Sometimes my muse may be as simple as the grays, blacks and whites of a sycamore tree’s bark or the high altitude desert plants on my daily hikes in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Other times, inspiration is fired by the painfully beautiful setting sun over the Ganges River on a sojourn there. I find emotional solace in poets from Neruda to Auden and their words find their way into my work as well.
|Bittersweet Pilgrimage, encaustic on panel, 30” x 30”|
My journey has been long and well traveled. I was raised in Washington, D.C. where I was obsessed with the National Gallery of Art. My parents were history buffs, so they encouraged my love affair with the museums of our capital city. As a child, I knew my direction but not how to navigate my way. I was also deeply impacted by the unrest that simmered throughout Washington during those years. I was swept into protesting the Vietnam War (and consequently tear gassed during a march) and I was present on the Mall with my father during Martin Luther King’s speech. The local riots terrified me and I became politically motivated for the first time in my teenage years. I loved the heartbeat of the city.
I was set to stay in the Washington area after high school graduation when my first real and life altering tragedy struck. My oldest brother committed suicide two days after my graduation. It was an event that would color my world in ways I did not imagine at the time. It has filtered into my work, my dreams, my way of seeing the world as well as the way I was to nurture and raise my own three children. It also made me change my course. My father owned land in Indiana so I quickly decided that summer that Indiana University would be a place where I could escape the pain on my parents faces and the strange quiet that had descended upon us. I moved to Bloomington.
It was in Bloomington that I earned a fine arts degree with a focus on textiles. I found that creating massive silkscreens and woven hangings soothed my grief and gave me another outlet for protest. My early pieces were twisted Navajo patterns or natural objects cocooned in silk threads. I explored photography and photo silkscreens and spent summers in Washington photographing the buildings and iconic places I loved.
|Hejira, encaustic on panel, 50” x 40”|
After graduation and a young marriage, I briefly lived in London and Houston. I taught art at the secondary level in Indianapolis and then drew my artistic visions into the way I raised three children. I taught them to make paper and outdoor sculptural installations as well as to freely paint, draw, dye wools, plant gardens and act and stage Summer Solstice festivities on our country property. I was a hippie mom and that has never changed. Everything has always been organic and “of-the-earth” in my life. I even bought fleece from local sheep, which I cleaned and spun and dyed to make the sweaters my children wore for years.
In 2010, the stars aligned in a different way for me. I had a desperate need to return to myself and find another road to travel. My marriage ended, leaving deep scars that threatened to drown me on every level. There were days I couldn’t get up the mornings. I grasped at hopes and opportunities and found myself visiting a friend in Santa Fe where I ended up in an encaustic workshop. I was thinking I should return to school and perhaps pursue an MFA when that one weekend transformed me. I was intoxicated with beeswax and the organic nature of it and its smell and the translucency of layers of wax like Arabian Nights’ veils. I’ve always traveled extensively and there was something about the surface of wax that reminded of ancient places of the world. It felt sacred and earthy and I wanted to use it to once again express pain and process and hope and to mark my passage.
Springdrive, encaustic on panel, 60” x 24”
Because of its organic nature, wax can behave differently on any given day, due to pigments, humidity or the level of the heat source used for fusing. There is lots of scraping and smoothing and fussing with each layer of wax but eventually I begin to apply color and design. I often add my own handmade papers or snippets I’ve gathered from travels around the world. I start with deciding whether the work will be “warm or cool” - in other words, reds and oranges and yellows or blues and greens and violets. I find It varies with the seasons. The wax tends to find its own way but eventually we meet in the middle and something connects with a line from a poem or from my own emotional well. I might see a shape that reminds me of something and I follow it. Mistakes happen but I often leave them because I am marked with my own mistakes and wounds and all of that has validity. Through my art I can trace my travels, my turning points and my moments of illumination.
One of my small paintings, “Acid Rose”, emerged due to the landscape drawings of a man I loved once. All I had of him were his landscape designs on papers so I tore them to bits until one day I gathered them back to me and embedded them in wax. This little work became a statement on the subterranean layers of the earth - or the heart.
|Varanasi, encaustic and mixed media on panel, 18” x 18”|
“Varanasi” tells of my experience on the banks of the Ganges in India. It is a place that enters your soul. Varanasi is the holiest of cities for Hindus. It is desperately beautiful and desperately awful all at the same time. Saris in other worldly colors of saffron and acid yellows are hung out of windows to dry, and bodies are cremated while feral dogs wait for the remains. People chant, rejoice, worship, bathe and leave their loved ones in the river. I floated my little cup with marigolds and candles out into the river’s current as a way of honoring my own dead. A bit of paper I bought there hangs like a shroud from the top of the painting and a boat being oared through the water at sunset made its way into the piece.
Three years ago, I packed up my studio, my dog, two cats and a lifetime of relics and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I found a mountain I can call my own as well as a bright, artistic community. Summers of my past were spent in the south of France with my children and I have discovered that the light, the altitude, the lavender, the grapes, the stone walls and colors of adobe architecture mimic those young giddy days in Provence.
|We Dance on the Swirls of Cloud Tops, Venetian plaster, oil and encaustic on panel, 24” x 24|
I will continue this exploration of mine and will continue to tell my story because only I can do that. Here in northern New Mexico, the sky is my water.
Neruda: “This was my destiny and in it was the voyage of my longing.”
|Acid Rose, encaustic and mixed media on panel, 14” x 14”|
This is Week 22 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Lisa’s story today. To connect with her and see more of her work, please visit the following links: