Briefly describe the work you do.
I make collages out of paper. Usually, I have some preconceived ideas about the colors and the composition. Sometimes I successfully execute the idea right off. But many times I realize it is not working, the energy is not there, and the picture is stagnant. In those cases I scrape away and try to find an answer in the the sources that are splayed out around me. I use auction catalogs, with displays of jewels, silver, and gold antique pieces or reproductions of paintings and drawings that I repurpose for my own use. I make patterns out of cutouts, using a razor to slice around and inlay strokes and fragments. I began as a painter, and often I discovered that in the course of painting I would be holding several brushes in my hand at once. Now I do that with cut outs of paper.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I was born and raised in New York City and still enjoy living here. The energy is terrific, and the daily surprises from having so many different kinds of people in a small area are great. I grew up in Queens, but my parents took me into Manhattan and acquainted me with museums, theater, and dance. I took art classes with a woman who had a basement full of copper teapots, ceramic bowls, and baskets. We drew still life compositions with pastel on velour paper. In high school there was a great art department. I had to drag immense canvasses to school on city buses. My friends and I went to museums to do art assignments. We were very excited by films about the abstract expressionists, and we saw Yoko Ono’s “Fly”. My father worked near the Museum of Modern Art and purchased a family pass and so I was encouraged to visit quite often and absorb “modernism.”
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 spend at least four hours a day in the studio. Due to various difficulties in the past few years I have moved around quite a bit, but I manage to set things up very quickly. I pile up my source materials, find a work surface, and start cutting and pasting. When I am in the studio I always have music on: jazz, oldies, background stuff. There are a lot of similarities between notes, chords and brushstrokes. A painting is a symphony.
The search for materials to use is an integral part of my work. I make frequent trips to used book stores. There I conceive of ideas about how to use the material I find. It’s exciting to make these connections, and it’s a significant part of the collage process. In the studio, I pile up materials, make groupings of cut-outs, and try to keep things in order. Sometimes the disorder, or the difficulty in finding things is beneficial, as I might make unexpected connections.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I first started making art, I was quite young. I never thought about the difficulties involved in getting people to see my work. At the time, I never imagined how hard it would be to get my work into a gallery.
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?
I work best in the early morning hours until lunch when there are less distractions and my energy is the most concentrated.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I still use the same processes but they have become more evolved. I have learned more about the properties of paper. I might work into the paper with a sanding block. Experimenting with some different gels and mediums, I have achieved some new effects. Also, I have been able to find much larger paper, and that has been a new challenge.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
My family (my husband and two daughters) and friends have been incredibly supportive and encouraging to me in my artistic pursuit. There are many artists who have inspired me- Joseph Cornell, Henri Matisse, Richard Deibenkorn, Wayne Theibaud, Jackson Pollock, Charlie Chaplin, and
Alfred Hitchcock, just to name a few.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I have always wanted to be a painter. I have put the desire aside many times, but it always comes roaring back. If I don’t get to do this work, I feel a piece of me is missing. I also love to read, see nature, and walk my dog.
Laura J. Stein was born in 1955 in New York City. She received a BFA from Cornell University with additional studies at the Pratt Institute, the School of Visual Arts, Parsons School of Design, Cooper Union, and the Art Student’s League. Her work is featured in the current issue of Dialogist.org, and has been exhibited in the office of the Manhattan Borough President, in the first issue of Fresh Paint Magazine, at the Next Gallery in Soho, NYC; the Small Works Show at 80 Wash. Sq. E. Gallery, NYC; the Westbeth Painters Space, NYC; the Condesco-Lawler Gallery, NYC; and the Jacob Fanning Gallery, Wellfleet, Ma. She currently lives and works in New York City.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.