Laurie Lipton in an American artist based in London. Her work will be on view in a group show entitled Pop Surrealism at Robert Berman Galler, in Santa Monica, CA that opens March 28.
I think in images. My work is inspired by strong emotions. I have been drawing since the age of four. I was a perfect, polite, cute little girl in a perfect, polite, cute little suburb of New York. One day, while I was out playing, a mental patient escaped from a nearby hospital and sexually assaulted me. My reality shattered. I shattered. What was I supposed to do with all the dark, swirling, anti-Disney horror in my heart? My art became the repository for all my negative emotions. If I hadn’t found an outlet, I would have imploded.
My father used to take my brother and me to museums on Sunday. My favorite place was The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park. I was enthralled by the religious paintings from the 17th and 18th-century. My parents were both atheists, and I had no idea what the works were about, but I wasn’t interested in the story lines. I marveled at how the artists managed to create such beautifully detailed worlds. I thought they were the most astounding, magical things. I used to stand in front of a single painting for an hour trying to burn it into my eyeballs while my father and brother went on to see the rest of the museum.
I went on to study Fine Art at Carnegie Mellon University, and I felt like the odd one out. The teachers were into abstract and conceptual art. Everyone was splashing paint everywhere or putting shoes on the floor and calling it "art." I felt bored. I cut classes and sat for hours in the library wearing headphones and copying Dürer, Van Eyck, and Memling. They taught me about form and composition. Another inspiration I came across was the photographer, Diane Arbus. She showed me how potent black and white could be. They were the colors of loss, ghosts, memory, and madness. I longed to create something I had never seen before, but felt deep, down within me. I knew it was there, but I didn’t know how to get at it. It was like being at an archeological dig using a blunt teaspoon.
The best thing Carnegie Mellon University ever did for me was to allow me to spend my Junior year abroad. I felt like I had been sleep walking until I landed in Europe. I had always felt like a foreigner in the USA. Coming to Europe was like coming home. I finally saw, up close and personal, the artwork I had adored all my life. I traveled, painted and drew, and vowed that I’d return.
I had been trying to teach myself how to paint like the early Renaissance masters, but failed miserably. Then I decided to try to draw the way the masters painted, using tiny little lines to build up areas of tone. It was crazy and took ages. It was worth the effort, though. The detail and clarity of the images became luminous. I got excited. I drew and drew until I made myself ill, but I didn’t care. The stuff coming from my pencils was finally touching a core in me. I had given birth to something unique and totally “Liptonesque.” I thought that developing my own vision and technique would be seen as desirable in the art world, but galleries didn’t know how to respond to my work. Although everyone greatly admired my technical skill, my work fell between "isms"–it wasn’t surrealism, it wasn’t realism. What was it? How were they supposed to sell disturbing black and white pencil drawings that took longer to make than a painting? I was told to add color or use paint if I wanted to make a living. I did want to make a living, but on my own terms. It was very difficult. I’ve been very lucky. The first 20 years was the hardest.