I discovered Katerina Lanfranco a few months ago and Louis, our creative writer, wrote an article about this fantastic and very creative artist. This week, I’ll go deeper in her universe. During several weeks, I have corresponded with here. Katerina has kindly answered my questions and accepted that I publish this interview.
Creative Katerina Lanfranco Interview
Katerina Lanfranco, were you always interested in art growing up? What motivated you to become an artist?
Yes, I was always interested in art, but when I was younger I thought it was too easy. Sometimes I wish that I still felt that that way. I had a makeshift studio before I realized that’s what I had set up in my bedroom closet, and I used to melt gummy bears on a tempered glass heating panel in the living room. When I started doing flameworked glass as part of my studio practice, the technique felt strangely familiar. I have early memories of going through my step-grandmother’s art supplies at her studio in Berlin, where I spent my early childhood, and crumpling up her gold leaf – sorry Ursula! My great-grandmother studied under the German romantic painter Lovis Corinth, and her twin sister painted for the Royal Porcelain Factory in Copenhagen.
While this history didn’t motivate my choice to being an artist, I see the lineage as important. I have also studied the work of Giovanni Lanfranco during a research travel grant in Italy. When I was fourteen, around the time of my near death experience in the Ganges River, a psychic in India told me that I had “artist hands”. At the time it didn’t really resonate, but I often wonder about her statement. When I had to decide what to study at university, I knew that I wanted to do something visually-oriented and practical, so I almost ended up in architecture school. I changed my mind in 11th hour and went into visual arts because I wanted to be able to manifest my ideas into reality without a delay between intention, design, and image/object.
Do you have or have had a mentor or other special person to guide you?
At first I was very intimidated by the idea of art theory (I even remember having dreams about this), but once I began my studies in visual art at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I realized that I had a knack for it. My professor Joyce Brodsky recognized my ability, took me under her wing, and invited me into an advanced seminar my first year. She also became the chair of my independent major: Visual Theory and Museum Studies – which I pursued along with Studio Art. Another teacher/mentor at UCSC was Don Fritz, who became a good friend, opened his boundless world to his students, and taught me almost everything that I know about mixed media and collage.
In New York, a huge inspiration has been Valerie Jaudon, a formidable painter and Feminist intellectual. I studied with her, and then was her teaching assistant and artist assistant. I see her as a real model for how to balance art and life, and to stay true to one’s ambitious artistic visions.
My brother Carlos, has also been a major source of guidance and inspiration. He always sees the bigger picture, and has an uncanny ability to point out the things in my blind spots. Also, my dear friend Peri Lyons has an artist’s soul, does amazingly intuitive counseling, and works with a lot of artists to help them access their deeper potential and abilities. Peri comes up with very creative solutions to quixotic problems all the while being very direct and extremely insightful.
Where do you derive your influence? Do you have a favorite place or technique that helps you find inspiration?
I have to list the American Museum of Natural History as a treasure trove of artistic inspiration for my studio work, along with other art museums, sculpture parks, looking at other work both historical and contemporary. I also travel and see as much as I can. I took a grand tour of Europe during my graduate school days and saw everything that I could with my unlimited 3-month Eurorail pass. By the end I had been to so many museums, art galleries and cultural institutions that I felt totally saturated and filled to the brim with inspiration and ideas.
In Siena, Italy, I snuck into the Orto Botanico after hours and experienced the most majestic sunset of my life. While there, I was stunned to discover the spring flowers of Sandro Botticelli’s “Primavera”. In Naples, I was fortunate to have a private viewing of Giovanni Lanfranco’s paintings in a cathedral’s side chapel. When I went to Turin to see where my ancestral family came from, I was surprised that I arrived on the day of the city’s historical fair. Travelling often gives me the sense that I am in the right place at the right time.
Your artworks seem beyond reality but is there any real-life situation that inspired you?
Yes, staring out at where the ocean meets the sky, and contemplating the history of misinterpretations of that kind of frontier space – the edge of the flat earth, realm of monsters. Considering the edges of our own geographic frontiers (deep sea and deep space), looking at the organized beauty of fractal patterns in organic growth or smoke swirls, noticing the harmony and a deep aesthetic resonance of sacred geometry that invokes religious experience but that can also be found in nature, and imagining the private lives of animals real, invented, and to be discovered. Immanuel Kant wrote in his book: Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime, that we can experience the sublime when the awe of an experience in nature eclipses our ability to understand it. This is the territory that I am most interested in exploring from an artistic standpoint.
