Monday, January 28, 2019

Unspoken magic, death and the macabre / An interview with Artist Lizz Lopez

When did you discover drawing and illustration was your passion and you had a talent for it? 

I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. Making art has always been an escape from reality for me and a place where I could create a different world and express my ideas. It’s more difficult to say when I understood I had a talent for it as my parents were usually impressed by what I created even though they pushed me towards a life of medicine. It wasn’t until I started to compete in school competitions that I realized my work was worthy of a ribbon or accolades. The pivotal point of my career began when I was in my last year of undergraduate studies. 

I started to take a serious look at my skills when I had art professors tell me I was in the wrong field of work and that I should pursue art and apply to art school. At the time, I was about to graduate with my Bachelors in science. Even then, it was hard for me to understand what artistic talent indicated or what could be done with it as I was more focused on academics. I realized that unlike my years of rigorously studying science, I spent so many days of my life immersed in art pieces with no guidance or encouragement at all. It was something that I had to do to maintain normalcy versus something I was working on out of interest, monetary security or my parent’s wishes. 

Your work is very identifiably yours. Where do you find your inspiration for your work and are there central themes you like to visit and re-visit? 

My life has been a complicated contradictory roller coaster. 

I was raised the daughter of a baptist conservative minister in Texas and my mother was a Mexican immigrant and practicing curandera. In regards to central themes, there have been many revolving ideas that have found their way in to my work either as a means of self-therapy or purging of old ideas in order to find my true self. My early work revolved around religion and sacrilegious images. As a young artist, I felt the need to rid myself of my “demons” and after moving to San Francisco to attend art school, I had no boundaries on the rebellion I needed to release before finding my core self. 

My current work is based on my lifelong obsession with death and dying. I’ve spent my life, both in science and art, exploring this experience. It’s something that feeds and drives me like nothing else. I’ve worked in hospice and the intensive care unit for ten years with actively dying patients and the following 10 years in anesthesia where we are essentially the gatekeepers between morbidity and mortality. It is the most humbling and privileged experience to be witness to this.

A lot of your work uses primarily black and white combinations. Is there a reason behind this preference?

I received my degree in fine arts with a primary focus on classical oil painting. I spent years studying masters and classical techniques including creating my own mediums and mixing pigments. Unfortunately, I understand my own limitations and realized my eye for color was sub par and struggled with identifying colors, warms, and cools. I spent countless days trying to create a system to make it work but ended up working monochromatically for years because of it. I tried everything from limited palettes to eye dropping in photoshop to assist me. This task proved exhaustive in the long run. I went at this for over a decade before I decided to spend more time on my graphite studies. It was at this point that I felt I found my medium. It’s amazing how much torture I was willing to endure but my persistence to succeed and my lack of success led me to this place. To be honest, this is typical for me. I’ve often gone about things wrong way for much of my life, usually taking the most difficult route. Either way, this is where I finally found my vision.

Your work is very macabre and witchy and dark which I love. It has this sort of female power to it. What is it about the macabre and the dark that love and continues to inspire you? 

I completely attribute my darkness to my mother. She was a powerful witch but never allowed me to say this out loud as it went against the Christian doctrine she subscribed to in adulthood. She always embraced natural medicinal healing, ritual, death, darkness and the macabre. She taught me to embrace death from a very early age and always encouraged my dark side in spite of my father’s beliefs. The occult is a topic I rarely discuss in interviews as it’s a constant evolutionary process for me but I was raised with ancient ideas, stories and medicinal practises that have formed the core of who I am. These ideas and practises have evolved into a sort of creation magic that I have been refining over the years. 

Can you briefly explain the process you undertake from idea to finished illustration?

Most of the ideas that I draw are images that have been sitting in my mental archive for years. The skills that I currently have are only able to materialize some of what exists in my mind’s eye. My goal is to eventually have the ability to render my ideas as I truly see them, in multiple dimensions and mediums. In the time being, I attempt to take the idea and create the closest interpretation to the concept as I can. I typically gather plants, leaves, and other botanicals from my yard. All of my elements are collected after extensive research on the symbolic meaning or medicinal value as they relate to the piece and also after researching what has been created before on the subject. 

The skulls I reference are from a collection I have and I photograph each one under multiple lighting conditions until I find one that expresses the emotion I’m looking to convey. When drawing hands, I spend quite a bit of time in front of a mirror gesturing and changing lighting as well as considering ancient hand gestures as they relate to meaning in historic works. When I find something that speaks to me, I investigate it and sketch it several times before solidifying the piece. From this point, I allow the focal point to dictate where other elements will grow. I’m never too sure what will occur after I create the central point. The image usually determines this and I become a passenger on a ride for remainder of the drawing. 

