We have just closed submissions on the Annual Open Exhibition for another year and are doing the final counts as to how many entries in . Every year we also receive submissions from Academician Candidates, this year we have 10 hoping to be elected by the Academicians. We chat to Laurie Steen who was one of 3 new Academicians elected during the last annual Open Exhibition about her journey to becoming an Academician.
Tell us a bit about your artistic background and work?
Growing up in the foothills of Alberta in Canada, I started doing nature drawings making shadow studies in the garden in my early teens. However, after studying fine arts and design, I started my professional artistic background being an interior architect and designer working commercially and leading creative teams. Along side this I also worked in the studio and was soon represented in Canada’s by Newzones Gallery. So I suppose I have always made my living by being creative and drawing… I once heard a famous artist talk about her process and she happened to say that technically she thought of herself as a draftswoman and I liked that. I have been making architectural drawings and renderings and visual art professionally for 25 years. Drawing and scale are so important to me.
I started by working predominantly with the figure with a series called ’the poetry of us’ and portraits and then slowly brought nature into my work with ’the memory of green’. Since moving to England though the landscape has taken precedence, and although I have never considered myself a landscape artist, increasingly it is the environment around me that is my constant source of inspiration and moves me to make work. In Canada, as well as working with the portrait, I was moved to document the fleeting bit of sunny, summer weather and capture the contours of the trembling aspen and apple trees. Now living in lush Devon with all aspects of the landscape pulling me everyday, my work has become much more layered and time consuming. Silence and light has entered the work, much like it would a portrait. I tend to work seasonally, in the winter months I am drawn to working with dark graphite and oils working with the architectural lines of the deciduous English trees; dark verticals in a horizontal landscape. In the warmer months, when light and colour flood the studio, I am often working outside on large drawings on mylar or observation drawings on paper following in between fleeting moments, or stills in the landscape that surrounds me daily.
How did you select the pieces that you put forward as your Academician Candidate works?
It was really difficult choosing 4 pieces for my candidate work. I felt it very important to show a variety of the work if possible and given the timing of it all, a couple of new pieces I wanted to enter were either a commission piece or had been promised for an exhibition -but luckily it all worked out! I basically tried to choose the best drawings I had, whether they were in a paper format or in oil on panel. I tend to call all of my work drawings even though most of them are drawings combined with oil and mixed media paintings, mostly because each piece begins and ends with drawing. I also tried to represent the diverse range of sizes (scale) that I work in. My oil paintings take much time to dry with multiple layers so I didn’t want to rush making new work, except for the large mylar drawing I did specifically. I think it is also important to put forth pieces that photograph well and that you are 110% happy with.
What’s the biggest misconception about being an artist?
Mmmmm, misconceptions. Well this isn’t necessarily a misconception but I find it difficult to answer the question ‘what does your work look like?’ It is impossible to describe ones work without a visual or even better, a the visceral work itself in real life. I think a misconception might be in how a full time artist spends their day! There are 2 types of doing – in that half of your time is spent doing admin or answering emails and taking images of your work, and framing and ordering materials and cleaning and just trying to understand and further define ones own working processes. It is much much more than just working peacefully in the studio everyday. Although when one is making the work it makes up for everything else!
Unlike many other professional careers, people also wonder what a day in the studio might be like for an artist – basically why I am unable to just leave my work when I get home… being a full time artist requires much self motivation, commitment and integrity. There isn’t an employer to tell you when to get to work, how to begin, what to draw or paint, on what to draw or paint, and then what tools to draw your subject with, or how your are going to draw it,,, what the size of your composition will be, when it is time for lunch or when to say that’s enough for the day, let alone to say whether it’s good or finished! This is where an artists integrity answers all of the above. The pieces that work the best are partially worked through in my mind when I am at home happy with my family and friends.
What was the last art exhibition you saw?
Other than all the RWA’s shows this year! I saw Anselm Keifer at the RA. Like most large exhibitions all of the newest and most powerful work was at the end and was not represented in any cards or posters. I didn’t buy the catalogue as my favourite pieces looked completely different in print, but I went back in to sit in front of them again for awhile and would give anything to have one of his pieces at home! The spring shows at Hauser and Wirth Somerset were wonderful: large water paintings by of the sea by Zhang Enli, and a surprise Exhibition of famous drawings by architects and their working models,,, some mentors like Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Liebius woods.
Hint: Two of the greatest artists to have worked and still be working in the last century (which are two of my favourites artists) are opening in London this Autumn. Frank Aurbach at Tate Britain and Giacometti at NPG. I am still in awe of the fact that London is just a 2 1/2 hour train journey away!
What does it mean to you to be elected as an Academician?
I think it adds definition to the meaning of home for me. I moved from Canada with my family 7 years ago and subsequently I have had my work in the Autumn exhibition every year since arriving. I had recently been exploring the notion of belonging and longing in my work, when ones heart is in two places; as part of a traveling exhibition with artists from Canada, and then I went to show more at the RWA. It has come to be a part of my life here as well as a home for outstanding exhibitions and artists in the south west. Not all countries have the history and establishment to support regional galleries like the 5 regional galleries in the UK, and it should be celebrated and supported. I look forward to meeting and working with artists of all mediums, as I have done in Canada. Working on multi media projects allow you to push the envelopes of each others creativity and of your own working processes. I am sure many will agree that inspiration quite often comes from outside ones own practice and it is important that the RWA promote and nurture artists working in all disciplines. I do feel a bit of pride now walking up through the stone and gold facade!
What are you working on currently?
Currently I have many larger conte drawings on Mylar on the go as well and I am getting some hand primed panels ready to continue my ‘home’ series with oil mediums. ‘home drawings’ is a new series in which I am recording what I think are simply beautiful stills that occur around me in my home environment. Experiencing a scene at many points throughout the day allows memory to take over once the pieces have started from life. They feel incredibly personal and are worked on at different times of the day. It is never a question of what to do, more so there just isn’t enough time! I always feel as though I am at the beginning of my practice!