Monday, January 6, 2014

Christina Laurel - She Lives and Breathes Art

Calligraphy Fan - Christina Laurel
18" x 32", paper, wood, collage, paint, 2013

Just about a year ago I met Christina Laurel.  I was doing an artist residency at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville which included an exhibition and Christina came to my show.  It turned out we had a friend in common who lived in New York state and that friend suggested Christina contact me as she was "new" to the area.   

During the past 12 months we have begun to develop a friendship which revolves around our mutual love of art and have enjoyed discussing our work, our plans and a whole variety of issues that pop in and out of an artist's life.

Christina has an interesting background and is a wonderful example of someone who is following their passion.  I often hear people who didn't go to art school express their regret over that fact.  Christine may have been one of those people but she did the hard thing and went back to school and earned her degree and is fulfilling her promise as an artist.  I hope you will enjoy her profile.

Christina Laurel

Terry:  When did you begin to make art?

Christina:  I grew up in a household with artistic parents - my father was Art Director for the NBC-TV station in Syracuse, NY; my parents met in the Syracuse University Art Department.  When I submitted work the first time for a coffeehouse art show in Washington, DC, in the 1970s, I was rejected and abject.  However, the jurors provided feedback which proved invaluable for acceptance in the next year's exhibit.

For several decades, I was not artistically active while raising my son and working "regular" jobs.  In 2004 I resumed my practice and exhibited in Upstate New York.  The turning point in my career pivoted on a return to college (as a full-time non-traditional student) in 2008, graduating from The College at Brockport-SUNY in 2009 with my BS Studio Art - a 42-year journey.  Following graduation, it took a year for me to integrate the new directions in which I had been pushed with my personal art aesthetic.

Ethereality - Christina Laurel
Installation at the Rochester Contemporary Arts Center
Rochester, NY, 2011
paper, wood, fabric, metal, 2 foot diameter x 4-6 feet high

Terry:  Do you have any observations about being a non-traditional art student?  I hear lots of people express that they wish they had studied art but feel they have let that opportunity pass because they are not the age of a traditional student.  

Christina:  Many of the less mature students (peer age of my own son at the time) saw me as their intrusive mother in the classroom.  Some found it incomprehensible that an instructor would allow me to push the definition of "drawing" by creating wall pieces more akin to Richard Tuttle than their graphic-novel-style illustrations.  I still feel a bit like a poster child for returning to school at the time when most are retiring.  It is an adventure for the brave of heart but so very worthwhile.

Terry:  What does this practice mean for you?

Christina:  I live, breath, make, read, and write art.  When I discovered the Japanese Edo period (1600-1850s) in the 1980s, the artistic expression resonated with me, as well as the motifs of kimono, gingko leaf, fan, and parasol.  But these templates are only starting points for the layering of paper (found, prepared, Japanese, polymer blend) to create textural surfaces that invite the "eye to touch."  Interestingly, lately I've been embracing "gray."  Reflective of how I am personally attempting to take less of a black-or-white, all-or-nothing approach to life, the exploration of tonal range with subtlety of color is ongoing.

Ethereality installation  detail - Christina Laurel

Terry:  Can you tell me more about what attracts you to this art periods and these motifs?

Christina: I find viewers are able to connect to the abstract nature of my work via these recognizable motifs.  There is a timeless quality to the gingko (can also be spelled ginkgo) as the plant dates back 250 million years yet can be seen on urban streets today.  The shape of the fan is evocative of the gingko leaf.  The fan, the richly textured and patterned kimono, and the parasol are all essentially layers separating humans from nature, and often psychologically separating one human from another. Yet it is the essence beneath all of these "layers" that interests me; weaving the layers together into the larger picture of our experience.

Fan - Christina Laurel
32" x 48", paper, wood, collage, paint, 2012

Terry:  How do you maintain your studio practice?

Christina:  Usually 5 hours in the studio is my maximum productive time.  Hopefully I cease creating a piece just prior to overworking, so that the initial energy is still palpable.  Administrative work (applications, updating the website, emails, etc) is done at home, away from the studio.  I am a believer in showing up to the studio as often as possible,  even if the juices are not flowing.

