Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On Denver artist Lisa Purdy

"Rebirth", oil on canvas, 36" x 24"

Lisa Purdy is a painter and sculptor living in Denver, Colorado. I recently had the opportunity to visit and talk with her in her studio, which is in a lively area of galleries and studios just south of downtown Denver.

Me: Your studio is in the Santa Fe Arts District of Denver. For non-Denver residents, can you tell us about the area?

Lisa: The Art District on Santa Fe is a collection of shops, art studios, galleries and creative endeavors along Santa Fe and Kalamath streets in Denver.  The District has a membership fee that helps promote the area and specific businesses within it.  On the first Friday of every month, large groups of people flock to the area to view art, attend special events and enjoy an evening of dining out.

Me: When did you acquire your studio?

Lisa: I acquired my studio in June of 2009 in the Bolt Factory building.  As may seem obvious, the building sold every kind of bolt imaginable until a decade ago.  Two years ago, a developer bought the building and divided it into 25 commercial condo units.  New zoning this year allows the units to be live/work, an enticing category for the many creative businesses in the building.  My studio is about 1200 square feet with 14 foot ceilings.

Me: How would you summarize your journey through the arts up until now?

Lisa: I’ve been involved in art and design all my life, although the form it took when I was younger was quite different than it is today.  To support myself I worked in the fields of historic preservation, planning, mediation, and interior design.  In all those fields it was the aesthetic, cultural and spiritual aspects that motivated me.  Now, at the age of 60, I devote myself full time to creating works of art in the fields of painting and sculpture.  I often find myself feeling guilty about devoting all my time to art.

I started out my painting career doing landscapes.  At first the paintings were realistic but over time they became more and more abstract.  In the last 5 years my paintings have become unattached to representational form.  The interesting thing is that many of my buyers are still interested in the landscapes, so I still go back to that from time to time.

Me: Tell us a little about your recent work.

Lisa:  My most recent work includes large (4ft x 5ft) abstracts that are almost spiritual in nature but without any specific references.  I’m extremely interested in colors that harmonize and contain some unusual hints of off colors.  Most of the paintings are done in oil on canvas, but I’ve recently begun to experiment with water-based oils and India ink on water color paper.  For some (unplanned) reason, these works on paper have an Asian flair.

"Yin Yan 4", oil + ink on paper, 24" x 18"

Me: How does a work begin for you: planned, sketches, dreams, the unconscious?

Lisa: When working on the large canvases, I usually cover the canvas with a wash of quinacridone violet.  This is a very intense pink that I mostly cover up with the rest of the painting.  I often paint wet-on-wet causing the underlying pink to blend in —in subtle ways.  After venturing out with works on paper earlier this year, I’ve started exploring a looser and less defined style with my larger canvases. I don’t preplan or sketch out what I want to do.  I prefer to put paint down immediately, then “solve the challenge” of making the marks work aesthetically.  I’ve been told the newer paintings have a sensuous quality, but for me the work taps into a somewhat unconscious level of my being.  I let the brushwork, forms, and colors carry me forward. 

Me: Do you rework your paintings at all?

Lisa:  I rework paintings quite a bit.  With the cost of paint and canvas, I will rework anything that doesn’t please me at the highest level!  Once I have a photo of the original work, I have no qualms about making something new out of it.  Only occasionally have I regretted doing this. 

Me: Do you work in any media other than painting?

Lisa:  I also do stone sculptures using a technique I learned from the famous Chapungo sculptors from Zimbabwe.  I don’t use any power tools.  I work very slowly chipping away here and there, filing the stone down, sanding, then polishing it with a paste wax.  I find the process very meditative.  In the last month I’ve been learning to use power tools to sculpt, but I don’t think I’ll continue it for long.  Power tools are faster but I’m not very good at putting up with the noise, dust, and numb hands.  So I’ll probably go back to using hand tools.  I find sculpting to be the perfect counterpoint to painting.

Me: Do you prefer to sell your work through galleries or directly from your studio?

Lisa:  I prefer to sell my work through the studio but of course I’m open to any means of selling.  The online world blurs these distinctions to some extent.  I’m considering signing up with an online company that takes care of all the promotion for a cut in the sales price.  And the First Friday events in my studio have allowed more people to see my work than would otherwise be possible.  Lately I’ve been pulled “kicking and screaming” into the world of social media; Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, blogs, and websites. For me, every minute I spend on the computer is draining— which probably just shows my age.

Me: What strategies would you recommend to someone who wants to survive as an artist?

Lisa:  Nobody has to tell you that earning a living through art is trying.  Some artists will gear their work almost exclusively to what sells.  Others create just for themselves and find there isn’t necessarily a market for it.   The only strategy I know is what I did: work in a job for about 40 years to save enough money to live on making art.  I’m sure there are other more enticing strategies— I just don’t know them.

To see more of Lisa Purdy’s work, visit her website at

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