An Interview with Laurie Lipton

Can you describe what your life was like growing up in New York?

-I grew up in the suburbs of NY. I came from a nice, neat suburban home with nice, neat wallpaper and nice, neat emotions. What was I supposed to do with the anti-Disney mess swirling inside of me?  I used art, from a very early age, as a repository for all my confused, angry, fearful emotions. I drew them out... literally. If I hadn't had that outlet I think I would have imploded.

You’ve said you went to the best university (Carnegie Mellon) in the United States, yet you’ve also said you were self-taught. Can you explain this? Can you describe your unique process for drawing?

-When I attended University conceptual art was all the rage. I found splashes of color and rocks on the floor boring. I wanted to learn how to paint like Van Eyck, Durer or Memling. I cut my classes and tried to teach myself from books but failed. Then I discovered I could draw the way they painted. By building up areas with thousands of tiny lines, like an egg-tempera painting, I could create pictures with the same kind of detail and transparent layers as a 16th century painting. It's an incredibly tedious way to draw, but the effect is worth the work.

What motivated you to leave the United States? What do you like about London that suits your creative appetite?

- I left the USA because I could predict what would happen to me there... either I'd become a teacher or a commercial artist to survive. In Europe I had no idea what awaited me. I was a waitress in France, did book covers in Belgium, and created illuminated manuscripts for a privately owned alchemical library in Holland. I never wanted to live in London. It seemed like a huge, dirty city.... but I got a British art agent and eventually got stuck in the city like a fly in a ginormous web. I like it here now. It's the longest I've ever lived anywhere. The English are absolutely mad and that suits me just fine.

Your work has been described as psychological realism and hyper realistic. You view your work as narrative and intentional. Can you give the narrative to “Veil”? Is this a reflection on your childhood relationship with your mother? What is going on in the piece?

- I view my work as a narrative without words. If I could use words to exactly describe my intentions in a drawing, then I'd be a writer. My pictures are open to interpretation. I'll let you interpret the work in your own words. You don't need me to do that for you.

In some of your works you have a “housewife” smiling as if on the verge of insanity, for an example, “ON”. Is this your way of rebelling against conformity, social norms that may have existed in your household as a youth? Did you live in a tension of “keeping things together"? Are there social norms that really piss you off?

- You see! You CAN interpret the work in your own words! That sounds perfectly viable. As for "social norms" that piss me off... they all do. I could never get the hang of being "normal", though I have persistently tried most of my life.

I wanted to talk to you about “Time Travel”. One of the things this piece suggests is corporate drudgery or racing with time but getting nowhere. It evokes the feeling of isolation and frustration. On the other hand, it has a completely humbling effect. Humankind trying to figure out this massive universe in the little time we have. I know of your interest in physics. Does this piece question some laws or the infinite? Can you expand on your narrative of “Time Travel”?

- Again you want me to elucidate, in words, the "meaning" behind the image. Yes, you're right in your interpretation... someone else might receive a totally different message from it, however. A work of art is only as successful as its impact. If it doesn't "speak" to you, then it's useless. As for me... while I'm working on a piece a thousand things are running through my head.... composition, marks, tone, feelings, thoughts... to sum it all up for you in a few pert phrases would lessen what I intended.

What motivated you to do the “Day of the Dead” series which I believe “Collateral Damage” is a part?

- When my mother died everyone treated it like an embarrassment. They were awkward and uneasy.  Death is as unmentionable today as sex was in the Victorian era. Then I visited Mexico where death was treated as a natural occurrence. People picnicked on dead relatives' graves and made candy skulls and toys and set aside days to celebrate it. In the words of a TV commercial: death was made into a "totally organic experience". That inspired me to do a whole show on the topic. I had a lot of fun with it!

In another interview you stated you draw because you must. Has there been an extended period of time when you weren’t drawing? If so, what was that like?

-I've been drawing since the age of 4... not because I must, but because I enjoy it so much. It's the most relaxing, fulfilling time I can spend on earth. I love it more than anything. Pathetic, isn't it?

You have shown in many places. To name a few, Australia, Russia, Spain, USA, England, Italy, and Holland. Was there any place you didn’t get a good reception? Why? Do you have a particular place or audience you’d like to show your work to that you haven’t yet?

- Once people actually see my work in the flesh they're very impressed. You can't tell from a computer screen how large some of these pieces are, or the sheer amount of detail in them. When they're all hanging together in a room, the reaction I usually get is, "OHH!!"

How is your one-woman show going, “Sleep of Reason”?

- Very well, thank you. I have another show of new work called "Weapons of Mass Delusions" which will open at the Grand Central Art Center at California State University, Fullerton. It's on from Sept. 5 until Oct. 11th, 2009. I also have a book coming out around that time. To find out more about shows, etc., log on to the "news" section of my website:

What advice would you give to emerging artists, if any?

- follow your bliss.... and for God's sake don't take any advice


View the work of Laurie Lipton in LITnIMAGE's Winter 2009 issue

Click here for Laurie Lipton's bio

Visit Laurie Lipton's website at