Briefly describe the work you do.
I make artwork that contemplates the impermanence of existence. I am intrigued by how we craft an understanding of reality based on our perceptions of what is known and unknown. The fluidity and flux of reality is seamless and constant, and in my work I seek to express the feeling of this elusive experience.
In my drawings and paintings, I depict complex yet often subtle energies that animate living things. Using depictions of flora as symbols, flowers breathe, pushing and pulling energies along the edge between life and death. I use ideas of thresholds and portals, to examine the transitions between these realms. My installation work draws from the same ideas, while bringing the artwork into the physical space of the viewer. Gallery walls serve as the metaphorical threshold between life and death, the visible and invisible, tangible and intangible.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I grew up in a tiny town amidst the trees and lakes of Northern Wisconsin. The majority of my time was spent discovering and communing with nature. Summers were savored with long walks in the woods, building forts, riding bikes down our three-mile driveway, and swimming and fishing in our lake. Winters were spent building snow forts, sledding, ice skating, hockey, ice fishing and drinking hot apple cider. These formative years of my life created a deep-rooted connection with the natural world and the cycles of life and death.
I was also raised within a strict Catholic family. I followed the dogma of the church until I came of age and discovered my own thoughts and beliefs about the world. What I came away from Catholicism with, was a profound and genuine desire to contemplate and understand the mysterious world around me; but rather than feeling like I have the answers, I have grown comfortable within the realm of not knowing. These two aspects of my childhood shaped my relationship with the natural world. They created a desire to understand the world and contemplate the purpose of being alive.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I would say my studio practice is more traditional, as far as spending time working in my space. Currently I’m working on a large-scale installation piece as well as some small canvas works. I like the variation in that the installation work can be very physical, working with 4 x 8 foot sheets of Duralar, pouring paint, cutting and hanging elements from the ceiling. With the small canvas pieces I can sit at my desk, hold the canvases in my hands, and paint delicate detail work.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Going into my undergraduate schooling, I just saw myself as a maker—as someone that wanted to be an artist and I didn’t think beyond that. After several years of working office jobs while making my artwork on the side, I decided I would like to teach so that art would be the focus of my life. I went back to school for my MFA, and am now an Associate Professor of Art at Moorpark College and Director of the Campus Art Gallery. I have found myself in the roles of providing both students and professional artists with opportunities to exhibit and discuss their artwork. I really enjoy this aspect of my career as it continues to broaden my appreciation of and advocacy for artists and their work.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
For me, anytime is the best time to make art! As a working mother of a three and five year old, I structure my practice around available time. For now that means working late into the evenings. I try to be efficient, and make the most of long and short studio sessions. Having multiple projects going on helps and I find the variation interesting and motivational. I like the relationships and connections between my installation and canvas works.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
In the past 5 years, I have begun to figure out how to transform my paintings into site-specific sculptural installations. This has proven to be quite a challenge, in that I am in the uncomfortable place of not absolutely knowing what the finished piece will look like until the installation is up in the new location. There is always “the plan” as configured in my sketchbook and studio, but I am learning to release some control and trust in my abilities and instincts that things will work. The way that I think about space and depth in my work has changed drastically, as well as my process and materials.
It is the same in that I am still working in a similar style in my paintings. Subject matter shifts slightly, but my combination of forms created with chiaroscuro and smooth, blended surfaces, along with light and ethereal tendrils remains.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
“Let the artist have just enough to eat, and the tools of his trade: ask nothing of him. Materially make the life of the artist sufficiently miserable to be unattractive, and no one will take to art save those in whom the diving daemon is absolute.” – Clive Bell
I love this quote from art critic Clive Bell, as there is so much truth in the difficulties of sustaining a life as an artist. I talk to my students about this and the importance of having a network of creative and supportive people in your life. Feedback from my husband, Ted, and from other artist friends has a positive impact on my creative process. I also feel supported by my mentors and those that appreciate my work and are willing to help me promote it. I am continuously inspired by the work of so many artists, but particularly Darren Waterston, Sharon Ellis, and Inka Essenhigh.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Much of my high school experience revolved around sports and music. I entered into college as a double major of Art and Music. After a year or so, music fell to the wayside academically, but still remains an important aspect of my life.
Erika Lizée was born in Chicago, Illinois. She earned her BFA in Painting from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 1999, and her MFA in Painting from California State University, Northridge, in 2007. In 2008, she was hired as full-time faculty at Moorpark College where she is currently an Associate Professor of Art. She teaches Drawing, Painting, Two-Dimensional Design, and Gallery Practices, and is the Director of the Moorpark College Art Gallery. Ms. Lizée is an artist that works in the mediums of drawing, painting, and installation. Her artwork has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad. She is currently working on an installation for Angel’s Ink Gallery in San Pedro, CA, and will be exhibiting within the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) next year. Ms. Lizée resides in West Hills, California, with her husband and two young children.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.