes me feel almost monk-like and in a fugue state. Can’t wait to work on an illuminated manuscript next.
qi peng: Your work reminds me of Hannah Hoch‘s collage work. Is there an overtone of playful Dadaism throughout your pieces? How would you place your work within the overall context and canon of art history? What are the major periods of art history that interest you? Do you consider yourself a feminist artist and if so, how?
Lori Field: I love Hannah Hoch’s work. I am definitely influenced by the Surrealists, Symbolists, and Dadaists in my paintings and drawings, more the Symbolists than anything though. There is a nonsensical element and a tongue in cheekiness that relates well to Dadaism. I think it mostly comes across with some of my titles. I would love to come up with my own visual glossary of images or symbols, in fact I’m secretly working on it.
The major periods of art history that influence me, hmmm. I’d have to say my top five are Henry Darger and Outsider art of the late 19th and 20th century, Flemish painting of the 1400s through 1600’s, Hans Holbein, 1920’s Shanghai poster art, early 1900’s Ravi Varma and Hindu art paintings, Weimar Germany portraiture (oopsy, I think that’s more that five). I’ve never considered myself a feminist artist. My work is distinctly feminine however, and contains mostly female figures, although the little animals are sometimes dressed as boys or girls. I think that the feminine imagery is in a sense symbolic for vulnerability. Theoretically, woman in lots of societies are more vulnerable than men. It shouldn’t be the case but often is, so my female archetypes fetishize that vulnerability, exaggerate it.
qi peng: The challenging processes that you engage in with the mixed media and silverpoint are delineated in exact detail as a craftsman would tailor their technique to a particular assignment. Do you have to work slowly within the studio to achieve these effects? What is a typical day in the Lori Field studio like?
Lori Field: I work slowly on some aspects of my work and very quickly and immediately on others. Depends on variables, like medium or deadlines sometimes. A typical day in the studio involves drawing, drawing, drawing for hours. I get my ideas for the next days’s drawings late at night, so I’m often up between 12 and 3 am just playing around with various references trying to compose figures to be drawn the next day. I have definitely got studio hours that are different when I’m getting ready for a larger show. The drawing is more leisurely, since they are to be the focal elements of my composition. The painting backgrounds are often done in an assembly line fashion in getting ready for an exhibition, and are done in quick succession, depending on size. The process is pretty quick and spontaneous for those, involves lots of physicality. I listen to music or political talk radio (progressive) while I work and break often for small meals and lots of glasses of water. Typically late at night, after being done working for the day, I work out on an exercise bike and catch up on my reading, which informs my work, so its a cycling and cyclical end to the day in the studio.
qi peng: You are a self-taught artist, having not been to a formal art school. What are some of the challenges and joys of being a self-taught artist who has achieved a great measure of success within the New York and contemporary art world? Do you feel that a lot of art professionals such as art critics and other gallery owners judge artists based on their education and resume rather than the brute qualities of the artwork? What advice do you have for recently graduating BFA and MFA candidates who are finishing up their schooling and trying to make headway into the formal gallery system?
Lori Field: I actually had one year in the fine arts department at SUNY Purchase in NY but you’d have to go into the catacombs there to find any record of my having been there. I’ve never had any experience of being treated differently in terms of acceptance of my work but that’s probably because I approached the field of fine art later in life, and gained entry in the Outsider art community (which is smaller and more tailored to my self-taught status) I had earned my keep as a commercial artist for my previous incarnation as an artist. By the time I started showing my fine art work, I was older, and I was doing it purely for self expression, the fact that people wanted to show it was icing on the cake. I already had a family, and a support system in place before I ventured out to the gallery world. I’ve been very fortunate in a sense, because I just started getting more and more encouragement as I worked very hard to make up for lost time in my fine arts pursuit.
My advice for BFA and MFA candidates is to research the market very carefully, do your homework, do not approach the galleries with a sense of entitlement, but rather with a genuine knowledge of where you fit in and what your work is about. Be professional and reliable once you’ve been given the opportunity to show your work. Don’t be an art snob, be open to venues in cities other than NY in starting out. Really as corny as it sounds ‘do what you love and the rest will follow’, it certainly worked in my case.
qi peng: As you are represented by galleries such as Kinz + Tillou Fine Art and Tag Art Gallery now, what have your experiences with the gallery system been like? What are some of the problems that you have faced with gallery directors and/or non-profit space owners? What are some of your joyous moments that you had with galleries? Are there any future projects/installations that you dream of executing someday?
