Art Culture

Lisa Congdon You Won’t Believe her Amazing Art 2021

| August 30, 2021 | 0 Comments
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Lisa Congdon

Stumbling, eclectic and intense; three words that San Francisco based artist Lisa Congdon uses to describe her work. She began in the education and non-profit world and worked her way onto the art scene later in life. When she began producing art at the age of 33, she had no formal training – save a painting class she took with her brother – but if anything, Congdon has used that to her advantage, allowing herself to work outside of the rules of art establishment.

As a mixed-media artist and illustrator, she is best known for her collages and use of uninhibited lines and colors. Beyond creating art, she is also the co-owner and curator of San Francisco store Rare Device, a creative space for artists, designers and artisans to showcase their original work. When she’s not in her studio, Lisa Congdon is in her workspace which she herself says is “a very creative, visually inspiring job.” At the age of 40, Lisa Congdon’s work has been shown in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Portland and Canada.

How has starting with art later in life made an impact on what you create?

That’s an interesting question. There’s training versus no training and there’s the age thing. In terms of being self taught, I don’t want to generalize, but in many cases I think self taught artists have less hang-ups about what other people are going to think. Friends that went to art school are always more damaged by the pressure. Those of us that haven’t gone to school haven’t had to deal with the rules of art establishment, we make what we want to make. Artists that are tenacious about what they want to do, trained or untrained, translates into making what you like. I think self-taught artists are kind of free to create what they want to create because they don’t have those teacher voices in their heads saying this is the right way to do it or this is the wrong way to do it. Any rules I have about art work are rules I’ve made up myself.

As for starting later in life, one thing that is certainly true is that I spent 17 years working in a field completely unrelated to art. While I felt really passionately about the work that I was doing in public education, I had 17 years basically to discover that that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t jump into art at a young age not having explored anything else. So it was a combination of knowing that I didn’t really want to work behind a desk for the rest of my life… once I started making art I realized that was what made me happy. I dreamed really big.

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As a child, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

I don’t know if you know this, but I am an avid collector; I’ve been collecting weird things since I was a kid. When I was a kid, I really wanted to be an archaeologist. That was my fantasy that I was going to go live in some place where there were ruins buried and I was going to go and dig them up. Being a teenage girl in the early 80s I got consumed with other things like body image and what I was wearing and who I was dating and kind of lost sight of that aspiration. I went to college and got a degree in history. In some ways it’s not so unrelated to my life now because I’m constantly scouring stores and flea markets to collect cool objects that have been previously owned by other people. I use a lot of what I collect in my art work. I am not really an archaeologist in North Africa right now, but in a way I have always been a collector and always had a passion for seeking out things that are beautiful and original. I find the whole experience [going to flea markets to find things] sort of challenging

Can you talk about your work process/schedule? When are you most creative? Do you take days off?

Honestly, and I think this is true for a lot of people, I get most of my ideas when I am laying in bed at night. Sometimes it’s when I can’t fall asleep, sometimes it’s when I am just waking up. A lot of my creative inspiration happens when I am not doing anything else and my eyes are closed. The train of thought that leads to brilliant ideas that usually gets disrupted in the middle of the day because you are trying to focus on so many things, that happens when my eyes are closed and I am lying down without any interruption, so that’s when I get my best ideas. When I am not worried about money, when I’m not really worried about having to be somewhere else, when I have food in my tummy, when I am well rested, when I have some caffeine in me, that is when I am at my best.

Usually there isn’t ever a day when I don’t want to go to my studio. It has really good energy and I love being there. Even when I am there by myself I feel really inspired. I try to do three days of work in the studio, three in the store, and then one day off. The days in my studio are really precious to me.

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On your website you have two sections, “art” and “craft,” and I know you’ve been asked this question before, but what is your definition of the two?

I know that this is not the textbook answer, and it may not even be what I have answered before, but it’s more about the materials that you use. When I am sewing I think of craft and when I am using paint and pen I think of that as more art. For whatever reason, all of my sewn work, and stuff that I make with fabric tends to go in craft. My collages and painted pieces tend to go in fine art.

