Hend Al-Mansour talked with fellow Rosalux artist Laura Stack about her artistic influences, the concept of transience, and her use of color in our latest Artist 2 Artist interview.
Can you begin by telling us about your background?
The compulsion to create is what makes us human. My creativity and artistic sensibility allow me to express observations of the world around me. The physical engagement of making objects with my hands is a way of collecting and processing experiences.
I could be a geologist or biologist, but my true calling is the arts. I received a BFA from the University of WI-Madison and an MFA from the University of Kansas. My education focused on painting and color theory. Studying with Professor Marjorie Krelick, a student of Joseph Albers, inspired me to explore color interaction in my art-making practice.
Along with pursuing a career in the Arts and my studio practice, I have been a Fine Arts educator for 25 years at the University of Minnesota Art Department, The Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and other colleges in the Twin Cities area.
It's no wonder my artwork focuses on observing natural phenomena. Exploring the natural world was a significant part of my childhood. I grew up in a landscape that is a geological wonder. Baraboo, Wisconsin, is an area rich in lakes, rock formations, and gorges formed by glaciation and other natural processes over eons of the earth's history. Devils Lake, one of North America's most ancient and unusual rock outcroppings, was just a few miles from my home. Many days of my childhood were spent scrambling over immense quartzite boulders and swimming in the lake's deep, dark waters. One couldn't help but marvel at the area's geology. This childhood experience fueled a keen interest in geology and biology and a strong desire to understand the processes that created them.
What influences your art ideas?
One might assume that art history and other artists' work are my primary influence. That is not the case. Painters and digital artists inspire me, but I don't look to emulate their work. My curiosity about the scientific underpinnings of the natural world and biotechnology motivates my art's content and visual sensibility. I look to the fields of biology, synthetic biology, fractals, color theory, and ecology. Research that informs my current art practice includes the writings of Ed Regis in his book What Is Life?: Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology, biologist Merlin Sheldrake's Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds…, James Lovelock's Gaia Theory, biologist Edward O. Wilson's Biophilia Hypothesis, and Forest Ecologist, Suzanne Simard's Finding the Mother Tree. Biology-inspired science fiction also activates my imagination from writers such as Jeff VanderMeer, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Margaret Atwood, and Sue Burke.
Observing the natural world around me in my day-to-day practice informs my artwork's content and visual composition. Observational drawing is part of my practice, forcing the drawer to study the subject carefully. I maintain a pollinator garden and cultivate native plants to support the biome in which I live. I've been fortunate to experience diverse landscapes, including the pristine Bruce Trail in Canada, the lush, mountainous areas of Southern China, the deserts of the American southwest, the peaks of the European Alps, and recently the Yucatán. I seek out natural spaces and engage in slow, intentional observation.
Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks to this in his essay Nature by inviting us to imagine how differently we would view the stars if they were revealed for only one night every thousand years:
"… The point is that the sublime, the heavenly, is all around us; it's this very pervasiveness that blinds most of us, most of the time, to its majesty. Rather than falling to our knees in nightly transports of reverence and awe, we barely take the time to glance upward at this spectacle."
How important is the concept of 'transience' in your work?
Transience and growth have been central themes of my work for many years. For example, I see Life Form #5 and Shapeshifter 19 (below) as a momentary pause in the cycling process of growth. In minutes the form is going to change its configuration. The striped bulbous shape will bulge out and shrink inward as it grows and breaths. In the fluid background, the inky edges are puddling, dissolving, bubbling, and forming branching patterns into the white space of the paper. In Life Form #7 (below), the protruding striped body spreads and extends around itself.
The other word that first comes to mind in your work is color. Your color scheme is painstakingly rendered and mature. How do you develop your color palette?
"If I could only catch the true color of nature, the very thought of it drives me mad."
- Andrew Wyeth
Nature is the best teacher. I immerse myself in the amazing hues I see when hiking in forests, snorkeling in a coral reef, or looking at my garden. Color ideas for my work are inspired by beautiful freaks of nature, such as fungi, slime mold, microfauna, agates, and marine invertebrates.
Color has been a passion of mine since college. As an undergraduate in fine art, I was fortunate to take three color classes from Professor Marjorie Krelick. Creating a color palette for my paintings is intuitive rather than a formal exercise. I experience synesthesia, which contributes to my inherent use of color. Synesthesia is another way of perceiving the world. It happens when a sense, such as sight, triggers another sense, like smell, at the same time. For me, color, taste, and smell are strongly connected.
"I sense a scream passing through nature. I painted…the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked."
Is making artwork with your hands an essential part of your process?
The physical act of painting & drawing is primary to my art-making. This process enhances my creativity and is a means of meditation that keeps me "in the moment." While I work on the computer using Photoshop to explore visual ideas and do color studies, I'm most engaged in the hands-on moving of the paint. This physicality is in keeping with my dance background, as I use gestural movements and engage my entire body when applying the paint. My physical mark on the paper gives my paintings movement and presence as an extension of myself.
Lastly, I'd like to share some advice I learned from Bob Ross. Hee-hee.
Learn more about Laura and her artwork at www.laurastackart.com
Inquiries: Please contact Laura Stack for all inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org