Briefly describe the work you do.
Considering strata as historical formations, I make freestanding sculptural paintings comprised of layers of pigmented beeswax. Resonating with the geologic, these hybrid objects are created through processes such as erosion, compression, friction, and enfolding. Configured as cross-sectional architectonic blocks, the pieces function as core samples, with exposed layers containing delicate embedments, much like fossils in sediment. My aim is to render sense-able the phenomenal divergence and convergence of the earth, yet the relatively small scale of the pieces also suggests a miniaturization that relates to educational models, distilling the vast time/space continuum of geology into something containable.
I was born in Beacon, New York in 1960, and knew from an early age that I would be an artist. I studied art for a brief period in college before setting out in search of real life mentors. After studying with the painter Franklin Alexander in his Woodstock studio, I entered into training as an apprentice papermaker at Women’s Studio Workshop. The atmosphere at WSW disciplined me to see the studio as a laboratory for ideas and testing ground for methods and materials. This influence is still with me today; ideas, materials and techniques must all reinforce each other.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Though the pieces I make do not push an overtly political message, an important criteria for me has always been to work in way that is ecologically conscious and self-contained. The organization of my workspace is centered around this principle. My studio functions as a kind of eco-system where nothing is wasted or sits around gathering dust. My work is not about the precious object; it privileges the energy that goes into making it, therefore everything in the studio is constantly in play, getting used, recycled, or repurposed.
Even aesthetic decisions are informed by this no-waste mandate. For example, I make monotypes that are a by-product of my sculptural paintings. I use a heated metal plate to shape my sculptures. When done carefully, this can produce finely detailed paint trails as the mass of striated wax slides along the hot plate. I recognized this as an opportunity to use the piece-in-process as a mark making tool and began capturing these mini-landslides on paper as another way of recording process and time.
As my work has evolved to consider geologic time, so has my activity in the studio. It’s almost like an unseen performance. Acting on a playful intention to mimic the rock cycle, I put my work through the processes of heating, melting, cooling, weathering and sliding around (sometimes all the way across the country) – building up and breaking down in a dizzying cycle that never stops. My works are little chunks of output from this mechanism that is my studio practice.
Being an artist has brought out my skill as a writer, and that has been used in ways that I would not have anticipated. For example, I administered an online technical forum for encaustic painters for many years. As an artist who is very experimental, and not at all hung up on following rules, I was surprised at how well I was able to communicate technical data. I also published an artist’s book about my own work in 2012.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
It depends on what I am doing. I am clear-headed first thing in the morning, so that is my best time for solving problems and strategizing. Night time is good for getting out of my head and possibly surprising myself.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Prior to 2009, I was making lots of small elements that I used in grand collections and sprawling installations. For various practical reasons, I wanted to make work that was more portable and did not require assembly. That desire led me to produce a group of small works inspired by textbook diagrams of cutaways of terrain. I achieved this by making mini versions of the installations on panels, almost like maquettes. I built reservoirs around them, filling it with layers of poured wax, and then used excavational techniques to reveal what was buried. That was an important breakthrough which my work has been evolving out of ever since. I am still focused on process and time, but I am now thinking about how those ideas can be contained. My recent work has a relationship to books, and the pouring techniques I use add a linear quality that relates to charts, maps, diagrams and visual information. These are things that I get a visual kick from, so I enjoy bringing that design aspect to my work.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I don’t believe anything exciting happens in isolation, so my imagination is sparked when the disciplines of art, science, history, philosophy, nature, culture, technology and design merge. I like when ideas reach out in many directions, the quirkier or more idiosyncratic, the better. I find this merging through lots of reading, (John McPhee is a favorite), following obscure blogs like Friends of the Pleistocene, or listening to podcasts like RadioLab, and even in the mainstream, (love Project Runway).
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I’ve been considering becoming a bee keeper for the past several years. I like tending to things that are cyclical and require care. I’ve also thought about doing Hospice work.
Laura Moriarty’s honors include two grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Strategic Opportunities Stipends from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a Projects Grant from United States Artists. Laura has participated in many residencies, including at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming and the Frans Masereel Center in Belgium. She is the author of ‘Table of Contents’, a limited-edition artist’s book published in 2012. Laura lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York, where she is currently working toward a solo exhibition at Conrad-Wilde Gallery in Tucson, Arizona.