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12 Questions: Liz Rundorff Smith

Updated: Sep 14, 2019

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (in that order) 2. What are you currently working on?

I go back and forth between working in oil and working in encaustic. For the past few months I have been working mostly in encaustic. I started thinking about the idea of the roadside memorial several months ago and that is the work I am most interested in pursuing at the moment. My work in general is centered around the idea of a personal memorial and a visual reference to the memory of an experience. I love the intersection of the deeply personal and public interaction with a roadside memorial. And there are so many in the south I find inspiration everywhere! 3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

I think being an artist means that you have to open yourself up to embracing failure every day. Not only failure in the studio but failure as you work to push your work and career forward. There’s a certain level of moving forward no matter how the public responds to your work but you also have to embrace that pushing your ideas means that you have to be willing to make really bad work. When you can work past a fear of failure there are no limits to the work you make. 4. What is your most unusual habit?

I have started picking up objects and materials I find on the street because I am thinking about the way that we assign value to seemingly meaningless things as a way of remembering a loved one. I don’ know if it gets much weirder than picking up trash and dipping it in wax! One day I was walking in my neighborhood and I found this neon yellow flier that had been worn into a really interesting shape. I picked it up and then a neighbor asked if he could throw it away for me. I said “no thanks I’m gonna keep this.” He didn’t know what to say to that and I thought if I tried to explain it would only get weirder and so I just said “Bye!” and kept walking. 5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

Ooooohhhh. Alice Neel. I’m not sure I would like it but I think it would be very eye opening psychologically. Alice Neel had a way of painting a person’s inner world with subtle decisions about line quality and positioning of hands and odd choices in composition. They are haunting portraits that go beyond just physical appearance so I would love to know what she would see in me and what it would reveal. 6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like?

I have some great floor standing shelves that my friend, printmaker Kent Ambler, made for me - they’re 4 ft in length and about 1 foot high and I have 6 of them so they line the perimeter of the walls in my studio. I can stack work there so that I can see everything while I’m working. What you don’t see is my work table which is covered in wax and odd the odd things I find on the street and it’s a mess. The most indispensable item in my studio is probably my phone so that I can play music!

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?

Music is the key to getting out of a funk for me. If I am sick of everything then I search for new music and I find I’m interested in the world again. And then I get over myself and get back to work. 8. Who/What influences your work?

Honestly everything influences my work. Other artists, designers, having a great conversation, music, a good movie . . . I think I gravitate in my own work toward minimalism as a jumping off point because I find it aesthetically pleasing. But beyond that formal framework I like to think about how I can take a very stripped down conceptual form and load it with sentimentality and nostalgia in a way that feels more human. Felix Gonzalez-Torres was a very important influence in school and an artist who I think represents an important time historically. I think I will always go back to his work and find something that relates to what I’m grappling with. 9. Do you collect anything?

Besides trash? I love the idea of a collection and I have started various collections throughout my life buy every time I moved I got over collecting things. I recently watched a video of Rachel Whiteread working in her studio and it inspired me to keep collecting the odd things I am drawn too. She has so much space in her studio though and she had beautifully lit white built-in shelves for displaying her objects. In that setting it doesn’t look quite so crazy - you’re not a hoarder if you organized! 10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

Be open to exploration and experimentation and don’t worry so much about making something “good”. Also, don’t waste time! When I think about how much time I had before I had kids I want to kick myself for not working harder. 11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

Being an artist doesn’t mean you have to be able to be in your studio full time. I have had to work full time to support myself and now my family so I have had to figure out how to carve out time for my work. If you only have 10 minutes during the day to devote to your artwork then do it and figure out how to work within the constraints. I am not always able to be in my studio so I take pictures, I read, I connect with other artists and I devote a little time each day to being an artist. And then when I do have time to be in the studio I am so much more focused because I have figured out how to work in different segments of time.

12. Share an inspiring image.

This is an image of my daughter Piper she’s eight. I also have a daughter named Tessa who’s 7 but she isn’t quite as confident in the water yet! It reminds me to let go and just be in the moment. I also love the color of a swimming pool and it reminds me so much of wax.

Liz's work is available on ARTSY and on view at James May Gallery as a part of the exhibition: SOMATIC SHAPES.

Opening Reception: Friday Sept 6

Exhibition dates: Sept 5- Sept 30

James May Gallery

213 Steele Street

Algoma, WI 54201


Thu-Sat 10-5

Sun 1-5

Mon 10-1

or by appointment



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