Lacey Bryant is a Bay Area-based artist working primarily in oil. Her body of work blends reality with insightful explorations of imagination in landscape and portraiture. In 2019 she collaborated with us to create 81 oil paintings for the Slow Tarot deck. We are delighted to feature her painting Sargasso in our MERMAY exhibition.
Interview by Waiton Farrell
WF: Hi Lacey! How are you holding up during shelter-in-place?
LB: I really can’t complain, I don’t mind having an excuse to stay in the studio and work on things. I’ve been able to let myself follow more tangents, play with long forgotten art supplies and work on connecting more with folks via the internet and snail mail. People have also been really supportive, buying work, sending me stamps and art supplies and even more art. It’s mostly just made me grateful for all of the people in my life.
WF: We are so excited to have another stunning piece by you for MERMAY. Tell us about your “Sargasso” mermaid. What does she represent and what inspired her rather cheeky expression?
LB: What I like about mermaids is that they are both beautiful fantasies and terrible monsters. They represent the pull of our desires as well as the unknown and dark depths of our nature. In Sargasso, I wanted her to feel a little mischievous and seductive with a hint of danger. The forest of kelp serves to obscure and to entangle. I imagine that she is coming in for a kiss and maybe it will be your last.
WF: When did you get started in oils? What other mediums have you explored in your career as an artist?
LB: I took my first class in oils in high school, I guess I’ve worked pretty continuously in oils since then. I’ve also worked with just about every other thing you can think of- acrylic, watercolor, ink, pencil, oil pastel, polymer clay, fabric, etc. I do street painting with chalk, paint murals, do scenic painting for theater and theme parks, carve large scale Styrofoam sculptures for parades, etc. I usually keep pretty busy creating little worlds at various scales.
WF: The nostalgic ambiance of your work cannot be denied. Where do your concepts begin and how do you capture them in such striking composition on the canvas?
LB: It does depend on the particular piece and what I’m trying to achieve. Sometimes I begin with a specific plan for the whole painting and others I begin with a single element and build from there. I work from life, photos and sketches from imagination often in the same composition in order to build a layered and somewhat disjointed look at times. I’m fond of creating depth by placing small objects quite large in the foreground, floating at times as if the space around things has substance. I love using discarded objects found on the street, small trinkets, anything that has sentiment and story attached to it. I’m also always on the lookout for a good setting whether I’m on a hiking path or a city street, places that have an evocative feel either intimate or vast. The way I work is like rearranging daily life in dreams and fairy-tales.
WF: The Slow Tarot was a massive undertaking that took six years to complete. What was your creative process to reinterpret the symbolism of the tarot into your own unique vision?
LB: I worked through the tarot one card at a time, beginning with the fool. I spent time understanding the deeper meaning of the symbols in the RWS and Tarot de Marseille versions before I decided how to reinterpret those ideas through a more modern lens. I also looked ahead and behind as I worked in order to weave them all together using repeating motifs and color schemes. It was important to me that the cards work at 2 levels- with an immediate emotional response as well as a deeper level of symbolism that can be discovered with further exploration. In this way I wanted to bring in both the novice and the seasoned tarot aficionado
WF: Who inspired you most to become an artist? How have your techniques developed over time through the influence of those you admire?
LB: I can remember as a kid I took classes at the community center and I used to peek into the room at the end of the hall where a woman named Sandy would create the sets and props for the children’s theatre productions. The room was just full of wonders. I was hooked. I got involved in children’s theatre and began helping with the sets anytime they would let me. I even worked there eventually. Later I also had a really great Professor named Kenney Mencher who I had for art history and oil painting. He was the one that kind of put it all together for me, how much art could do and mean. After that, I spent a lot of time reading about art and artists that I admire. I have amassed a pretty huge collection of art books to go to when I’m feeling uninspired. Of course, seeing work in person at museums and galleries is the best for being able to get up close and take it all apart with your eyes.
WF: As the art world goes virtual amidst the current times, what new approaches have you developed to stay current with social media and audience engagement?
LB: To be honest, I’ve been lagging a little on that! I have done my first couple of live-streams and I’m trying to become more comfortable in front of a camera. Meanwhile I finally updated my website and uploaded a couple of free coloring books for folks who are staying home to play with. (Downloadable here)
I’ve also been mailing out hand stamped block prints to anyone who requests one, which has been a fun way to connect with people and cheer them up
WF: What projects or exhibitions are you most excited about for the coming year?
LB: I have a new collection of minimal works on wallpaper that I’ll be showing later this year in San Jose (currently waiting to reschedule date). I also have been working on a number of 4 inch rose plein air paintings to create an every color rose tree wall for open studios this year (which has been postponed to August and if it happens, will be taking place in my driveway this year instead of inside the studio) I’ll probably be doing open studios online as well this year if I get organized! I also have several pieces to make for group shows with enticing themes.
WF: What advice would you give to new artists that want to work in oils?
LB: Like any skill, it takes patience and being willing to make a lot of bad paintings before you start making some good ones. It’s good to experiment a lot and to try different techniques. There are a lot of ways to paint in oils, so find the way that works for you. Begin with a limited color palette, then expand from there. Often paintings go through an ugly duckling phase. Make sure you keep going past that. Sometimes you have to be willing to just start over with a piece that is not going anywhere good. A lot of it comes down to stubbornness and good editing.
Sargasso by Lacey Bryant is on view for Mermay through May 30, 2020.