An American nomad, Lydia Larson used art as a means of documenting the constant changes in her surroundings. Exhibiting across the United States and internationally, she is currently based in Norwalk, Connecticut. Describing her work as “little worlds”, each painting is a “single patch in an eternal and endless tapestry.”
How has your upbringing influenced you as an artist today?
I had an unusual childhood in that it was highly nomadic. People always asked, ”are you a military brat?” I wasn’t. My background was much more complicated than that. It has taken me years to begin to understand the impact my childhood had on me when my sense of place was fluid and dramatically changing year after year. When the film, The Glass Castle came out in 2017, I cried. We had the same old beat up car, but a slightly different set of circumstances. My work is a familiar place to return to. Painting for me, in a sense, became a stable home. They are little worlds to me. A place to enter into when the world around me is changing. And they remind me who I am.
What stories or messages do you wish to tell through your creations?
People have interpreted all sorts of themes and messages in my work. I’ve always felt the beautiful thing about art, is that flux in meaning naturally happens. The work itself speaks whatever it’s meant to for each individual viewer. However, I think if I had to hope it would communicate something specific, I would want my work to stir people to believe in a sense of wonder. We lose that as adults. As an empath, wonder is something I still see and feel everyday, deeply.
What challenges have you found pursuing a creative career? What advice would you give to emerging artists?
On pursuing a creative career: let go, or be dragged. You cannot go into the arts expecting that things will happen according to your plan. Let go of how you think it ’should’ be. I remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to be a painter. I was 17, a senior in high school, and got to leave campus twice a week to take an Intro to Art History course at a local community college in North Carolina (and feeling pretty cool about it). My professor was this worldly, interesting woman from Seattle who had been an extra in Dirty Dancing and loved to talk about how fun Patrick Swayze was to be around. She wore trench coats and curly hair and broke my world wide open. I wanted to be her. There was an entire world of art I never knew existed. When many of the students were sleeping, I hung on every word. Every slide. I remember sitting there, in that dark, musty classroom with the grainy slides. It was exactly when Botticelli’s, Birth of Venus came up on the screen–I knew who I wanted to be. That moment was so real to me. I went home after class and told my mother I was going to be a painter. And I never looked back. The biggest advice I would give to emerging artists is this; fall in love with the process. Prioritize your work. Be utterly hell bent about making it and base your decisions around that. You have to have tunnel vision for your work because you will endure years of naysayers, judgement, and doubt when you are working at coffee shops, babysitting, waiting tables, adjunct teaching, and being flat out broke. Be recklessly in love with what you do, and don’t pay attention to rest. Obsessively pursue it, or it will not happen. Do not lose yourself in seeking the approval of others. Your work is something that must be born. And you will likely be in labor the rest of your life. Get used to it. Be in love with that process and one day, you’ll look back and realize, you are living the life of an artist.
Social media is a powerful tool for promoting and spreading one’s work, how have you utilized social media to share your work?
Social media is wonderful. I do share my work, mostly through instagram. I find it helpful as a tool and a space where my work can live digitally. It’s amazing to be able to discover other artist’s work this way, discuss, and collaborate. I get to see how artists from all over the world feel about what I’m doing and get to share in return. It’s an amazing tool when you use it as just that, a tool. To connect, to grow, to seek feedback, discover, and share.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I just wrapped up 7 new paintings for a solo show that opens in Ridgefield, Connecticut on August 6. Each piece was made during the pandemic, so there’s an infusion of my feelings in the pieces about these last several months. I’m also engaged in an ongoing body of work that explores the complexities of trauma, how our bodies hold it, and ownership. My painting practice is very alive and I’m always working on something. However, what I’m most excited about these days is a restoration passion project. The Black Lives Matter movement inspired me to get out and do something really different. I wanted to do more than protest, I wanted to create something more physical, something persistent. Long story short I found an abandoned historic building in a rough part of town in Baltimore that used to be a foundry in the early 1900s, and I’ve been restoring it over the last few months. It has been an unbelievable amount of actual blood, sweat, moments of tears, and bruises. However, the finished vision is to create an artist collective (construction begins this week on studios!) for primarily, local black artists to have a space to create. There will be a kiln, classroom space, and a place to hang out and discuss new ideas. I want to host community workshops and give other artists a chance to teach. I want to make pizzas in the restored foundry oven, put on some music, and swing open the doors for people to come and look at art, make it, and be part of something creative. This project has been the biggest undertaking I have ever done. Lots of people I know think I’ve lost my mind, and yet, it’s coming together. It’s given me a chance to see a different side of life and also help some younger artists like Michelle Perez, a brand new RISD grad. To be leaving art school during a global pandemic is rocky even in the best case scenario, so I’m commissioning her to do a mural on the front of the building in August, which will be a special public project to add to her portfolio. It feels good to have an avenue to bring in other artists, especially right now when the times feel so uncertain. It’s always the artists who move into abandoned buildings first. We bring the life. The changes that need to happen, follow.