Briefly describe the work that you do.
In my work I focus mainly on drawing out the beauty of that which is broken, overlooked, or discarded – it is important to me to look closely at life, to notice the tiny details. My practice consists of conceptual and material exploration in the areas of photography, painting, and installation-based art. Currently I am working on encaustic mixed media paintings, underwater photography, a textile-based installation and an interactive outdoor installation. I’m really interested in creating immersive installed environments using photo, video, and built structures.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
I think I was always an artist, growing up I was always creating, making things, taking photos, drawing, and also looking at things in a creative way…I was always encouraged in that, my mother took me to be mentored by local artists and things like that, but I only gave myself permission/figured out that I wanted to do it full-time professionally when I was 27. That’s when I went to art school and got serious about it. I graduated in 2011 and have been working professionally ever since.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in the country and my sister and I were homeschooled by my mother until around grade 7. We spent most of our time outside playing in the woods, and that connection with the natural world is a strong presence in my work today. My father worked as a filmmaker for many years, and gave me my first camera when I was 8 years old, he is a big influence and taught me about composition and how to train your eye. My family on his side is in Italy, so we travelled often to Europe to see them and we always went to all the museums and galleries, so I had wonderful exposure to the arts from a young age. As part of homeschooling we watched the opera, we memorized poetry, we learned piano, we painted, we danced, it was really a good childhood and it made the arts a regular part of life rather than a luxury or something separate. Though we were wealthy in so many ways, we didn’t actually have much money and so I also learned about the world of secondhand objects/materials and doing interesting things with what was available. I was always encouraged to create and experiment.
For many years I focused on writing and dancing and I still work out ideas verbally rather than through sketches and movement when I get stuck. I trained for over 2 years as a Kundalini Yoga Teacher, and have had a daily yoga practice since 2004. The depth of awareness I cultivated through that process influences my entire life, including my studio practice. I’m interested in finding a deeper emotional response and trying to invoke a kind of meditative quiet through my work, both in myself and the viewer.
I did Interdisciplinary Studies in Textiles and Photography at college and as a mature student with prior experience, I got permission to do things outside the boundaries of the programs offered, such as Independent Study and exploring media that wasn’t actually formally offered at my school, such as encaustic and photo-etching. I went to a Craft and Design college but many of my instructors have or were pursuing MFA degrees so it was a perfect mix of technical skill and conceptual rigor. It prepared me well for turning my work into a full-time job and taught me about treating my studio practice as a business.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
Altered memory, nostalgia, quiet, darkness, nature, ideas of house and home, abandonment, various agents of comfort and survival(such as daily household rituals), social environments – all of these are ongoing themes in my practice.
I’ve been working with abandoned houses as a subject matter for almost a decade and they are endlessly rich and mysterious to me. The idea and structure of a house and all that it encompasses, the energy that it can hold, how it is a metaphor for the human body, these containers we’re in all the time, is so interesting to me. I believe that things and places have their own lives and intimate
feelings and I want to tell those stories. I started by approaching it with photography, from the outside, then I started to go inside, and now I’m working with video, installation, putting people in the houses, using them as a set. I think for years I’ve been trying to tell these houses that they are still loved…in fact I made an outdoor installation that was a ‘love letter to abandoned houses’ where I constructed an abandoned house in the woods using furniture, windows and doors.
I’m continually examining the balance of tenderness and power contained in my relationship with the natural world, and plants in particular. I work with watercolour and ink when dealing with plants and flowers – mostly I use found windfall leaves, flowers, seed pods, branches etc. – I love to study them so closely and then render them as faithfully and slowly as I can, sort of a way of paying homage and deeply appreciating their beauty.
I recently got an underwater camera and I’m completely addicted right now to working underwater, it’s a whole other world, and a great opportunity to explore light and silence. It’s a combination of so many things I love.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
Materials, process, curiosity…I often start working with a material and then the concepts emerge later, so that can be a fascinating process as it’s sometimes a surprise. I get inspired by other artists, musicians, writers, dancers…also I’m very motivated by deadlines – I actually thrive on that pressure! If/when I get stuck I’ll do a photo-a-day project, using set themes each day, and that always helps me break through any blocks.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
It changes often depending on new work that I see, but right now I’m looking at Ken Rosenthal, Brooks Shane Salzwedel, Dominique T Skoltz, Jane Hambleton, Mike Nelson, David Hoffos. I watch a lot of films, and they influence how I see things – I am a big fan of Jan Svankmajer, Wim Wenders, Wes Anderson, Miranda July, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman….I’m also very inspired by Judy Pfaff, Louise Bourgeois, Marie Chouinard’s dance creations and Reines d’un Jour by Pascal Magnin. Two people who made me want to make art in the first place are my aunt Cristina Lisi, who is a sculptor and architect in Florence, and my late grandfather Giordano Lisi who was a wonderful painter.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
In the summer, I spend a lot of my free time in the ocean…I also write, play the piano, run, lay in my hammock, play with my cat…I love to garden, travel, I teach workshops, and I sit on juries and boards of different arts organizations, and of course there is always a substantial amount of admin work to do for my business as well.
Monica Lacey is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work focuses on the beauty of the broken, overlooked, or discarded. Monica spent many years traveling, working in the film industry, and developing her skills as a writer, dancer, and yoga teacher before returning to interdisciplinary studies in Textiles and Photography at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. She has received several awards and grants for excellence in her work and service to her community, including the Nel Oudemans Award for Excellence in Visual Arts in 2012 and the City of Charlottetown Emerging Artist Award in 2014. She is represented by Gallery 78 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and her art can be found in private collections across North America. She lives and works in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.