Lisa Fromartz’s work starts with the chaos and the sheer abundance we experience in modern life, and turns it into beautiful and evocative works, such as her dynamic paintings full of movement or her sculptures which challenge the viewer to look at things in a new way; in turn challenging her to approach her works from a new perspective with each person who sees it. Lisa talks about being sensitive to this abundance, and embracing new ways of creating. She also discusses being an artist in a digital age and how this brings about new forms of exhibition, experimentation, and community.
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How would you introduce your art to someone who isn’t acquainted with it?
I do painting, sculpture, prints and photos. I work in a range of mediums which allows me the freedom to pursue my creative curiosity. While each area is distinct from another, visually they still relate and work in one medium may spark ideas in another. My paintings often begin with compositional ideas from my sculpture. My sculptures are assemblages that combine abstract elements that I make with all sorts of materials and found objects. The photos I do are sets in which I light the sculpture and photograph fragments of the pieces, which include the shadows and forms created in this process.
What is your focus at the moment? Are you focusing on painting or trying to build a particular exhibition?
I am currently working on a group of abstract paintings 6 x 5 ft and a variety of smaller sized pieces. I often begin with an idea for a composition that may evolve into something completely different. The struggle in these pieces is between control and spontaneity, set strategies and improvisation. In this battle, I draw, brush and pour paint on canvases both upright and on the floor. I have worked on some of the pieces for over two years and they still have a way to go.
What is your relationship to social media as an artist? How do you find it adds to your work, or does it put pressure on you to create more or a different kind of content?
Instagram is the only social media platform I use. As a working artist, there are always pressures to produce. For me, this is a positive thing since I want to be pushed a bit and I like having a place to share work immediately. Instagram brings a constant exhibition platform and with it, the possibility of contact with other artists, internationally, whom I would never have encountered. My work is done by hand with brushes, chalk and pencils. I also use power tools, cameras and computers. I was already doing these things before Instagram, but Instagram has opened up another arena to ignite and explore ideas.
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Do you view your works as complete at any point? You share them from different angles, in different lighting etc on Instagram, is there ever any proper, final way to view them? Or is this different for different mediums?
I don’t know if I ever feel that a piece is “complete.” My impulse is to keep pushing, reworking a piece to get it closer to the image I have in my head. At a certain point, which could be after a week or a year of working on it, if I feel that if it still surprises me, if it is alive and evocative, I will resist the temptation to keep working on it. I let it rest. When I look at it again, months later, I will either hate it and go back into it or I will leave it alone. There is no wrong way to view a piece and no wrong experience or analysis of it. For each viewer there is a unique experience and to me, that is the point. I find other people's interpretations of my work interesting and often surprising. I like being challenged or to see my work from new perspectives.
Where do you find inspiration for your art? There is quite a lot of variation, what is your process of deciding your aim for a piece?
As an artist I’ve always felt driven. The inspiration for a piece or a series comes to me. I don’t usually know how or why. I assume it bubbles up from everything that I see and experience. I just try to be constantly open to it and recognise it when it comes. I agree that there is a lot of variation in my work, but I’m not trying to create a signature brand. I don’t have a set process. I rarely remember exactly how I started something, so thinking creatively is a necessity for me. Each discipline has its own requirements in terms of materials, tools and skills, so it’s a little more than just jumping from one discipline to another. The constant aim or goal for a piece in any medium is for it to be compelling, powerful and moving. The endless question is how to get there!
How did you begin making this kind of art? What were your original inspirations as you started out? And what would you say is the commonalty across your pieces?
The vein I am working in now began with sculpture. I started making pieces with found objects and industrial materials. After a while, I missed working in two dimensions, so I did some large and small mixed media prints, then some 8 ft wide panoramic prints. So now I’m doing sculpture and panoramic prints and I’m missing painting. I wanted to do pieces with paint only—no collage or other element—just pure paint. I think that when I work in one medium I get ideas that I want to translate into other mediums. Or maybe I just have a restless, mercurial temperament. Probably a bit of both.