Terry:  As an artist living in a new area, what has been the most difficult transition for you in regards to your art?

Christina:  After 8 years in Rochester, NY, establishing myself as a professional artist and art instructor, it was humbling to move to an area as an unknown.  Even though I lived in Greenville, SC, 1994-2004, my identity was not as an artist.  Although the weather is better here, the availability of art supplies and affordable studio space is not as plentiful as Upstate New York.

Layers - Christina Laurel - installation vie at
Red House Arts Center, Syracuse, NY 2011
paper, wood, origami, fabric, metal - 3' x 6'

Terry:  How have you found opportunities to show and sell your work?

Christina:  Networking, artist organizations, invitation, online research, art magazine calls for entry, and announcements from the Metropolitan Arts Council.  Prior to leaving Rochester, I was approached by an entrepreneur with a plan to host an on-line gallery and eventually a retail store outside Washington, DC.  Although we conducted our business appropriately with contracts, this was a leap of faith on my part.  Over the course of a year this individual has been true to her work (not always the story one hears from such arrangements).

Terry:  How do you interact with the community as an artist and what does that mean for you?

Christina:  Artistic camaraderie is an essential ingredient to my artistic life.  The work is solitary but connecting with artists, friends, and the public helps my work - and me - grow and evolve.  I am a member of the Artists Guild of Spartanburg, and a member of an informal art group.

Layers - Christina Laurel - Installation detail
Red House Arts Center, Syracuse, NY

Terry:  What differences or similarities have you observed between your art community in NY and Greenville SC.  

Christina:  A reassuring similarity is the collegial and cooperative nature of artists in both communities. Resources are shared, ideas flow freely, camaraderie is expressed with success and empathy with setbacks, and encouragement seems boundless.  The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY, provided a greater art historical depth in its collection than the Greenville County Museum of Art, which is stronger in its presentation of contemporary art.  To the west and east of Rochester, less than 2 hours away, however, I could partake of the Albright-Knox and Burchfield-Penny museums in Buffalo, and the Everson Museum in Syracuse.  I do miss that.

Terry:  How do you evaluate your work?

Christina: It's not as simple as what sells or elicits the most popular response, or even what is the most comfortable to recreate.  I need to see movement in my work.  Several years ago I decided to take my artwork out of the frame in order to offer a more direct experience for viewers with the work.  In essence I removed a layer.  Then I began making installations, even a walk-in "kimono," where viewers can interact with the artwork, even the shadows produced by the installation pieces.

Terry:  I appreciate this consideration.  Do you ever return to a theme or direction that you thought you had moved beyond?

Christina:  Absolutely.  I often sense I am finished exploring the fan, for example, only to find that another idea demands expression.  My work is more process that product driven.  The finished piece represents the punctuation mark at the end of a lengthy conversation between the art work and the artist.

Christina in her studio.

Terry:  What are the most exciting things that have happened for you relating to your studio practice during the past year?

Christina:  A desire to refocus on installations.  I was among the 30 participants attending Artist U, a South Carolina Arts Commission - sponsored art-life intensive weekend workshop, which was quite beneficial.  Between exercises and one-on-one mentoring, Artist U helped me formulate a strategy for creating and exhibiting future installations.  While my studio practice will most immediately center on an upcoming solo exhibit in June 2014, my longer-range plans involve installations.  The thematic approach, the types of paper, how to connect paper modules to configure site-specific installations, the tonal/color palette, designing armatures, the most appropriate venues, funding and more.  I will be developing patience in my studio practice as well as fueling and sustaining creative energies.  Sounds as though I have my work cut out for me, huh?!

Terry:  It sounds like your experience at Artist U was a great success and you are putting the new information to good use.  

Christina:  As you know, there is no job description for an artist; we write it as we go.  So many outside the art profession see artists as only "playing" in the studio.  It is work and at best, it is joyful work.

Thank you Christina!

And thank you reader for dropping
by Studio 24-7.

Please invite your friends to read and share this interview!


  1. Thank you, Terry, for introducing me and the rest of your readers to Christina. I love her artwork especially the woven pieces.

    1. Thank you Mia. Yes, I love those pieces as well! Always great to hear from you.