Review Me: Lisa Merida Paytes: Skeletal Connections
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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Lisa Merida Paytes: Skeletal Connections

Lisa, thank you for accepting our invitation to be with you for some moments. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist

After receiving an M.F.A., from the University of Cincinnati in 1997 and B.F.A., from the Art Academy of Cincinnati 1991, my work has been featured in exhibitions and publications nationally and internationally for 23 years. During that time, I have taught at all levels throughout the Midwest and served in various professional positions which include, Gallery Director at FUNKe FIRED ARTS 2007-11 and Art Director / Founder of the Kennedy Heights Art Center in 2004. I was appointed a Co-Liaison for the NCECA Conference held in Cincinnati on March, 2021 and served as an NCECA Board Member 2020-2021. Through this time, my varied experiences have helped influence my artwork and direct my studio hours and working process.

So great! Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

In 1991, I graduated with a B.F.A. from the Art Academy of Cincinnati. At that point in my artistic development, I was focused on creating large, site-specific environmental sculptures. I had applied to several graduate programs around the country and was accepted into Cranbrook Graduate School in Bloomfield, MI. However, shortly before earning the undergraduate degree, I was in a horrific car accident. A driver ran a red light, struck and totaled the car and severely tore the soft tissues in my back and neck. I was placed on a 24-hour morphine drip to begin therapy. It was difficult and painful just to raise my arms above my head. That period was the worst time in my life. I couldn’t attend Cranbrook and couldn’t create art. It took 4.5 years to recover from the accident, to work again and attend graduate school.

Oh, no. You must have gone through a difficult situation. But you were so strong that after healing, you started again and moved on. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

My daily routine in the studio consists of investigating and experimenting with diverse concepts, materials, and processes not seen in the traditional arts. The material and methods used to assist in sculptural exploration and abstraction of contemporary figuration. I work on several pieces of various stages at the same time. Depending on the work, I weave different paper qualities and gauges of copper and steel wire together while strengthening materials with liquid starch, paper clay slip, and epoxy. Also, I will hand build ceramic molds to cast paper or glass frit while incorporating woven copper pieces inside each of the different materials. When the copper and steel wire structures are added to the cast paper they create unique textures, strength, and durability. When the copper wire structures are added to the glass frit and fired in the molds they oxidize and create iridescent hues that are encased inside the glass structure.

And, the glitter of these copper colors and iridescent hues inside the glass structure really displays a beautiful work of art. Now, take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork? Where does an artwork begin for you?

My current work series researches, investigate and bring awareness to people living with disabilities while pushing the boundaries of contemporary art. My work discusses these concepts by focusing on movement's copious flow, a manner of the passage of the living body to one’s gait and gesture. This work begins with sketches, maquette, and experimentation with materials and application techniques of pigments, develop weaving strategies, explore strengthening materials with liquid starch and investigate hanging systems. Various mixed-media materials such as, paper, paper clay, and wire are woven together into sections and layered together.

Have you tried to include a mindset and concept in all your series? I mean, is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

As an artist with disabilities caused by Ataxia, a rare neurological disease that is progressive, affecting my ability to walk, talk, balance myself and use fine motor skills, my artwork not only considers the essential structure of skeletal or embryonic animal references but has become a vehicle to interpret transformative changes occurring in my body caused from the progression of the disease. My work has always been concerned with the wonder of origin and amending society’s exploitation and waste. Recently, I was diagnosed with an inherited autosomal dominant disease called Spinocerebellar Ataxia 5. This disease runs in my father’s family and has moved my work to investigate genetics, too. Specifically, this form of ataxia was found in one branch of Abraham Lincoln’s family and I am Lincoln’s cousin 7 generations removed.

For artists, disability is not a limitation, but it can be the embodiment of a dream and an opportunity to flourish and empower themselves. Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

My work is deeply personal and contains inherently profound interpretations and important concepts throughout each piece. However, as a formalist, my work is concerned with the aesthetic elements and principles of design, as well. For example, strong formal presence, texture, color, composition, emphasis, etc. In my work, I prefer to provide a strong visually interesting work to capture the viewers’ interest and leave them to interpret the artwork. I provide the audience an opportunity to interact with my work in an intimate way. For instance, the audience is drawn into the pieces because of the patterning and details, but then they become a part of the cast shadows from each piece.

