In Dialogue with Lisa Pressman
The current exhibition at Susan Eley Fine Art, Hudson features Lisa Pressman’s newest encaustic paintings and works on paper. One of the primary series on view in this show is entitled Messages, a recent and ongoing series of mixed media works on various handmade papers. Pressman collects handmade paper, including Japanese Shikishi board, which is edged with gold, as well as Letraset—the rub-on letters employed by graphic designers before the computer era. Onto these unique handmade paper, she employs the press-on letters of the Letraset, as a mark-making tool to create a symbolic language—hieroglyphic and intuitive.
What would you like to share about this body of work?
This series was made during the pandemic as a means to meditate and to process the past few years of my life. These works reveal various degrees of intimacy and provide different entry points depending on the viewer—based on their knowledge of my story and, of course moreover, their own personal experiences and philosophies. To manipulate the works’ surfaces, I embellish panels or papers with gold paint and ink, use palo santo incense to create marks and burn with smoke, and also sew into the papers with colored thread (often red). Thus, a number of the pieces become objects—almost artifacts—generating a visceral allure via their handmade qualities and sense of tactility.
Ultimately, I recognize the metamorphic potential within my recent body of work. Rooted in my own experiences, articulated through this lyrical, ambiguous language—they reflect the grief of the world. To me—they reveal a universal collective unconscious, influenced by stored memory, yet with the power to reshape histories and futures.
Your surfaces are highly tactile and it seems the materiality is central in your work. Can you elaborate on your process?
In my paintings and works on paper on view at SEFA Hudson, materiality remains central. For me, it is a source and an influence on what happens within each work: the imagery, the composition. There are five new encaustic paintings in this exhibition, and this is a medium that I have embraced for a number of years (and also teach to local and international artists). Working with wax in this manner, I recognize its viscerality and the dynamic energy that it possesses. Crafted through my precise handling of wax and pigment, these new encaustic paintings demonstrate my continued interest in mark-making. Essentially, I layered these marks of various drawing materials with wax to build up the surfaces.
The Messages works on paper are a further investigation of tactility and materiality. I began creating them in 2020 during the pandemic. Admittedly, I was excited to have unlimited time in the studio while continuing to do online teaching. I was grateful to have my studio in my house and everything I needed to continue to make work. However, a few months after beginning this, something else kicked in: I am not sure if boredom is the correct word—perhaps more of an extreme case of non-motivation. I tried to look through art books; I went on the internet; I stared out the window from my couch. I would go down into my studio and clean up, reorganize, look around and leave. Yet, one day, I decided to pull out materials like the Letraset that I had around and start drawing. At that time, I called them “unmotivated drawings.” An hour, a day, a few minutes—anything to just get some marks down. Soon, I had the Messages series. They started from that unmotivated state and ultimately opened me to memories, to intuition, to new connections, to the unexpected.
Additionally, for the exhibition at SEFA Hudson, I invite viewers to interact with some of my works on paper, which incorporate these encaustic and sewing techniques. It has been wonderful to share my work in this way, furthering my passion for interaction through materials.
How do you see this body of work in the context of your previous work?
Color, light and shadows have power over me. I harness that power using paint during challenging times. Some of that energy is communicated in my paintings as layers of repetitive marks. The previous works, Stop It and Navigating paintings, are a series that began as an exercise — much like meditation — of paying close attention to the act of painting itself. I was looking for a repetitive mark that would allow me to focus on the specific ways I lay paint down. As I experimented, the double stroke of the X emerged. Over time, I began using the X explicitly to cover up or cancel what was below, to push the earlier layers back or down, away from me and the viewer. The X became a stroke. This created a physical feeling of depth and a psychological mystery -— not knowing what is underneath or why it must be hidden. Both series are both personal and political. The act of X-ing and stroking are a metaphor for crossing out and rejecting actions — our own and others. This creates a tension, a physical feeling of depth and a psychological mystery. Through this mark-making and color I navigate my perspective on my life and the world around me.
Then, the new encaustic works from 2020 and 2021 in this exhibition have become the “bare bones.” I begin with my past strategies but do not seek to achieve that finished perfection. They are a sideroad—I let the underpaintings be the paintings. Thus, there is an unknown quality to them that is not necessarily easily articulated, something personal and ephemeral. They ask “where do we go from here, what’s next?” They manifest themes of transience and transformation, loss and liminality. The Message series is a departure for me that I am continuing to investigate. I am considering materiality, scale and installation ideas. Looking forward to seeing what happens.
This is a two-person show. How do you see the dialogue between your work and Jim Napierala’s work?
Jim and I both work in abstracted styles visually, as well as play with language and its potentials to reveal and conceal. Our compositions are structured by our sensitivity to materiality, which I consider to be the primary thruline between our works. Creating highly tactile surfaces, we manipulate and layer our materials—including wax and thread, acrylic and metal leaf—until the forms emerge. Often, Jim embraces humor and ambiguity, while I tend to contemplate grief and transformation. Yet, our creative approaches are both firmly rooted in our intuition—the otherwise and the unknown—always open to interpretation.
Jim Napierala and Lisa Pressman
433 Warren Street,Hudson, NY 12534
On view through July 11, 2021