Portrait of an Artist:
Interview with Lisa Blair
Where are you from? Where are you living now?
I was born in Boston, raised in New Hampshire, and attended Middlebury college in Vermont. I then moved west to Portland, Oregon where I lived for 11 years and now reside in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I've been since 2009. I've come to realize that I'm a New Englander at heart and regularly ache for that world, but it's just not in my path right now to return. So for the time being I massage that ache by taking trips to that part of the world when I can afford to and in the meantime, perusing through the pages of Yankee Magazine which I'm embarrassed to admit because I thought it was a completely dorky magazine when I was growing up.
What kinds of art do you create?
I work in so many mediums and have such competing passions that I constantly have at least five major projects going on at any given moment and probably ten or more other projects that are currently on pause but waiting impatiently in the wings. I am primarily known for my fine art photography and then for my handwoven scarves under my label Julian Linen. I have a four harness floor loom and have been weaving scarves for over 14 years now. Just last year I began making sewn items including tote bags, aprons, and napkins with the idea of expanding Julian Linen beyond the person and into the home. Since coming to Santa Fe, I've also added painting and drawing to my repertoire as well as collecting sand, pine cones, and other objects from nature (called Collectings) along with sounds from my surroundings (called Soundings). In 2014 I bought a 1950's Remington vintage typewriter and began to create typewriter art which I call Typings. As you can see, I always have a lot going on and never enough time or energy to do it all.
What are you currently working on?
I'd say the project I'm most consumed by and proud of at the moment is my blog series "Have You Heard Of...?" where I celebrate 25 living and thriving African American visual artists whose names should be household names in white America, well, in all of America. As a culture, we white folks have failed to recognize and rightfully revere the undeniable contributions African Americans have made and continue to make to the rich tapestry we call American Art. I am doing the project to educate myself and others, to make one small crack in our collective blindspot. These artists are inspiring me in incredible ways; I feel profoundly humbled and privileged to be able to witness their greatness.
Aside from the blog series, I have a number of personal projects I'm in the middle of including sewing my first quilt inspired by and made in part from 40+ year old vintage fabric that until recently hung as curtains in my grandparents' summer cottage in upstate New York. I grew up with these curtains and love them and they have now retired to become my first quilt. I'm also knitting yet another pair of socks for myself and learning various techniques to darn socks and am regularly repairing my partner David's worn jeans.
Aside from the personal projects, I just started two new paintings. I am also post-processing and re-editing a photographic series that I've been working on, on-and-off, for the last two years. I am scanning and cleaning another set of photographs for an additional body of work. And I've been recently listening to some fantastic interviews online in order to collect quotes for new Typings. I also just delivered my first tote bags to a local coffee roasters who will be selling them at their shop. The bags were made in part with their burlap coffee bean sacks. So, let's see...that's at least 8 projects that are currently on my front burners!
Why do you use the terms Collectings, Soundings, and Typings?
In my mind, paintings have always held the position of highest esteem in the art world, but I want everything I create to exist on a level playing field. Of course, the term Drawings already has the "-ings" ending so I naturally thought of Collectings, Soundings, and Typings for my other work. Besides, there is no single agreed upon term for "collections of objects from nature" or for sound recordings or for typewriter art, so I took some liberty.
Do you collect anything else besides sand and other small objects from nature?
I have an extensive postcard collection that began over 20 years ago. I love sending and receiving postcards. As I already mentioned, I collect sounds. These include sounds from everyday moments that pass us by all the time, such as brushing our teeth, to sounds from nature and from the city. Sounds are so special. They draw my awareness to the profundity of the moment in a way that my visual channel doesn't. I love feeling in awe of simple moments, feeling that the divine is somehow present. I also have a collection of art magazines that has somewhat inadvertently grown over time. I have a nice collection of art and photography books. Additionally, I am constantly collecting and recording things about myself, often in the form of lists—movies I've watched, books I've read, what I'll miss when I am dead, what I won't miss when I'm dead, a list of all my prized possessions, a photographic and bibliographic reference of my personal library, etc. I am somewhat obsessed with recording the details of my life. The most quintessential example of this preoccupation would be my photography project titled "One Year of Lisa Blair" consisting of a self-portrait a day for an entire year (March 2010-February 2011). I think this compulsion I have to record aspects of my life is due in part to the fact that I don't have children. I thus instinctively feel a need to document my own existence since my particular ancestral line will not continue beyond me, at least not in a literal sense. But I know it's more than that; it's a deep artistic calling. I feel that the term "Curator of Self" is probably a more accurate title for me than "Artist," "Photographer," "Weaver," or "Maker."