Lori Field: My experiences with the gallery system have been very positive so far. I had one experience early on when I was showing drawings executed on slate where a gallerist broke a piece and then didn’t do the right thing in compensating me. That was a blip on the radar however, most galleries have been great to work with, even that one was great in most other aspects. My single most joyous experience with galleries was when my current dealers, Kinz and Tillou, offered me a solo show in their beautiful Chelsea space within two weeks of having initially been introduced to them. There was an opening in their schedule and they let me skip a step (or two or three) and plugged me in to the show coming up in 6 weeks. I had no publicity at all for the show because of the short time frame that it came together but it was still a peak, highlight experience for me obviously. My dearest wish is to have a one person museum show, and to start curating again, hopefully next in Berlin. I’d love to show my work in Asia, and would dearly love representation in California, where I have quite a number of admirers and collectors but no gallery yet.
qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America? Do you have any thoughts about the current state of the stock market and its concomitant corruption such as the recent Madoff scandal?
Lori Field: Oh don’t get me started. I personally felt the economic repercussions of the ‘recession’ as my NYC gallery closed its doors in its current location in February, very sad. They will probably sit this out for awhile and reopen in a smaller location with less overhead.
I feel as if the risks of being involved with the luxury, non necessity art market are pronounced. In the best of times, most artists eke by, in these times, its day job time for the foreseeable future. I did really well the first half of 2008, I was on my way to having my most successful year ever if the second half had been the same as the first, but, that was not what happened. I feel superficial on the one hand complaining about the popping of the art bubble and also somewhat frustrated that the real meaning and importance and vital role of art within the culture of America is just not recognized by most people. They think the world can survive quite nicely without art or funding for the arts, especially in this economy. I’ve encouraged my son to make a short film addressing the subject of the world without art. We may get that project off the ground shortly along with the help of a filmmaker friend of mine.
As far as my opinion about the stock market, the corporate cronyism that passes for government here and the Madoffs of the world, I’d say ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ to sum it up. I’d also encourage people to google Umberto Eco‘s list of what constitutes fascism, very enlightening, sobering too.
qi peng: What is your opinion on juried competitions such as New American Paintings and curated artists registries such as The Drawing Center‘s Viewing Program or White Columns in the development of a young artist’s career? Do you feel that being judged by “officials” or “art referees” help to create a strong reputation for the artist’s work? What elements do you think are necessary to make a particular artwork strong and communicative? With the rise of online curated galleries such as Collegeartonline (CAO) or Ugallery, do you think that those type of galleries are a good stepping stone into the larger art network?
Lori Field: I generally think New American Paintings competition’s choices are too formulaic and conservative. I think the Drawing Center Viewing Program is wonderful and challenges and pushes the envelope of what drawing can be. I’ve never been to White Columns, isn’t that awful, I’m so out of it sometimes, I’ve lived in NYC for a long time, so no excuse really. I have read that lately White Columns is run more like a gallery than a registry that encourages innovation, but I really can’t say for certain what my opinion is until I check it out. The real change in gallery vibe in this area in my humble opinion, came with Pierogi 2000‘s program and philosophy and the art scene it spawned.
Being judged by art ‘officials’ can sometimes be positive, sometimes not so hot. I have benefited from several programs, fellowships and grants that definitely opened doors that otherwise would have been closed, and they looked boss on the cv for sure. I don’t like on-line galleries but that’s just me. My work really needs to be seen in person because of my medium and its layers and surprises that just don’t translate on the screen. I have sold work to people who’ve just seen it on line however, but usually through my physical galleries making the connection for me. When people see my work in person, that’s when they tend to make the decision to collect it.
qi peng: What are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your visual eye?
