Olivia Wise conducted the following interview with Lauren Szabo to inquire about her experimental and esoteric artwork.
Prompted by childhood memories of LA fires and earthquakes, you have been painting scenes of deconstruction for over ten years. Could you start by talking some about what “deconstruction” means for you, and how you define it?
Deconstruction is urban decay. It is when man-made construction is in a state of decomposition. It is a subject in which its materials are returning to an organic state. The subjects are man’s invention intercepted nature’s hand. Deconstructing subjects illustrate the concept of time and its life cycle.
What sustains your ongoing interest in deconstruction?
I follow my gut and try to remain honest about what moves me. I cannot tame what inspires me, and I am constantly finding subject matter that inspires me to paint. When I find my subjects I am hit with intense interest, intuition, and passion. I have often thought the series would end, but instead I feel it is evolving.
By what process do you choose a deconstructing subject for inclusion in your art series? Could you talk some about what feelings or thoughts you hope these scenes will engender in your audience?
My process begins with traveling to find the subject. At first I work like a photojournalist on a mission. I am always actively looking at the world and composing it. Once I find a subject that moves me, I find the best time of day for the light to capture it, and explore different angles. If I am lucky, I will fall in love with it and will have to paint it.
I would like to show my audience something that may go unnoticed as beautiful. I try to show them how I see the world. I hope to the elevate the experience of seeing the subject in it’s environment. I hope that the audience will wonder how the scene became to be the way it is. That is what I am constantly pondering when I am painting, and a big part of what sustains my ongoing interest. I usually begin painting my subject with little or no knowledge of its history, only to learn by research and drawing the story behind it.
Critics have described your work as being dark and pessimistic.Are there aspects of your work that you feel are not accurately captured by that description?
I see my art as neutral experience — the combination of a yin and yang. Those that see my art as dark usually follow up with the question, “Why can’t you paint something pretty?” Conventional beauty inspires me on a very basic human level; however, it does not inspire me to paint. I feel those subjects are artworks of their own, and I do not feel as though I should be mimicking it. When I started the series I wanted to share an experience on how I see the world, exposing its complicated beauty, issues, and truths. For me, paradise is a place for vacation, and not the place that I live.
Do you consider the deconstructing forces in your work to be natural or unnatural?
It varies from subject to subject. A weathered advertisement in Palm Springs to me is a natural deconstruction. However, the Salton Sea, which was poisoned by agricultural run off, is an unnatural and tragic deconstruction.
I’m interested in your art’s exploration of the tension between nature’s ability to deconstruct human-made structures and humans’ ability to shape nature. Could you talk some about that tension and how it plays out in your art?
Olivia, you summed up the exploration of tension very well with your statement. My work is a visual journal of examples of this dialogue between civilization and nature.
Do you have anxiety that civilization has exacerbated environmental threats to itself by bringing about climate change? How do you see your art as relating to the threat of climate disaster?
I think that the planet is constantly changing. I am interested in showing our world as a changing environment. Though my artwork may evoke thoughts on climate disaster, I am more interested in the deconstruction upon man made objects due to an inhospitable natural force. I hope my art communicates a lack of sustainability in our culture and our material world impermanent. My work is related to death, something we will all experience. My work reminds me of my mortality.
In your opinion, are there human constructs that should be preserved from deconstruction?
I can’t argue that cultural landmarks shouldn’t be preserved for generations to come. However maintaining such things takes a tremendous effort, and in a way goes against nature. I do think that cultural preservation feeds me though, and I need it to survive. This is a complicated situation.
To see more of Lauren Szabo’s art, visit her Art Gallery on Tikkun and go to the artist’s website.