Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lynn Basa: Chicago


Artist Lynn Basa
photo Saskia Siebrand

1. Please share a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what were any early influences on your work?

I live in Chicago now. I grew up in the country outside of Bloomington, Indiana but left for Seattle a week after I graduated from college to go to graduate school.  I lived there for 22 years because I had two consecutive day jobs that were pretty wonderful. First as the curator of the Safeco Insurance company’s collection, and then as the founding director and curator of the University of Washington Medical Center’s art program.

8' x 20'
Byzantine glass mosaic, onyx, LED, fiber optic
client: University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Human Ecology
photos: David Bader

My goal was always to be a full-time artist and I figured that if I must work then it should be in jobs where I could learn about the art business.  All the while I was working as a curator, I led a parallel life as an artist — developing my work and building my portfolio.  I’d work 40 hours a week by day, and by night go home to my studio and work another 30-40 hours. My entire life was lived in art (as it is now).  All of my friends were artists, every waking moment was spent making art or looking at it or thinking about it.

Dangerous Escapade
36" x 72" x 2"
oil and wax on panel
photo: Tom Van Eynde

2. Did you receive any formal art training? If yes, where and what did you major in?

My formal art training began in the 7th grade when I was introduced to ceramics.  I went to a university lab school where we had good access to art teachers and facilities.  I credit my teacher, Denise Smith, quite a bit with picking up where my parents left off and cultivating my inner artist. I studied ceramics through high school and then majored in it at Indiana University.  When I was 15, though, I started exploring fiber and that turned into a 30-year long career until I figured out that I was trying to make textiles that looked like they were painting, so I switched to painting around 2000.  It also finally got through my thick skull that if I wanted to make a living as an artist that there was a much larger market for painting than for fiber art.

A Complicated Adventure
18" x 50" x 1.5"
oil and wax on panel
photo: Tom Van Eynde

3. What is your current work about? 

One of the most rewarding responses anyone can have to my work is a phrase I hear often from the public: “I didn’t think I liked abstract art, but I really like this.” There’s a quality to my work that is so rooted in naturally-occurring forms that anyone who has ever been fascinated by geological strata, the complex beauty of a rust stain, or the random arrangement of raindrops on a windowpane, will respond to my work.

24" x 36" x 2"
oil and wax on panel
photo: Tom Van Eynde

In my paintings, I strive to capture a force of nature that, to me, can only be done with encaustic.  The same chemical reactions that create shapes from melting and flow are the same as the ones that occur at macro and micro levels all around us in the natural world.

In my public art commissions I try to maintain this aesthetic but also create environments that draw people in.  In my most successful pieces, the participation of the viewer completes the artwork.

Coursing Through Life
10' - 20' x 100'
Terrazzo with recycled glass and mirror
client:  University of Northern Iowa, Sabin Hall
photo: Doug vanderHoof

4. What is your workspace like?
For most of my life my studio was in my home, but three months ago I moved into the storefront of an old building I bought 4 years ago and turned into artist live/work apartments and studios.

My long-time storefront tenant moved out, and because the neighborhood is still downtrodden with lots of vacancies, I couldn’t find another commercial tenant so I divided up the space and rented it to other artists.  My space is in the front and since the building is on a corner it’s got lots of light and visibility to the street.  I’m really enjoying it a lot.  It’s such an eye-opener about who is pulled in by the art.  It’s hardly ever the constant stream of hipsters going by, but it’s retired cops, People’s Gas workers, Mexican business owners.  Last week a drunk lady pulled up on her bike and spent a long time looking at all of the art. There’s a hooker who stations herself at my doorstep and when I asked her to move she sassed that she had been there longer than I had and I had no right to ask her to move.  She’s still there.  I just say “excuse me” when I need to get into my studio.  There are shootings and gang wars.  Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a Spike Lee film.

Lynne Basa's Studio

5. Are you involved with any arts groups or communities? If yes, what do you gain from that affiliation and what do you contribute to it?
I used to be quite involved with arts groups and working with the city on major arts initiatives.  Last year I realized that I can’t afford to donate my time like that when it takes everything I’ve got to make a living as an artist, so now I don’t volunteer.  I need to put the oxygen mask on myself before I put it on the passenger next to me.  Besides, I give at the office. I’ve poured an obscene amount of my savings into rehabbing my building and renting it for slightly below-market rates to artists.  It seems to be a boost to the other property owners in the immediate vicinity.  I just found out yesterday that a French bakery is moving into one of the long-vacant storefronts across the street, and someone else is opening a coffee shop.

I also moderate panels and give workshops on public art.  Not for free, if I can help it, of course!

6. How do you develop a sense of community with other artists, and how do you support your art colleagues?

I meet with two groups of two other artists about once a month and we talk about issues related to our practices, give each other leads and business tips, go to galleries together.  Because of my book and because I’m a full-time artist, other artists and students frequently come to me for advice on how I’m able to pull it off.  I enjoy talking to them because I think a rising tide lifts all boats and the more empowered artists are to stop thinking of themselves as starving artists and realize that we have something that the economy will pay for, the better its going to be for the rest of us.

Nine sculptures ranging in size up to 3' x 3' x 19'
Powder-coated steel, cast glass, copper, LED, fiber optic
client: University of Northern Iowa, Panther Village
photo: Doug vanderHoof

7. Do you have other jobs other than making art? If so, please give us some details.
While I teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and give workshops based on my book, my main source of income is selling my paintings and doing public art commissions. That said, I don’t see art-making, teaching, and building ownership as separate from my entire practice.

I’m at the point in my evolution as an artist where I’m beginning to understand how all of the threads of my practice are interconnected. I no longer see myself as a painter who also does large public art commissions, who teaches at SAIC, who owns an artist live/work building, who is active in the economic development of my neighborhood. I can now see the overarching impulse that drives all of these ambitious undertakings, each one of which could be a career in and of itself: The common thread is the desire to be inclusive.

You can see more of Lynn's work on her website!

Thank you Lynn!


Joanne Mattera said...

I enjoyed learning more about about an artist whose work I admired. Thanks, Lynette and Lynn.

Diane McGregor said...

Love your work, Lynn. "Bower" and "Coursing Through Life" must be amazing to see and experience in person! Thanks Lynn and Lynette for a wonderful interview.

Lynette Haggard said...

Thanks Joanne and Diane for your comments. I especially enjoyed seeing the scope of Lynn's work.

Ruth Andre said...

Lynn's work is amazing in itself but she also seems to be a person of substance. I have read other articles regarding Lynn's work and her down to earth approach to art and life is quite refreshing.