Inheritance, is how Louise Ingalls Sturges, a New York based pop artist, describes her taste for the exotic, and perhaps the ambitious collection of items. From new-age fabrics hung from the walls, a baroque cupid candelabra handed down by her grandfather, to disco balls amongst the couch pillows, Sturges’s West Village home sparkles with a lighthearted sense of connoisseurship. An atmosphere of spontaneous collage seems to renew itself in Mrs. Sturges’s pop mélange paintings and gentle photographs. It is moments, of a casual rainbow created by the beveled glass of a bathroom mirror, or a peaceful backfloat in chlorine pool, that seem to make Louise Sturges tick. We sip Passion tea on orange armchairs, overlooking her zebra sculpture laden garden, and get to know myriad of influences that reflect in Sturges’s work.
How do you start your day?
It’s not the same every day. I don’t eat breakfast. I usually make tea. I’m very nocturnal. I get very manic and can work for 40 hours straight. Sometimes the night doesn’t end until the morning. The studio practice has a lot of different compartments. There is a lot of challenging and trying things out. Then, I can go one of three ways. One being; ‘Oh god, that was the worst idea;’ opposing, ‘The best idea;’ and in between, ‘This is leading you to somewhere better.’ There’s a lot of percolating.
What informs your photographic practice?
The photographs are deeply personal to me. Iconic images. I’ve been doing photography since 1995. I’m very aware of what’s happened before and who I’m drawn to as artists. I was working at Nylon in 2001, and I was their first street style photographer. At 21, this was the best thing ever. Me and a plus one to every party in New York. Sweet, you know, it was a really interesting moment. Going to all these art galleries helped me with my fashion and my art . I would see something that reminded me of my work and not like it, and then see other things and say that’s not something I not want to hang in my house. That was the real moment. You need to make art, like the art that you would want to live with. Ultimately, you’re going to have to live with it, and you’re going to have to be proud of it.
What do you want to communicate with your work?
The passage of time. Youth. Fading youth. Light, that is something that drives me on a daily basis. Using the tool of photography to capture what is really visible to everyone, but they walk by it everyday and don’t have a moment that’s like “Wow, that’s really beautiful.” I find flags over car dealerships to be some of the most beautiful things in American landscape, but they’re just everywhere. You don’t think about it, but if you actually stand under them and look at them for a couple of minutes it’s really beautiful, and they make noise. So I’ve shot those to bits. Or clouds in the sky. There are things that I just see daily. It’s that.
There is a timelessness and a removal of the personal. I don’t necessarily need it to be a hundred percent right now. It doesn’t need to be 2013, it could be 1990, it could be 1970. We’re not going to look this good that long, we’re going to start drooping. We’re not going to be the pretty people. It's about looking at the bright side of life and the passing of time and beauty, what it means to be a man and a woman in this age and that exploring of sexuality and your physicality.
I believe in being alone, but I am also very attached to my family and in being loved and loving. We will all die alone but, 'what can you do to spend your life recognizing the beauty in other people?'. We can see beauty in the fact that every day the sun rises. Some days you get the most amazing day, and some days you don’t but either way the sun is still turning. I do want to leave something in this world that makes people happy.
In terms of audience, what makes you tick?
I’m always looking; wanting to be observant and capture that. One kind of fun thing is I started a hashtag a couple of years ago on Instagram called casual rainbow. My first photo with it was at my friend’s bathroom with beveled glass on the mirror and it was a toilet paper roll with a rainbow reflection on it... That one’s not a good one. Sometimes it takes noticing it, and then four more years to actually get the best version of that. It’s trying to be open eyed and aware of what’s going on. So it’s not that I’m using smoke and mirrors, even though there are literally smoke and mirrors involved. These are things that are going on and they’re real. I’m not constructing them. There is no manipulation.
Light, rainbows, these are all things that come and go very quickly. You only actually get a rainbow if there is a storm. It’s not just that it’s pretty and there’s a rainbow, you have to struggle to get to that beauty part, and you have to pay attention.
You described your paintings as having a "6o’s modular" influence. What is it about the 60’s that attracts you?
I definitely have spent plenty of time in my life wishing that I was in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and I have a lot of bellbottoms and platform shoes to prove it. I’m very attracted to the hippy exciting part of that, the art, the music, and that all encompassing lifestyle. The aesthetic is cheerful. I’m making paintings that are about, 'Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?' with fun juxtapositions of life. The flowers being something that people can identify with, and a nostalgic element built in. I want to take pictures that will help people have better days. I want it to be cheerful and useful. I’m interested in expanding beyond traditional wall art. People need furniture, they need clothes, and girls mostly, love clothes. My living space and my art, it’s cohesive, it’s not one or the other. It’s all part and parcel. It’s all within one heading. My whole life is creation. If I’m not documenting, I’m painting, or writing, or reflecting.
You mentioned an interest in moving into more functional art objects like furniture? How does this relate to your approach to design?
Fashion is a shared visual vocabulary. The house, that’s the same thing. If you invite someone over,what is it they‘ll remember about you? Or, how do you want them to feel?Do you want it to be stark, white, clean. Don’t spill? People will often walk in my house and exclaim or jaw drop, and just be very overwhelmed. You can literally spill anything. I can’t see it. There’s way to many mirrors and color for anybody to bother.
I like durable things. A lot of my photography is about fragility, so extending that into something that is really physical and really substantial is interesting. My desk is Josef Albers design from the 60’s. For artists in that era, it was all encompassing;this idea of components, building your art collection or clothing collection. We’re all the sequence of our experience. Life is this accumulation of images, experiences, and furniture. As you grow up you collect these things. And what is it that you care about? What do you get rid of, what stays? What goes to the thrift store? What stays in your mind what gets edited out? All of it.
Who are your influences?
Rauschenberg, Egelston and Schwartz. Coco Chanel. It depends on which heading we’re going under. The Kardashians, Kate Moss. A real range. I’m a high low person. Last week, I was working on some very hippy in-depth heady thing and watching the Kardashians while I was doing it. I had this sort of flash in my head. I was like, ‘I really wonder how many other gals that are doing things in the vein of what I’m doing are watching the Kardashians?’ And I had this flash of, ‘I don’t think there are very many.’I am inspired by celebrity. The Kardsashians, tying back to Warhol, tying back to dada.Coco Chanel who took these shirts from the Breton sailors and made that popular among the fanciest people in Paris. This idea of adopting commonality and making it high art. I read about woman, Edie Sedgwick, or Baronese Elsa, this totally wackadoo out there artist gal who was gaga before gaga by a hundred years.
What are your indulgences?
Fashion. It’s playful. I think you can communicate a lot about yourself through clothing. It’s another tie to the past, as well as to the future. I think fashion is the reflection of how unique every person is. My sources for clothing come from my two grandmothers, my grandfather, and my aunt in New York and all the things she would wear. I grew up with her as an icon dressing crazy. There seems to be a theory in our family that there’s a shopaholic gene that skips. My grandfather was a total shopaholic, like creepy shopaholic. When he died I found probably 8 striped shirts, like this one I’m wearing, not unwrapped, still in their packages. He would just buy stuff. Apparently he was going to go to Greece for vacation, so he had to buy one for every day, but he didn’t go. Insane. If you wear kind of wild stuff you always have something to talk about. It is the same as the house, making people feel comfortable. Or even setting them a bit off kilter. So there is this little off normalcy that you’re beginning with, that makes people kind of less guarded.