Lori Field: Artists: Henry Darger, Hans Holbein, Hanna von Goeler, Cal Lane, Chris Hipkiss, Alison Schulnik, Roger van der Weyden, Kerry James Marshall, Judith Schaecther, Dawn Black, James Andrew Brown, Kiki Smith, Laurie Lipton (for pure unadulterated drawing chops) the list goes on and on….
Television shows: Lost, The Sopranos, Project Runway, I rarely watch the teevee machine, mostly rent whole seasons on Netflix and watch them all in a row. I do watch Keith Olbermann‘s Countdown and the Rachel Maddow Show for news. I listen to the ‘The Young Turks’ on a radio/ internet podcast for political talk radio.
Books: I read like a maniac, voraciously, everything and anything I can get my hands on fiction and non-fiction. I love to read. Current read, ‘The Story of Edgar Sawtelle’ and a historical non-fiction about Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.
I don’t watch sports except for the Olympics, summer and winter, ice-skating, diving, swimming and gymnastics being the faves. I love baseball games in person not on tv.
The most recent art show I went to that I recall was the Marlene Dumas show at MOMA. I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would but still enjoyed it. Rupert Ravens Gallery in Newark has the most energy and kick ass shows in a 30,000 square foot space. I’m going to go see his new extravaganza this coming Sunday, I missed the opening but there’s another event. Those shows are always incredibly inspiring. I love going to James Andrew Brown’s studio for inspiration. I also enjoy going to the art fairs sometimes, and saw a great show in Miami last December for fair week, ’30 Artists’ at the Rubell Collection.
qi peng: What is your opinion of art world journalism and art critics such as Jerry Saltz? Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world? Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis? Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like Houston or Denver will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City during the recession? What do you think is the current state of contemporary art within New Jersey where you live?
Lori Field: Art critics are sometimes over confident of their effect on the art market and collectors in general. I like art criticism that is not written in deliberately pretentious language, more accessible in tone I guess. I love art blogs, and finding new ones. Currently I check out Edward Winkleman and Joann Mattera‘s blogs, but not necessarily for the art, more for their insider views of the art world. There are tons of art portal blogs that I check out once a month or more, Giving Bad Taste a Good Name Since Kindergarten, Phantasmaphile, My Love for You is a Stampede of Horses, Accidental Mysteries, Moonriver are some of them.
I do have hope for smaller regional markets and I show in them a lot. I have representation in Nashville, Washington DC, and Denver and have had great experiences showing and developing a following of collectors there. I also have collectors in Belgium for some reason, go figure.
I do hope those smaller areas will continue to be vital art centers and grow and influence the dialogue about contemporary art. There are great artists in New Jersey, and a dearth of great galleries at least in Northern NJ. Perhaps because of our proximity to NYC, most good artists take their work there to exhibit. We have some great regional museums in NJ too, but they don’t often show regional artists as much as I think they should. Perhaps that will change with the economy as well. I’m doing a show coming up in April for the recipients of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship Grant in Painting 2008 recipients (boy, that was a mouthful), that’ll be the first time I’ve shown in NJ in awhile, other than a drawing group show I was just included in at the Morris Museum.
qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York or New Jersey that you wish to recommend us? What are the things that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?
Lori Field: Unfortunately, with my work schedule lately, I never leave the house much to go to restaurants. I do love Zen restaurant on Eisenhower Parkway in NJ, and Mama’s Restaurant on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, a Thai diner whose name I forget nestled among carpet warehouses on Route 46 in Denville and the Ironbound Portuguese restaurants in Newark. I look forward to going out a bit more the second half of this year and rediscovering the hang.
qi peng: How do you title your artworks? I feel that they are rather straightforward in its description such as “Little Babaji.” Do you consider these phrases to be plain-sounding with a hint of poetic mystery? Also do you have any poets or writers that you are inspired by? Would you be willing to compare your artwork with outsider artists such as Henry Darger? If so, how?