How has your style changed over the years? If yes, could you explain why?
Some would say yes, but this is a superficial answer. I feel that the people that really get my work can clearly see how everything is related, how everything comes from the same mysterious well-spring of creative impulse. What has changed in the range of art materials that I use. With each new body of work, I let the concept dictate the form that I manifest the work. When I began working on my “Below a Sea of Stars” s
eries I realized that I needed to develop a proficiency in working with glass, so I took flameworking classes at Urban Glass in Brooklyn. I have since become a huge fan of flameworking, and my glasswork is now in the permanent collection of the Corning Museum of Glass. I have reoccurring themes in my work – for example, hybridity is almost always there, whether in the form of creatures, flora, fauna, silhouettes, abstract/realism, mixed media, et cetera. Still,
all of my work is rooted in painting. I sometimes think of myself as a conceptual painter, which means that my approach to a painting is determined by type of message I want the work to convey. Whether it is about a fleeting abstract moment in a whimsical landscape, such as the Floating Worlds series, or the realistic rendering of a sincere but fictional botanical specimen.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on some wacky yarn wall drawings that please me in that they form a direct and perfectly consistent colored line in space, but the project that I’m really sinking my teeth into relates to the nature of order and chaos, and how the two represent different notions of culture/civilization and nature, but how in reality they are so interwoven, so inseparable. Visually, this takes the form of a merging of organic and geometric form.
What is your dream project?
I would have to say a permanent public artwork in Manhattan that combined outdoor and indoor components with a range of media and materials to create an immersive environment that could be briefly described as “Katerina’s World”. I like the democracy of art in public spaces – there isn’t an economic hierarchy in place to limit access. I remember going to see Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “Gates” public installation in Central Park in 2005. Besides the brilliant color contrast of the orange swatches of fabric against the gray winter landscape and the durational experience of walking through the piece, I absolutely loved that it embodied an almost perfect example of art for everyone.
Is artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
This is a funny and yet very relevant question. It can be very lonely, in that as an artist you have your vision and you usually produce it by yourself.
However, the contemporary life of an artist is actually very social – there are always so many art openings, exhibitions and events to attend. And the longer that you are part of a creative community, the more these events appear on your agenda. In my experience, many artists are pretty sensitive creatures. They have to be receptive to the outside world for inspiration and insightful observation, so the quiet isolated time in the studio is a welcome relief from the overstimulation of midtown Manhattan.
Some artists do work better with other artists around them, and this is a contributing factor to why there are so many artistic hubs in New York. It also has to do with the nature of industrial/commercial real estate that has been converted artist studios. I have had a variety of studio spaces, and have even tried working from home. I thought that since I like to be comfortable, working at home would be a natural fit, but there are limitations. It is hard to fully immerse yourself in the creative flow when there are dishes to wash, laundry to do, and meals to make. I find it a perfect balance to work in my studio hub in Red Hook – there over 100 artists as neighbors on the studio floor that we share. I can work alone in my studio contently, but I know that there are interesting and inspiring people just down the hall if I need some quick feedback or human interaction. I also have two artist assistants/interns currently, and they are great to have around. Meanwhile being part of a stable of artists at Nancy Hoffman Gallery is a little like an extended family. We’re always happy to see and support each other.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A huge turning point happened when I was finishing up my undergraduate degree. I was planning to go into Critical Theory for my masters and “save” art for later – (like some kind of dessert!), my awe-inspiring Visual Semiotics professor at UCSC, Jennifer Gonzalez changed my mind. She was also teaching at the Whitney Museum Independent Program, and was dialed into the art scene in NYC. She came to my senior thesis visual art show and said in her gentle but persuasive way that she really thought that I should pursue an MFA in studio art, and I listened. (Thank you Jennifer!)
Here are three major pieces of advice:
1) Draw it out! It’s so handy for when I have wild plans or ideas of what I want to create in my studio. It seems like common sense, but now I use it all the time.
2) Mute the internal critic during the creative process, so that it doesn’t interfere with making art.
3) When making an installation piece consider how it will photograph, because that’s how most people will experience and remember it.
And finally, I recently started a series of “Tuesday Art Text” pieces for Instagram (@katerinalanfranco) and today’s post was “Art is like breathing, don’t overthink it.” I see it as short sentence of advice for both myself, and others.