Lisa Williamson is a Los Angeles based artist from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Interested in creating a distinct language over time while following an honest internal logic, Williamson has built a body of work focused on the expressive potential of objects. Material, color, surface, and scale are systematically thought through in her multi-media practice which includes sculpture, painting and drawing. View more of her work here.
Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer is an art writer, curator, and educator based in Los Angeles. Lehrer-Graiwer is the founding editor of Pep Talk, and co-runs the experimental exhibition space, The Finley Gallery in addition to being a contributoring writer for Artforum, ArtReview, and ArtSlant among others.
Over the past seven or so years that she’s been ‘on the scene,’ I sometimes get the feeling that what Lisa Williamson is really doing through sculpture is dreaming a new, ideal community for herself—a highly social community of perfectly singular objects with a common aesthetic identity and several core convictions: Reduce distraction. Simplify variables to empower them. Refine difference and throw it into relief. Be made well and with great care. Amplify graphic and chromatic boldness with formal terseness. When given the chance, go for kinkier. Slightly off is better than not. Disrupt geometries. Inhabit abstraction as a cipher for psychology, a testing ground for behaviors, and a metaphor for bodies. Take lightness and brightness, flirting and frolicking so seriously that joy itself becomes solid, dense, and opaque. Prove over and over again that paradox is richness.
Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer: You’ve recently embarked on a new body of work that both inhabits a new medium (wood) and steps off the wall to occupy free-standing space as sculptures in the round. How have you approached the shift in material and form in terms of your practice’s ongoing concerns? I.e., what has the process of hand-carving and the possibilities of wood dictated or influenced?
Lisa Williamson: For some time I had been thinking about what I wanted my new work to be – how I could transition from recent sculptural works that relied on the wall, to a body of work that was truly sculptural and free-standing. I knew that I wanted the work to be made of wood and to have a mass and weight that was real. I didn’t want to make the shell of a sculpture but instead to make sculpture that was solid from the inside out. It’s almost a conservative approach – an attraction to weight, proportion, color, scale, and material. Wood is an interesting material to work with because it changes over time and while my inclination is to anticipate or direct what happens in my work (and in general) that isn’t ever totally possible. I’ve been thinking a lot about heaviness in terms of obvious physical weight but also psychological or artistic weight – there is a certain type of resonance in something solid. I’ve also been thinking about verticality which almost lifts or stretches heaviness into something else.
“I didn’t want to make the shell of a
sculpture but instead to make sculpture
that was solid from the inside out. ”
— Lisa Williamson
Anyways, about a year and a half ago I started taking free carving lessons at a park recreation center in La Crescenta, CA. The group was called the Smoky Hollow Carvers Chapter #45 and was mostly made up of retirees and carving enthusiasts. I wanted to learn the basics and showed up for several Saturday morning sessions until I finished carving this small bird that was shaped like a heron or crane. After that I stopped going. My father also moved to California during this time. He used to do a lot of carpentry when he was young, so we’ve been spending time talking about tools, methods and problem solving. In my studio I began carving small rudimentary models from wood and at the same time making drawings and full-scale models from cardboard. One form would relate to the next, each model would perpetuate another and this animated group of forms began to emerge. With some time I found my footing and now I am just in full scale production mode. It’s been a learning curve to say the least.
SLG: Where have the forms come from for these new free-standing works? What other artists or objects, if any, have you been looking at while working on these?
LW: Right now, I’m working on a series of solid wood columns that have been milled, cut, or carved and then painted so that, while the form is the same, the individual works are distinct. The columns are made of pine and stand between 5-foot-4 to 9 feet. They are mostly 12 inches round – tree hugging size. Being vertical and tall, the work feels totemic and I often do refer to them as “totems.” In some sense, the columns are meant to address “sculpture in the round” in the most literal way. The scale and proportions of each work relate to myself as well as to architecture. In one sculpture five head-size holes are cut through the wood; another has a series of eight fist-size holes; in another a long seam is sliced through the center. I imagine this new work to be almost like a forest of objects, sculptures that relate directly to the body. To be able to fit your head or arm inside of a sculpture, to extend or look through an otherwise solid object – that sort of momentum or potential feels important.
Gilbert & George
Gilbert Prousch, from San Martin de Tor, Italy, and George Passmore, from Plymouth, United Kingdom, are two artists who work together as a collaborative duo. Gilbert and George are known for their distinctive, highly formal manner and appearance. The two refuse to disassociate their art from their personal, everyday lives, regarding themselves as, “living sculptures.”
Isa Genzken is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Berlin. Arguably one of the most important female artists of the past 30 years, Genzken’s work primarily consists of sculpture and installation using a variety of materials including concrete, plaster, wood, and textile.
“I imagine this new work to be almost
like a forest of objects, sculptures that
relate directly to the body.”
— Lisa Williamson
I’ve been looking at a lot of different artworks and objects while working on this project — Japanese totems; Oceania slit gongs; German Expressionist woodcuts and sculptures; contemporary works like Gilbert & George’s “The Singing Sculpture” as well as their series of drawings “The General Jungle” and Isa Genzken’s totemic sculptures as well as her “Ellipsoids” and “Hyperbolos”; and then random objects like shrubs, barbells, prayer wheels, even fingers start to look like columns or totems. If you choose to work with a simple form you start to see it everywhere.