I have questions that I revisit from time to time, concerning the role of art in society, who it affects, how it creates or connects to cultural currents that impact society. I often look to art history to better understand cultural change and where we are now. It’s much more difficult to comprehend where you are than where you’ve been. It’s hard to process everything that’s going on in contemporary life, but it’s the job of the artist to distil all of it into something that speaks to the present time. I said earlier that my inspiration comes from everything I’ve ever seen or experienced, but I would have to add that an important part of that has been the art of other artists from many different periods and cultures. I was exposed to Japanese art at an early age and it made a lasting impression on me, to give one example. The commonality across my work is, I hope, more than anything else, a quality of mind.
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Do you view editing or altering the Zeno works and creating renderings digitally different to physically creating art?
I don’t consider the Zeno pieces digital. These works are also physical because I am creating sets with projected light on my sculpture. I climb around and adjust things to photograph them with their light, shadows and phantom-coloured forms at different angles. Some of the pieces were, and some were not, further altered on the computer, but they did not originate on a computer. The renderings, on the other hand, are done on the computer with previously photographed work.
Physically creating art is very different from doing digital work. Obviously, it requires a lot more physical energy as well as very different skills. In the physical realm of making art, you may go from working on a small table top piece to working on a ladder with large brushes or power tools for a large piece. Your thinking and methods need to change with the scale of the piece. Any kind of creative work is challenging and requires effort and imagination. Working in the digital realm has a kind of flexibility that is much more difficult to achieve when working physically. I’m sure digital work can have some of the immediacy that original work in other physical mediums has. Like any medium, it takes pushing its capabilities to discover that unexpected thing that will make it compelling. Then too, digital work can be done as prints, in various sizes and as editions. I see painting as the most difficult discipline since you are constantly sacrificing a mark, a gesture, or an area of the painting you love, but that you realise doesn’t work in the overall composition or feeling you want for the painting. Once you paint over something, you can’t just hit “undo” on your keypad as you can when working digitally.
You discuss your work reflecting the chaos and abundance of contemporary life, what statement are you making in reflecting this, particularly with the plastic and miscellaneous objects you use? Is there an environmental statement or a reflection on modern life behind this sculpture process, or is it more about the process of transformation?
Chaos is disorder, which I experience by being aware of not only what’s going on outside my window, but in the larger world. Climate change, natural disasters, forced migrations, a pandemic. I could go on, of course, the list is long, but my point is that we can be sensitive to the upheaval, both natural and manmade, that occurs in contemporary life, or we can try to ignore it. I feel that as an artist (and as a human being), I have to take it in, to the extent that I can, and allow it to inform my work, and that will happen in ways that are not immediately obvious. All creation stories begin with chaos.
The abundance of contemporary life I refer to is the flip side of all that. It’s the experience of everything we bring to bear to make order out of disorder. While we are making solar panels and wind turbines to fight climate change, vaccines to fight the pandemic, we also make music, dance, and art as another way of finding meaning, purpose, and even beauty in life. My sculpture reflects this tension between chaos, disorder and the need to create order and meaning.
I’ve always been fascinated by plastics. As a child, I thought they seemed to be from another world. The strange textures, the unnatural colours, and the endless shapes and uses. Now we are drowning in them. When I use them in my sculpture, I am taking an everyday object—a plastic chair or a toy—and juxtaposing it with other elements in a way that robs it of its usual definition. The transformation is in taking a recognisable utilitarian object and rendering it “useless” in the context of the sculpture, while at the same time making it possible for the viewer to see it in a radically different way. My own method of recycling.
Has there been a particular artwork or moment in your career that sticks out as definitive of your work?
On a break, recovering from an intense run of projects, I decided to make a mobile for my living room as I sat under a beach umbrella. I took a piece of paper and cut into it, making spirals and other shapes. I was fascinated to see something that was two-dimensional turn instantly into three dimensions with the mere snip of my scissors. I made small pieces out of the paper which I hung from the spokes of the umbrella. This led to larger pieces using other materials. The first piece was a 10 ft high mobile. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was a major turn for me in my work. I found myself working first on three dimensional pieces, mobiles, standing pieces and wall installations. I made them out of a variety of things including found objects that I scavenged. This led to doing groups of mixed media, collage-based prints which, in turn, fuelled my desire to get back to painting. So, I have a range of work in these various disciplines which I think of as an ongoing conversation that grew out of that session with paper and scissor, under that umbrella.
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