What piece of art would you most like to own?
There are simply way too many exquisite pieces to choose only one! I'm a big fan of Lorna Simpson, an African American artist whose name should be on lips of all of us. Her working is powerful, beautiful, visceral, yet delicate. For example, I love her piece titled Direct Gaze of photo booth portraits of black folks along with magazine clippings and bronze pieces. But I would love any piece by her. I also love so many paintings and drawings made by New Mexico's own (the late) Agnes Martin, an artist who I feel deserves far more national attention than she gets. She should be a household name like so many of the great male artists of her time. I adore Jasper Johns’ works in gray and basically every black and white painting by Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg. I love Glenn Ligon's black and white text-based paintings such as Four Untitled Etchings. Barnett Newman’s Stations of The Cross and The Voice are spectacular. No less important are the works of three more artistic geniuses: Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. And Yoko Ono's Instructions and Drawings (in her book Grapefruit) are absolutely brilliant as are various drawings by Pat Steir, Eva Hesse, and Sol LeWitt. Clearly, there are so many works and artists that I'm in love with!
What’s your favorite color?
As just a color, it would have to be charcoal grey. But in terms of attire, I spent many years wearing mostly grey, then went through a black period, then a largely brown and tan period. Recently though I am really enjoying wearing blue. It brings out my eyes.
Favorite junk food?
Barbara’s Cheese Puffs. I'm addicted.
I absolutely loved Clarklewis when it first opened in Portland, Oregon, but once the owners split up, it’s never been the same. Pok Pok and Nostrana, also both in Portland, are excellent. And there are many meals I’ve had in NYC that I loved including those at Vinegar Hill House, Black Tree, Peasant, and Emilio Balatto’s. In Santa Fe, my favorite place to eat is currently the Bang Bite food truck. Their food is deadly good.
Favorite eating moment?
Definitely picnicking with my partner David in Le Jarden du Luxembourg in Paris in September 2011. In fact, it was one of my all-time favorite moments, the kind of day I’ll remember on my death bed. We bought all the goodies at various specialty shops at a street market in Montparnasse and then spent the afternoon eating and drinking in the garden. Everything was superb and it was a perfectly gorgeous sunny day in Paris. It seemed every Parisian was out in the park that day. I was in heaven.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. And my favorite exhibition was Punk: Chaos to Couture. I went through it twice; I couldn’t get enough.
Other than yourself, who is your favorite photographer?
Jefferson Haymen in terms of straight photography, but I equally love Lorna Simpson's work as a mixed media photographer.
Some other photographers/work you love?
Patti Smith’s Camera Solo series. Robert Stiver’s series Sestina. Isa Marcelli’s wet plate collodion work. Daniel Grant’s series My Affair with Diana. Francesca Woodman’s self-portraits. Lilo Raymond. Ken Rosenthal. I could go on.
What are you most vain about?
What are you most shy about?
Meeting new people.
Who would be your ten fantasy dinner-party guests (alive or dead)?
Who can choose only ten? That nearly qualifies as torture. No, I must choose more. As long as David could also be there, I would choose:
Philip Seymour Hoffman
David Foster Wallace
Dr. Cornel West
Yves Saint Laurent
What’s your favorite place to have a drink?
Anywhere really. But I especially love having a cocktail on the porch at my family’s cottage on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.
What can’t you travel without?
Anti-nausea medicine and my eye mask to block out light.
City or country?
Half time in both.
Beach or mountain?
Lake, ocean or pool?
Old or new?
Definitely old. I love old things. I think that my soul is from another time period. I feel very out of place in the modern era with the exception of my love for Abstract Expressionism.
Last book you read?
Daily Rituals by Mason Currey.
