Sunday, February 1, 2009

In the studio with Magnolia Laurie

interviewed by Rachel Sitkin

Magnolia Laurie is currently a resident at the Creative Alliance at The Patterson. She teaches drawing at Goucher College. Her work will be included in To The Teeth at The Creative Alliance Amalie Rothschilde Gallery from Feb 5-21, 2009. Opening Reception- Friday Feb. 6, 2009 6-9pm

RS: Do you want to give me a little background about where you are from, your education and what you’re doing right now?

ML: I grew up in Puerto Rico. I moved there when I was eight and lived there until I was fifteen and I think that was one of the most influential elements of my life because it was such a huge transition. It meant me growing up as an American but looking from the outside at the lovely concept of America that Hollywood projects. I had been in several different public schools in Puerto Rico and eventually my mother took me out and I was home schooled for a while. At 15 I wound up moving here with my Grandmother and I went to a boarding school in Massachusetts, the Berkshires. I ended up going to college in Massachusetts as well, at Mt. Holyoke College.

After graduation I was invited back by the boarding school to teach art. I taught for three years there. But I started feeling like all my ideas were turning into ones I proposed to my kids. I wanted to push art for myself. So I went to the San Francisco Art Institute for my Post Bach and had a really hard hard year there. I had never been to the west coast and I moved out there without knowing a single soul. The school didn’t really have a community. It had a different vibe than I was looking for. I was longing for a nurturing community. So I decided not to stay and do my MFA there and I came to Baltimore to go to MICA (Mt. Royal). I came out for the interview and I felt like I was in the twilight zone, they were so welcoming. I’ve stuck around. I kept thinking I’d move back to New York but every year I consider it, it seems really daunting. And in Baltimore there’s a great community of people. There’s a communal element here, maybe it’s because there isn’t a great market so we’re not fighting each other over anything, but I really enjoy it. I moved in here (the Creative Alliance live/work space) right after graduation in 2007.

RS: To somebody whose only seeing photographs, how would you describe your work?

ML: People often assume it’s much larger than it is, it’s very intimate. I’ve been wanting to work larger but there’s another part of me that really believes in the modesty of the scale, that it’s a proposal of a much larger idea. In my head it has a connection to literature or a book or a poem where you'll have this little moment of exchange- but it can open up like it’s an invitation. It doesn’t need to consume you and I’m attached to that idea. It doesn’t have to be large, it can fit in anybody’s home.

And something people are always struck by, and something I enjoy about them is how thin the paint quality is. When they work, it happens in one or two goes. I’ll work on them and work on them and if their not working I’ll keep wiping them down and starting them up again. And so they have to work at a certain moment. I don’t keep going into them after a few subtle adjustments. And I think that translates in person, that it’s a caught moment. They’re painterly. And the color is always off, the color is always better in their real state than in reproduction.

Overall, the idea of the work is the idea of building as an innate human instinct. The beauty of that and the danger of overbuilding, that it’s sort of futile and self-destructive. In person you can see the marks, the marks stand for a stick or a log or a concrete brick. What I’m hoping for is a simultaneous gesture or action of building- building the structures within the painting while literally building the painting. This is more visually clear in person, when you can see how light or heavy each paint gesture is.

RS: What are you working on right now?

ML: I’ve started working with this idea of signal flags. Reading and writing is a large part of my process and titles are really important to me. So a lot of times my titles are bits of writing that I salvage. At some point I came across this chart of signal flags. I just loved that there would be these visual cues that would actually be a phrase if I put them together, so Alpha and Charlie if I put them together means “I am abandoning my vessel.” I’ve been making paintings that incorporate these flags for the statements that they make. I love how specific, how direct the symbols can be. I had been looking at knots, at nomadic building techniques, and that lead to temporary boat structures, which is how I stumbled upon these flags.

RS: Did your work change a lot while you were at MICA and if so what did it look like before?

ML: I had been moving so much since graduation- I spent 6 months in Switzerland then 9 months in Boston. Then I packed everything and moved to San Francisco, then I moved back. But the whole time I was making these tiny tiny paintings on cardboard with gouache and they were all interiors that I could install on the wall in segments so they could expand. These small moments of shared spaces, reflecting on time.

When I got to MICA I just wasn’t there anymore. I was disenchanted with making more stuff in the world. I started making these installations that would fall apart- with water and balloons and found debris from Baltimore. I did a lot of that my whole first year. After my year in San Francisco, the whole idea of painting was out and I was exposed to other processes.

What’s funny is that I went to Turkey to TA for the summer. I saw all these temporary structures, these instinctual gestures at the markets or getting off the boat. Being there got me thinking about nomadic structures and growing up in Puerto Rico. And I came back at the end of the summer- a Baltimore summer and my entire studio had melted. Everything was stuck to the floor and it got me thinking, “What am I doing?” So that’s when I started going back to painting.

RS: Did you have any hesitations in starting new projects? Were you concerned at all about there being a continuous line from what you had done to what you were doing?

ML: I didn’t really know what was going on with the small cardboard paintings anyway. I was just making things compulsively and figuring out later what they were about. And I felt very insecure about that. That first year of grad school you kind of lose yourself, because suddenly it’s safe to experiment and it throws you off in a good way. I was in a new point in my life and my work was going to change and I think for the better. I feel much more confident now. I was making work that I just needed to make but didn’t really want to put out there in the world and now I can put them out in the world now and not feel too exposed.

RS: That's all for the heavy stuff. What do you listen to while you’re working?

ML: I listen to a lot. I listen to This American Life because I have a little crush on Ira Glass. I love people telling stories. And I sit down and read little bits in between paintings, all that triggers emotions for me. And lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Baltimore Music, like Wye Oak and Noble Lake and Small Sur.

RS: If you could visit the studio of any living artist who would it be?

ML: That is so hard. I think it’s a toss up, either Luc Tuymans or Mamma Andersson because I love their work so much. But it might be like pulling back the curtain in Wizard of Oz. Do I really love you or do I just love what you produce? On the other hand, someone like Richard Tuttle, I’d just be in a wonderland.
At MICA when I’d be working in my studio, even if she wasn’t there I’d go sit in Mary Beth’s studio and she just had such a different aesthetic, a sensibility that’s so off kilter from mine. I’d just look at where her coffee cup was placed or random bits of paper. I’d just take in these little contrasts. I just needed something else in my brain to help me see what was needed in my work. Sometimes I wish I still had that.

RS: If you were going to interview a local artist who would it be?

ML: Megan Lavelle of ‘How We Dwell” project.

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  1. Great first interview. Magnolia, I saw your paintings a while back at Creative Alliance and loved them. Glad to come across your work again.

  2. Hey cool, Rachel, nice blog. Good idea. And great choice interviewing Magnolia. Hey, Maggie!