1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? What are you reading or watching right now?
Physics for Poets by Robert H. March has me captivated, and I’m keeping up with my subscription to The New Yorker. I also belong to an artist reading group. We get together every few months to catch up with each other and hash out our selected texts.
I’d say I spend more time listening to podcasts than watching television. I have many favorites, but lately, I’m all over “Scene On Radio,” and “HBR Women at Work.” I do catch doses of the requisite comic relief watching “The Office” and “Axe Cop,” an over-the-top-ridiculous animated show.
2. What are you currently working on? Are you able to create during the pandemic?
I’m currently cleaning my studio. Preparing my space in preparation for the next body of work is a ritual I thoroughly enjoy. It’s slow going; after an intense two years of production, it’s a healthy mess.
Lockdown gave me some critical distance from my most recent body of work. It was an opportunity to assess what I’ve made and to ruminate on the ideas I want to explore next in the studio. I’m very excited about what’s to come.
3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?
I’m not at liberty to discuss this. ; )
4. What is your most unusual habit?
I’m inclined to stay up till the wee hours of the morning. It’s easy for me to catch a second wind at night, and I often decide to get one more thing done before turning in. That’s probably not that unusual; I’m sure there are plenty of other night owls flying around.
5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?
No deliberation required. I’d request Pierre Bonnard not for the portrait necessarily, but for the conversation. When I viewed “The Late Still Lives and Interiors” exhibition at the Met years ago with a lump in my throat, I had a conversation with him in my head about his color and composition. I got it. I understood his moves. I’d love to stand next to one of his paintings with him and ask my questions. I’d have to brush up on my French first, of course.
6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office?
Other than my supply of paint, the most indispensable item in my studio is my gesso brush; it’s a fluffy, old yet perfect house painting brush whose white-tinged bristles are partially stained Pthalo Turquoise. I use it paired with a softer synthetic brush to achieve the particular gessoed surface I like.
The other thing I could not do without is scrap paper. I have many works in progress up on my walls at any given time, but I only work on one or two a day. Each painting ends up with a piece of scrap paper pinned beside it. I use the blank backsides of my rejected car drawings to note color recipes or composition corrections so that later I can easily pick up where I left off. Often, too, a painting I’m not working on at the moment will catch my eye. In an instant, an idea for the next move can come to me. It gets noted, and I get back to the painting at hand. In the end, the notes are diaristic, and I’m happy to have such records of my thoughts and processes.
7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?
If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I stay up even later to do whatever needs to be done. I’m also good at saying no to requests for my time if I don’t have it to give.
In the studio, if I can’t figure out what to do next on a painting, for example, I simply put it aside and work on a different one. It may just be that I need to stop looking at it for a while, or often, a move I make on a different painting will conjure a solution for the one I’m stuck on. Work begets work. This is by no means a unique process, but having numerous paintings going at once is, for me, and efficient use of time.
8. What do you see as the artist’s role through this difficult time?
I believe the role of the artist at any given time is to make work that is true to themselves and to trust that it is part of the collective visual record of our time.
9. Do you collect anything?
I guess I’d call the dried bits of nature I’ve picked up and displayed on my dresser a collection. There are graceful, black ribbons of dried kelp that take me back to the exquisite Oregon coast; dried buckeyes that remind me of childhood visits to my grandparents’ yard; thick seed pods from a tree that fill the palm and rattle when shaken; a cluster of tiny seeds from a maple tree variety I hadn’t seen before, and a stone given as a calming talisman by my daughter. Seeing them there is a daily delight.
10. What words of advice would you give to artists during this time?
I don’t feel I’m in a position to offer advice. There is a lot going on right now, and I’m speaking specifically of the coronavirus pandemic and all it entails, the ongoing fight for racial equity and social justice, and the election that will be here before we know it. We each just need to do what we feel we need to do.
11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?
When my children left the house, I increased my studio hours. More time in the studio, needless to say, has accelerated the development of my work.
12. Share an inspiring image.
Traveling down Rt. 55 in central Illinois a few years ago, I hopped off the highway to photograph the gift of this magnificent day. After marveling a while at this scene, I drove down a corn field flanked side road. I parked the car, sat on the side of the road and reveled in the sound of the wind rustling the fields of dried corn stalks. The feeling of awe and joy that day gave me is the inspiration.
Lisa Bergant Koi's work is available on ARTSY as a part of the ongoing online exclusive exhibition: Indeterminate Spaces, Intuitive Places. For more information about the work above visit ARTSY: https://www.artsy.net/show/james-may-gallery-indeterminate-spaces-intuitive-places
James May Gallery
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