Two cats: Sassy and Madeline (although they rarely ever are called by those names as they each have a million and one alternate names). But you can hardly call them cats let alone pets. They mean the world to me.
What’s for breakfast?
Whole grain cereal, blueberries, almond/coconut milk, and a cup of Teeccino (a non-caffeinated coffee alternative that I love).
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
If you could come back as a model, who would you be?
Roberta Chirko, a lesser known Supermodel from the ‘80s.
If you could look like anyone else, who would it be?
That’s tough to choose. American actress Maggie Q and French actress Josephine de la Baume are both beautiful and slightly unusual to my eye. And I love Esperanza Spalding. She's gorgeous! I also am a recent admirer of Linda Rodin and Carmen Dell'Orefice, two of the most stunning women I've ever seen. They make aging nearly envious.
What’s the thing you find easiest to forgive?
Most anything followed by a sincere apology.
What’s the thing you find impossible to forgive?
Blatant insensitivity followed by no apology.
Do you have any superstitions?
As a child I thought you could spontaneously die at midnight. And I believed the threat was over by 12:01 a.m. That minute was very tense to say the least.
What’s your biggest self-indulgence?
High quality liquor.
Favorite places to shop?
Lately, I've become a lover of Everlane (online). They are unique in that they are transparent about where their clothes are made and how much it costs them. And their pieces are high quality and aesthetically classic and minimalist, but relatively affordable. I attempt to keep my shopping at a minimum and am often unsuccessful at curbing myself. I tell David, “Everyday I have to stop myself from buying clothes!” and he laughs.
Who’s your favorite interior designer?
I don’t have a favorite designer – my taste is eclectic. I love the look of a few key antique, dark, wooden pieces in a relatively sparse, light-filled space. I love white walls along with lots of art, great books, an brick accent wall and greenery. I have a growing collection of Architectural Digest and Elle Decor. I absolutely love interior design magazines.
Favorite fashion designer?
Yves Saint Laurent.
Favorite fashion trend of all time?
Scarves on men.
Worst fashion trend of all time?
Nearly all of the clothes in the '80s. Or harem pants from 2011.
What’s your biggest fashion regret?
Hmm, let's see. At age 11 or 12, agreeing to get the colorful sweater that matched my mother's rather than the one I really wanted. Although I can't say I've lost much sleep on that recently!
Black 1985 Jaguar XJ6 Series iii with tan leather interior.
When and where are you happiest?
At night, sound asleep, dreaming...or would it be when I feel inspired? Yes, inspired wins it. I live for feeling inspired.
Who’s your best friend?
My inner critic.
What’s your favorite vacation spot?
My favorite vacation spot overall would definitely be my family's cottage in upstate New York. I love it there. I am more at peace there than I am anywhere. But my favorite vacations I've ever taken would have to include that trip to Paris in 2011, a trip to Negril, Jamaica in 2003, a camping trip to Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies in 2004. And lastly a trip to England in 1988. I loved seeing the English countryside and regularly fantasize about living in a very old stone house, sitting in a comfortable chair, drinking a cup of tea, and looking out an open window. The grass is swaying, the sun is shining, I can hear a nearby stream. It is a perfect moment.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. So simple.
Who’s your favorite fictional character?
From television, it would probably be Brian Kinney from Queer As Folk. In a novel, it would be Asher Lev from Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My sterling silver baby cup.
Your favorite musician?
Of all time, it would have to be U2, with R.E.M. as a close runner-up. But now I love Alicia Keys, Miles Davis, and most classic jazz greats. My studio time is spent listening to jazz or various WNYC podcasts, the NPR affiliate in NYC. I like feeling connected somehow to New York.
But you've never lived there, right?
No, but I've had a kind of on-and-off obsession with NYC for many years now so I indulge in anything that brings me closer: The New York Times, The New Yorker, WNYC radio and the occasional trip to the city.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
Depressed or dead! (laughs)
Remember who really loves you and make them a priority over everyone else.
Put yourself last.
This interview by Lisa Blair of Lisa Blair took place in January 2014. It was inspired by and adapted from ELLE Magazine's regular feature titled "Designer Genius" where ELLE interviews a famous fashion designer.