The 11 Question Interview Series continues with artist Lillian Bayley Hoover sharing her thoughts on art. Learn more about the artist and visit pivotartgallery to see her featured portfolio.
1. Could you please give a brief bio about how you became interested in the arts?
Art has always been part of my life. My sister and I drew as children and our parents kept us in steady supply of every sort of art material possible. Growing up, it seemed like everyone in my family was involved in some creative pursuit–art, writing, crafts, drama. My confidence to pursue art as a career came in large part from watching my father, the exceptional author Daniel Wallace, make a life writing. Being an artist never struck me as scary or impossible, the way it does some people. I knew it would be a lot of trying and failing, very little money, and an unconventional work schedule. But I also saw that it could be done, and was worth it.
2. Do you have artistic/creative role models? If so, who are they and how do you relate to them?
Clearly, my family has been an important source of inspiration for me, as have the amazing mentors I’ve had over the years. I’ve also been fortunate to have had mentors that modeled, in very different ways, approaches to making both smart and well-crafted work. One of my college professors, Virginia Derryberry, gave me a big push early on, and Peter Rostovsky made an impression on me in graduate school. Abstract painter Frances Barth, in both word and action, always emphasized the necessity of making work that would keep me excited about coming to my studio every day.
3. What is most satisfying to you about the creative process in general?
Creating and then solving problems, seeing the parts come together, weaving together the conceptual and aesthetic aspects of the work.
4. What are your goals as an artist?
To provide an aesthetic experience that also makes the viewer slightly uncomfortable and asks her to reconcile these two phenomena.
5. You teach art at the college level, how does that impact your work and/or creative life?
That’s an interesting question, because I think the impact is on a couple of levels. First, that old cliche about not really knowing something until one has to teach it is really true. Explaining a skill or concept that has become completely internalized requires looking at it from a new perspective, which can be revealing. Also, watching someone “get” something is enormously satisfying and refreshing. The great designer Milton Glaser has spoken to this issue eloquently: one’s capacity for wonder diminishes over time without reminders to be open to it. Also, I put together a lot of slide lectures, and I always try to include something that is new to me–this helps me to keep my thinking fresh as a teacher and as an artist.
6. How has your work evolved since your own time as a student?
I’ve always cycled between different media fairly fluidly, but my recent output has primarily been painting. In terms of content, I think my current work is less didactic and more nuanced than the work I made in graduate school.
7. Your work engages questions of politics. Is there a specific reason that this became a central theme for you?
It really started with the Iraq war and my own feelings of impotent rage about what was being done in our country’s name. My art was the only platform I had, so it seemed natural to explore those issues, ask tough questions, and challenge a pervasive numb indifference. Hans Haacke, who has been a source of inspiration to me, exhorts us to “never leave politics to the politicians. Aside from the trouble this can get us into, such abdication would also be in conflict with generally held notions of democracy.” As an artist and a citizen, I feel I have an obligation to address power and politics with my work.
8. Your work generally starts with a photograph and is eventually transferred to a canvas. Can you describe the actual process and its importance to the final piece?
For some time, my work has engaged with issues of power, as manifested in the realms of war, politics and social experience. These are concerns that tend to make people uncomfortable, for obvious reasons. As a painter, I’ve pursued a strategy of establishing a certain distance between the viewer and the subject: this process has involved first constructing a model scenario, photographing it and, finally, painting from the resulting still image. I’m careful to include the telltale signs of the model’s inaccuracies and the camera’s eye, as these pictorial imperfections are the image’s tell and, consequently, are a key element of the work’s content.
The earlier series seen in this portfolio, entitled From Here, employed the naïve language of toys, models, and plastic dolls to investigate the unsettling realm of international political conflict. This work began as a response to the fatigue many felt watching war coverage on the news. The paintings re-present such imagery in a manner that—hopefully—doesn’t immediately call up one’s defenses. My goal is to visually “seduce” the viewer prior to revealing my hand. A viewer that is not predisposed to agree with the work might be more inclined to consider its message after having already committed a few moments to looking at the painting—it becomes just a little bit harder to reject.
In 2010, I photographed existing models at Miniaturk, a theme park housing miniature facsimiles of significant structures across Anatolia and the former Ottoman Empire. The photographs I made there form the basis of Sites of Power, the series on which I am currently working. These paintings continue to address issues of power—albeit in a more elliptical manner than did the previous work—and the distortion that occurs as imagery is translated from one medium to another remains significant. The “real” endures a repeated filtration process and the viewer’s relationship with the subject becomes estranged. These quasi-abstract paintings return the reified concept of power to an abstract state, denuding the structures of the power they once wielded. Further erosion occurs as moments of material imperfection are featured, revealing an element of human frailty and disintegration in an otherwise idyllic model.
9. How do you feel about the contemporary art world in general?
Simultaneously depressed and excited. It seems one always has to wade through piles of poorly made or derivative works, but some really exciting things are happening. A lot of very smart work is being made right now, as is some interesting work that breaks the rigid separation between abstraction and representation. It seems we’re currently witnessing a synthesis of previously discordant conceptual and formal approaches to art-making; attention is being paid to the aesthetic experience, which I personally feel to be very important.