Are there any artists across any medium you admire and would love to someday work/collaborate with?

There are many artists I admire but I don’t spend much time looking at feeds of art as I feel it contaminates my voice as I’m easily overwhelmed by visual stimuli and covet the isolation of my studio. I make a conscious effort to keep my ideas as personal and unique as possible. While I spend much of my time alone, I collect art and have a moderate collection of antique and contemporary art in our home that reflects my interests and inspires me. In regards to collaborations, I enjoy and welcome working with photographers and film makers in my genre. This year, I’m excited to be working on a project with one of my colleagues in realizing his vision. Transversing my medium is is a wonderful way of giving a new dimension to my work and persona. 

Is there any subject matter or new materials you would love explore but haven't yet had the opportunity to?

Art is very similar to religion and spirituality for me. I believe it’s important to explore every avenue. I started in sculpture and photography but have drawn most of my life. I took up painting 24 years ago but have worked in graphic/web design, illustration, movie poster design and printmaking. Above all, I’m interested in the most efficient way to express my ideas and this includes whatever materials are available to me. 

Is there one piece of your work that you are most fond of or proud of?

I’d say I’m most fond of my piece Tristeza. As an artist, what we find value in is not always what the public finds interesting. This is one of several pieces that I can sit in front of and contemplate each pencil stroke and wonder what possessed each mark. When I see it, I feel the bewitchment that overcomes artists when they get lost in that ethereal spiritual place. I feel disconnected to it and because of this, it’s almost as if I didn’t create it and can therefore appreciate it more-so. 

You recently had a big exhibition at Lethal Amounts in LA. What was that experience like?

 It was an invigorating and restorative experience. It was my first solo show and while I’ve been in many group shows and have been a featured artist, I never had the opportunity to exhibit alone. Exhibiting alone, in itself is frightening as you don’t know if anyone is going to show up for you in spite of your online support. The most significant part of the experience was seeing years of my work together. In my mind, one piece leads to the next, almost like a stream of thought, so to see the entire story of time laid out in front of me was very satisfying and brought me a feeling of accomplishment. The outpouring of support that the show received was beyond what I could have imagined and definitely fueled me. 

How do you cope with the juxtaposition of being an artist and also trying to make a living and pay your bills etc.?

This is a question I get often. I think most people think I’m working a day job that I don’t enjoy to fund my art career but I’ve spent years studying science, medicine, and anesthesia and it’s an equal love of mine. I’ve reached a point where I could abandon my “day job” but I enjoy both equally and wouldn’t quit anesthesia if given the choice. It also keeps me grounded and connected to humanity in a manner unlike any other. It also keeps me on a regimented schedule. If left to my own devices with unlimited time, I might find myself binging shows or spending too much time on mindless activities. 

How hard is it to maintain personal integrity while also working on more commercial work for other people? How do you ensure it is still uniquely yours?

I have a disclaimer on commissioned work that allows me to maintain my style so that I can still be proud to put my name on it. I’ve also been fortunate to have clients who allow me creative liberty. One of the most essential lessons from working on commissioned work has been learning to say “no” to particular projects and shows that don’t reflect my vision. That said, I’m strictly working on my own work this year in order to maintain a more constant visual stream of thought. 

I love that your work has a very strong connection to the dark and the sort of inner witch in all of us. Even though most people would probably describe your work as dark I think there is also a lightness and connection to nature and and empowerment. Would you agree? 

I’d have to agree. I understand my work is dark but I’ve worked on presenting this type of subject imagery in the light that it deserves. Death is an inevitable part of life and I attempt to be reverent in the way I define this idea. My profession has allowed me the privilege to both be present at many deaths and to be gatekeeper to those undergoing life threatening procedures and I have a great respect for it. In regards to witchcraft, I believe most women are born healers or caregivers . We are innately intuitive to the unspoken magic that we yield. 

What can we expect from Lizz Lopez in 2019? 

I’m spending this year focused on continuing to build a new body of work in the purest and most honest form. I have a number of group shows in Los Angeles and will take part in my first museum exhibition in Paris, France. In the last couple of years, I’ve had booths at conventions and plan on continuing with multiple events as I’ve found it to be the most organic way of connecting with my followers who’ve been such a great inspiration to me. This year, my greatest challenge has been to take on the production of my own printing and merchandising as well as curating a show that will be announced late Spring or Summer. I’m excited to see how the rest of the year unfolds. 

All artwork © Lizz Lopez