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Six of the Best, Part 36: Lynn Neuman

Part 36 of an interview series in which artists reply to the same six questions. Today's respondent is Lynn Neuman, a Chicago artist who makes Realist paintings that are nevertheless densely filled and overlaid with abstractly observed spaces. Her work is currently on show at Open House Contemporary Gallery, Chicago, through the end of March 2016.

Between Us, oil on linen, 40" x 66"
PH: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

LN: I love working with oil. I start by mixing a palette of fresh paint, usually a gray scale and any other colors I need. I get into a rhythm that relaxes me and eases any fears about approaching the canvas. I enjoy creating luminous, lifelike qualities that emerge from the development of translucent layers over time. A few weeks before my recent solo show, I tried to complete one more piece. It was a painting that I'd been planning to return to for a while. There were several structural elements to figure out and it required 2 - 3 more layers of paint and a week to dry in between each one. To keep myself from freaking out, I calculated how much time I had, solved the compositional issues, fixed the hardest parts first and worked from the outside in. Why didn’t I paint in acrylics, I started asking myself – my inner critic becoming louder and more persistent. That would have been smarter. How else can you work on a deadline? With only a couple days to spare, I finished the painting and transported it wet to the gallery. “Did I smell oil on that painting?” one friend asked at the opening. “Yes, yes you did – and I’m sticking with it.”

PH: What piece are you currently working on?

LN: I'm starting a new piece in a series that reflects the interplay of life in urban centers and the connections between people. It's about the space between being together and being alone, interior and exterior, and movement and stillness. I'm interested in capturing the dynamic moments where unlikely visual and compositionally rich scenes come together. I want to give the viewer pause and something to consider in what might have been an overlooked moment.

Through and Through, oil on canvas, 30" x 48"
PH: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

LN: After a long detour, I’ve been bringing storytelling and the figure back in my paintings.  My early work was mostly figurative. In college, I’d trek back to campus on Saturdays just to take extra life drawing sessions. Nerdy, yes… the art school version. When I was developing my skills as a painter, my training largely came from an intensive portraiture seminar. Although I was intrigued by what I had learned, I promptly did a 180 to focus exclusively on landscapes. As I’ve evolved from natural to urban scenes, the figure has come back into the picture and it feels more complete to have returned to my roots.

PH: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

LN: International travel. When I put myself in a completely new environment, I'm forced to see things differently and to consider everything with a fresh perspective. In returning home, my outlook is changed. The familiarity of my daily routine holds new possibility. I look at the same experiences and objects with new eyes, with new insight.

When I’m painting music plays a big role. I usually start the day with classical and progress into other genres from there. When I get stressed, I listen to opera pretty much nonstop.

Together Alone, oil on canvas, 30" x 60"
PH: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

LN: I was babysitting when I was 16, and after the kids went to sleep, I sat on the floor of their parents’ bedroom and made a drawing based on a piece of art depicting two lovers. Later that week I spent hours recreating it from the initial sketch. I planned to give it to my new boyfriend for Valentine’s Day, only, it felt too personal. Instead, I folded it up and carried it around for weeks, until I had the courage to give him the crumpled drawing. A couple years later I started drawing again, took my first serious art course during the summer at DAAP and then transferred into the University of Michigan art school in the Fall. Looking back, I recognize the curiosity and focus I had while making that drawing as my first real work of art.

PH: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

LN: I'm an artist because I'm intrigued by life and the visual language that we use to communicate. I’m fascinated by color, composition and by the process itself. Producing something from the way I take in and experience the world around me, is essential for my sense of joy and purpose. I think that everything we experience in life is there in the creation of art. Often developing a work requires us to be brave. Often we feel lost and have no idea where to go or how to solve a problem. There are times when the lines and forms lead us, and inform what to do next. It takes an incredible amount of honesty and clear-eyed critique to get to the point where a body of work feels complete. There are things you don't want to admit you have to change because it's going to be a huge pain, but you realize that you have to do it. There is passion, hardship, love and self-doubt in the making of art. I enjoy this period of exploration, of existing with a developing work until the time when it's finished and has a life of its own.

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

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