The young American painter talks about her artistic practice, sources of inspiration and goals.
The last time you asked if I was absolutely sure, (2020), Oil on panel, 24'' x 18''
Interview performed by Yasmine El Shaer at FRONTRUNNER
Whitney Lorenze is an artist based in New Haven, CT. She’s been painting for the better part of five years and has worked to see her art evolve and take on other forms like weaving and print-making. Working from empirical and emotional experiences, Whitney also shares her thoughts on gaining creative inspiration in the digital age.
Describing her art as ‘deeply modal’, we were able to connect with Whitney through FRONTRUNNER’s online creative forum to hear more about her story.
When did you start your art practice?
Five years ago, when I enrolled at a small arts college near my parent’s home. I had done a few drawings and taken a few photographs, none of which were particularly noteworthy. But I had not painted, nor had I studied art in any serious capacity, before that time.
How do you describe your vision for your work?
To admit that I generally avoid doing so would be to knowingly participate in a fairly boring artistic platitude, but to be completely honest I haven’t been able come up with anything that isn’t equally banal. I am interested in making pictures that have a lusty, ardent quality. I am interested in simple, primordial form and its relationship to certain tones of feeling. I am interested in other things as well. But I suppose I would say that my vision for my work is deeply modal, if I had to put an adjective to it.
How has your work evolved over time? There has been so little time that it is hard to say. In technical terms as well as creative ones I do still feel like I am just learning how to paint. But my work has changed very drastically from my time as an undergraduate. The work of my capstone year was generally well received, but looking back I honestly don’t know why. I worked very hard, and produced a lot, but the work was pretty naïve. It was so overly concerned with modernism and narrative expression, and not in a particularly interesting way, and I really didn’t understand color, though I was absolutely convinced I did. I’d like to think I have greatly improved since then. You’ll have to ask me in another five years.
Neither here nor there, (2020), Oil on panel, 12″ x 12″ What are your artistic/creative inspirations?
They’re largely empirical, the work is heavily concerned with emotional observation and experience. But of course, work made by other artists plays an essential role. It’s difficult to have a clear sense of your own influences if you are almost perpetually online, though. There are the big ones, Yuskavage, Hockney, Guston and the like, but I look at so many pictures a day. I see so many untethered photographs and designs, I follow so many artists whose names I don’t even know. The constant pictorial stimulation has a pretty significant effect.
Tell me about your process.
I’m very messy and unorganized. It’s basically a free-for-all. I hardly ever wash my brushes. My palette probably weighs 50 lbs., and it’s got all kinds of stuff completely embedded in it. I always start with a solid ground, usually of an old, dirty, pre-mixed color I don’t feel like wasting, but there’s no set process from there. The one thing I do consistently is work fairly quickly and fairly desperately, like there is barely any time left to keep painting. I don’t really know why. And then I take long breaks, stare at the work until I can see everything that is awful about it, and start again. 99% of the time I am working entirely from imagination. I also don’t listen to music at all, which my friends find strange. I’ve begun weaving recently, and it has slowed me down a great deal. It’s less invigorating but much more pleasant. I enjoy it a lot, and I think it will suit my work. I’m also hoping to start printmaking again soon, and maybe doing some sculpture. I draw and sketch mostly in phases.
Well, you’re gonna have to, (2020), Oil on panel, 8″ x 8″
Do you think your work has a message? How is it received?
At present my work is primarily concerned with states of feeling, as I mentioned. That being said, there is sometimes a message of sorts that I can’t entirely suppress or obscure. It’s difficult to compartmentalize your thought processes. If you’re reading something into my paintings, it is very likely there, but I also wouldn’t confirm it if you asked. I don’t mean to be obtuse, but I think it takes a particular kind of artist to make successfully didactic work, and I’m not sure I consider myself one of them. I write a lot in my private life. As a painter, my attention is mostly elsewhere. But sometimes things creep in.
Baby’s first cig, (2020), Oil on panel, 8″ x 8″
What is safe and/or dangerous in terms of experimentation?
Intentionally making ugly things to exorcise your fear of doing so is very important. Allowing yourself to make ugly things you thought you were going to be artistic things is also important. But I’m not particularly interested, in general, in making ugly, non-artistic things. If my experiments happen to work out, I’m ecstatic, and I move forward from there, but I’m not going to pretend everything I touch turns to creative gold. I do generally put it all on the table anyways, I’ve found I’m a terrible judge of the quality of my own work, but without a healthy ego experimentation probably won’t get you very far.
Where would you like to see your work in 3 years? What goals do you have for your practice?
I would like to have met and befriended many more artists whose work I enjoy looking at. I would like to figure out how to reach an audience of people who do not have an education in the arts without sacrificing my own creative ideals. And in three years, I hope my work has transformed fairly drastically. If that’s not the case I probably haven’t been putting in the work. I’m not looking to repeat myself.
Are there other emerging artists you can recommend?
Just off the top of my head: Erin Wright, Isabel Chun, Gustav Hamilton, Matthew Russo, Adam Easton, Mel Arzamarski, Kelsey Tynik, Mallory Smith, Dennis Carroll, Liana Pike. There are many more.
Photo of the artist. Courtesy of Whitney Lorenze