Lisa, in your artworks, you focus on a wave of motion, and through it, you reveal different aspects of human body movement, nature, and origin. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

My father’s taxidermist/slaughterhouse business was an overwhelming environment with powerful images of hanging carcasses of deer, piles of sawed-off animal feet, and freezers full of animal hides. These images presented a lack of empathy for life to me as a child. My father’s vocation, was straightforward; permanent displays that are frozen in time. Although a recent diagnosis of a rare, degenerating disease my objective has manifested into exposing the unseen core and dysfunction of systems to communicate with the whole body. I find these references provocative and they offer me an opportunity to understand our own growth and decay. This work drives examination, and permits curiosity uncovering aspects of human nature and wonder of origin. These juxtaposed ideas reveal blurred distinctions between connections and dysfunction exhibited in multivalent invocations of the body.

And, how do you select your artworks pieces and subjects? Where they come from?

My work discusses and celebrates the fluid connections and movements of body and time, like a river in motion moving toward transformation and hope for our future. Each piece and series of work is inspired by natural processes or formations. When my dad was alive, we took a family vacation to Panama City, Florida. We were almost to our condo when we spotted a roadside stand with fresh fruits so we stopped. We all got out to stretch our legs and to buy fruit and then I saw it… a mounted blowfish hanging above the oranges. That blowfish embodied so many characteristics that I was exploring in my studio in terms of method and form with inherent texture and color. Finding the blowfish, served as a pivotal moment in my work and lead a year-long investigative process with clay and metal that was funded by the Ohio Arts Council.

Each of the materials used in your artwork tells a story of its own, and finally, the combination emerges a very memorable overall story in the form of a sculpture. Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?

I would like to be remembered for my current Anamorphosis Series that creates a dialogue with diverse populations, examining many facets of human growth through the power of movement and connection. These processes, concepts, and materials might not obviously relate to one another, but when probed, inherent threads overarch, link, network and build transformative connections. This project engages different nationalities, ages, backgrounds, religions, sexual orientations, and identities, disabilities, long-term health conditions, and education-levels. Anamorphosis’ reaches this diverse audience by providing an opportunity to reveal common threads that unify and bridge our rich, varied society. This project partner with larger corporations and institutions that employ or attract a wide range of people and encourages engagement through the writing phase of the project. The collaborative writing stage of this project stimulates the exchange of ideas and conversations while enriching participants intellectually and emotionally.

Our readers are waiting for your future series since they are into your significant resplendent sculptures. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

Anamorphosis is an upcoming project using sculpture to explore materials, challenge the pedestal and give evidence a connection with the world around us. Anamorphosis discusses these concepts by focusing on movement's copious flow, a manner of the passage of the living body to one’s gait and gesture. The public will be presented with strips of paper to respond to questions; What does it mean to connect? Who do you love, what are you doing about it? Written responses will be woven into a sculpture that contains a dynamic form, fluidity, and directional flow. This work will be installed in a venue with 25’ ceilings and a lighting system. The piece will be suspended from the ceiling 10’ high, filling the space, but lower than the light sources to cast extreme shadows. The viewers will experience the sculpted forms above as they move throughout the space and have the opportunity to contemplate our human experience.

Lisa, please talk about your influences. What are your art influences? Who are your favorite contemporary or historical artists and why?

In an art-historical context, my artwork draws connections to environmental concerns, while evoking feelings from Environmental Art and Earthworks. In its most general sense, Environmental art, refers to works of modern art that are consciously designed to surround or include the viewer as participants fostering a direct emotional and sensory experience. In addition, my work has always been inspired by the works of Frida Kahlo that possess strong autobiographical elements, culture, identity, gender, class, race and documents her chronic pain.
In a contemporary art reference, my work identifies with Andy Goldsworthy’s powerful, rhythms of growth in nature and Ann Hamilton’s encompassing environments. Throughout my career, key artists that have been influential to my work are Martin Puryear’s dynamic forms, Stephen De Stabbler’s massive, rough-textured sculptures, Viola Frey’s rich, tactile surfaces, Mary Frank’s individual way of working with clay, and William Jackson Maxwell’s site-specific sculpture focused on environmental concerns.

And, If you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

If I could meet an ideal artist from the past it would be Frida Kahlo. I would ask her about the raw, emotional work which documented her physical injuries and psychological trauma caused by her polio disease and bus accident. As a result, her powerful themes of pain, disability, injury, and fragility are very moving to me. If I could meet a contemporary artist I would choose Andy Goldsworthy. I would ask him about his artwork and the art-making process. I am fascinated by his pieces that are made in the landscape while only using nature’s materials; stones, leaves, sticks, snow, and ice, etc., to create dramatic holes, spirals, spores, spheres, and lines in space.

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