Things that are craft like jewelry and clothes, they have a use; they are not being made just for visual beauty, they’re being made because they are actually going to be used in some way. The line is so much fuzzier to me than it ever has been; I had it really clearly defined previously. I have moved from thinking about myself as a crafts person to an artist. I still call my business “Lisa Congdon Art & Craft,” but it doesn’t really matter to me to be honest. The word “fine art” and “illustration” has more prestige, for whatever reason, attached to it in our society. I’ve been sort of brainwashed in that way so I refer to myself as an artist instead of a craftsperson because I’ve been influenced that craft is a dirty word, when it’s not! There is bad art and bad craft and there is also good art and good craft.

How do you think the internet – in terms of blogs and the like – has changed how we engage with art?

Honestly I think that if it weren’t for the internet I would not be where I am. Before, to make it in the art world, you had to get gallery representation, but now, anyone who produces anything that has any visual value to anyone else can make it in the art world.

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It’s a great venue for those of us that have no other way of getting our name out there and into the world. It’s also a great venue for those people who love art, who collect it, who love to look at it but who don’t really live near the best galleries and museums. There are those folks who live outside of big cities who have access to Flickr, blogs, seeing and buying really great art from independent artists, you know, people who are not represented by the big galleries.

The internet’s a great thing, but it has led for me, to gallery showings. While it’s the main venue for people looking and buying my work, it doesn’t stop there. Galleries and stores see my work and say “oh, would you like to show here?” whereas otherwise I would have to go around with my portfolio. I’ve only been asked to do shows. It’s really great to work that way because you don’t have to deal with rejection. It is really nice to get that email that says “I like your work” or “I would like to show your work.” All of that said you have to work hard to promote yourself, even on the internet; having a blog, making sure that people in the art and design world know about it. It’s not like you can just put up a blog and automatically you are going to become a well known artist.

If I had lived 20 years ago there is no way I would be where I am. Part of the reason I can create such great work is because I am exposed to all kinds of art, I am constantly inspired. There is so much access to so much visual stimulation on the internet – culture, photography, theatre – it’s never-ending; the world is so huge now and so small at the same time.

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What is your preferred medium?

Paper. And when I say paper, I mean collage. I love doing them all but if you give me a choice of ink drawings, paint or making a collage out of paper, I would choose the third. I think there is something about cutting up paper and gluing it down to make a design. The layering process and painting on top of it is the most comfortable to me for some reason. You can kind of be messy and it can still look good. Whereas I sit down with some India ink and you mess up five times before you get it right; it’s a little bit stressful! It’s fun and so satisfying when you’re done, but it’s a really long process. You have to be much more meticulous when you paint and draw. There’s something about collage work that’s really relaxing for me because I don’t have to pay as much attention to detail, I can really look at the big picture and have the composition come together. So paper collage is my favorite medium for sure… right now! That might change in six months!

What artists do you draw inspiration from?

Margaret Kilgallen; I have one of her drawings tattooed on my arm. She’s like my favorite artist, but I have many. Thomas Campbell in another, I love his work. The Swedish illustrator Olle Eksell. Rex Ray, I love his collage work. I could go on and on, I am just constantly inspired. And of course I should also mention Joseph Cornell who was the first person to do three dimensional shadow boxes; I am very heavily influenced by his work, he was really ahead of his time.

Do you listen to music when you work?

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My studio mates and I all have Ipods and we have an Ipod dock, so we all kind of borrow eachothers Ipods. We all have eclectic tastes. We’re all really into music and we are all constantly going to shows to see music. But Radiohead is my favorite band of all time. I don’t have any musical tastes that are any different from most people between the ages of 25 and 40.

It says on the Rare Device website that in 20 years you’ve never worn the same outfit twice, is that really true? How can you ever be 100% sure?

This started when I was in high school and college. The way I’ve always expressed myself creatively is through my dress. When I get up in the morning I ask myself “How can I decorate my body today so that I feel interesting and different?” But it’s probably a little over-exaggerated.

Category: Contemporary Art

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