Lori Field: Some of my titles are straight forward, some more mysterious, and some are downright cheeky and / or nonsensical. Depends on lots of things. I get ideas for titles from tons of places, mostly from reading. I will jot something down that I love for a title and do a piece specifically for that title, or more often, come up with the title after the piece is completed. Sometimes there’s an obvious connection, sometimes the title is totally inexplicable. Some of my favorite titles are ‘Feral Husband’, ‘The Heartbreak of Satyriasis’, ‘Do You Like My Hat?’ among others. Titles I’m thinking about right now are ‘Fiddle Dee Dee, I’ll Think About it Tomorrow’, More Flies with Honey’, and ‘Ne Pas Reveillez un Chat qui Dorme’. I rarely aim for poetic mystery in a title, the work is mysterious enough. I almost like the titles to be funny to belie the seriousness or the content of the actual piece.
Henry Darger is my biggest single influence. I don’t really compare my work to his. I think his work came from an unbalanced, compulsive place and he was probably a damaged person psychologically. His book about the Vivian Girls and their battles with their nemeses is an obsessive, delusional masterpiece, and the art that accompanies and illustrates it, is quite frankly revelational. I guess my delight in obsessive drawing has its roots in my love of outsider work, in the regard that it is often a compulsion to create rather than a pastime, and steps outside the boundary of simply being artwork. I rarely read poetry, although I’d like to, I was very inspired by E. E. Cummings (e.e. cummings?) at one point, and still sift through his poems sometimes for inspiration.
qi peng: What are some of your thoughts of the current trends within the contemporary art world such as conceptual art or the new media art where technology and art intersect? Do you feel that there is a certain strength in “traditionalism” within the scene where curators are hunting for the latest cutting-edge work?
Lori Field: I never really think about trends, just what I respond to, artwork that ‘hurts my heart’. This can be anything from a video to a piece of tramp art. I do have a soft spot for art that is done in mediums that aren’t intended for art, like paintings on handkerchieves with embroidery as the painting medium, stained glass such as Judith Schaecther’s work, etc. I don’t really even know what ‘traditionalism’ is anymore, it seems to be a shifting definition. I think that searching for cutting edge work as the motivation often negates actually finding cutting edge work, sometimes that kind of work is right under your nose and its missed in the search for something edgy. I like quietly subversive stuff and beautifully seductive stuff too, quietly subversive, beautifully seductive stuff most of all.
qi peng: What are your hobbies? How do you enjoy passing the time when you aren’t in the studio or in the galleries or museums visiting the shows?
Lori Field: Reading, cooking and hosting dinner parties, dancing, and more dancing. Restaurants with friends and mixology at home too. Watching movies, love to watch movies. Dream of staying in a great old hotel in NYC for a week or two with a stack of books, a big screen to watch movies, a tin of Beluga and some blinis and sour cream by my side, room service and visitors when I want them. I’m also an art collector. I actually would much rather have other people’s art hanging on my walls than my own.
qi peng: Would you consider your artwork a form of statement about sociology and the way that humans relate to each other? How does this fit into the political utopia of “hopefulness” that has arrived with the administration of President Obama? Should art strive to maintain political roots or not?
Lori Field: My work is often inspired by current events and political gestalt but is never overtly political in the viewing. People would be hard pressed to figure out which pieces were inspired by political or world events and I prefer that ambiguity. I don’t think art should strive to be political unless that is the main focus or impetus of the artists impulse and drive. I don’t think Obama’s administration promises an utopian vision at all. Hope is simply a better slogan than give up or don’t hope. I think that Obama is a well intentioned and bright individual, and he is light years beyond the unfortunate regime we’ve endured here for the past eight years. I do hope, but I’m woefully aware of what we are up against in correcting and surviving what’s already been set in motion. I even named a piece ‘Blissful Ignorance’ just because being over-informed no longer allows me such luxury as to be blissfully ignorant. Sigh.
qi peng: Is there anything else that you wish to share with readers here or fans of your work?
Lori Field: Ordinarily yes, there would be, but this has been the most thorough, dense interview I’ve done in a very long time. Frankly, I’m exhausted and my brain is on the fritz after finishing up the last 17 questions. I can’t think of another thing. Except maybe that I miss my little gray cat Dusty von Springfield more than I can put into words. I plan on starting a large shield shaped tribute piece to her soon. She was my animal soul mate, if there is such a thing. I expect the painting to be cathartic, hopefully it will be.