“It’s the beauty or poignancy of something that can’t be
expressed in words (at least I can’t) that moves me.”
—Lari Washburn, artist

interview NANCY GORDON
portrait photography WINKY LEWIS

Artist Lari Washburn.
Map with a Thousand Folds #2, 2019
48 x40 inches
acrylic, mixed media, collage on canvas
Pond, 2019
40 x 36 inches
oil and collage on canvas
Weather #1, 2018
36 x 36 inches
acrylic, mixed media and collage
Chemex #298, 2019
12 x 12 inches
mixed media, collage on repurposed Chemex coffee filter
My Love Affair with Verity, 2020
46 x 36 inches
oil, mixed media and collage on canvas
Weather #2, 2020
11 x 14 inches
mono print with drawing on rag paper
Weather #3, 2020
12 x 14 inches
mono print with drawing on rice paper
Seen/Unseen, 2020
36 x 36 inches
oil, mixed media and collage on canvas
Moving Through, 2020
48 x 36 inches
oil, mixed media and collage on canvas

Tell us a little about yourself and when you began your painting career.

Making art has always been a part of my life because my mother was a painter. I grew up seeing how a woman negotiated a creative life so it was natural for me to get a BFA in painting. But I then went into a corporate job and didn’t paint for years. In that job I founded a creativity center and one of our offerings was intuitive painting. That got me back to painting, and I have been making art full time for 20 years now.

Any words of wisdom from your early career that have stayed
with you?

Strive to be yourself no matter what, and get a studio. There is such a difference between learning from other artists, as one must, and trying to be “like” other artists. To trust your own voice is a lifelong process, but that’s where everything I do comes from. And having a place to make
art is very crucial, in my experience, to moving forward.

What does being an artist mean to you?

Being an artist is a way of life. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s about call and response. It’s about evolving and meeting myself over and over again and trying to not turn away from that truth. I offer that to the world and hope it gives someone else some sort of refreshment or encouragement that they too are allowed to follow their own path.

There are glimpses of reality in your paintings even though they would be considered abstract, certainly at first look. For example, in Mono 1 you begin to notice a beautiful running horse at the bottom. How do you view your treatments?

My work is, for the most part, abstract. I’m deeply affected by the natural world, but I’m not interested in painting it directly. I want to get at that layer underneath things, to what the essence or feeling of something is. Most of my process is conducted unconsciously as I absorb what I see in my daily round and in my travels. This food, so to speak, nourishes me as I make my marks. When things are going well I’m connecting with something that’s made up of all I’ve seen and experienced, and some energy that comes through me. My task is to be present but get out of the way.

What is it about an idea or scene that says, “Paint me!”?

It’s the beauty or poignancy of something that can’t be expressed in words (at least I can’t) that moves me. And it’s mostly not a direct call that says “paint me,” but more of an insistent excitement about something that won’t leave me alone. And once I commit to following that call I have to do it justice. I have to get it absolutely “right.” I often want to be done with something well before the work is done with me.

What type of reference do you use: Sketches? Photos? Memory? Imagination?

I keep a number of sketchbooks going all the time, and I keep a daily handwritten journal. I sometimes use marks from my sketchbooks in my paintings. Those marks invariably change as I work on something, but those references are a useful starting point. My journal is the place where I get to know what I want and what my next moves will be.

You use collage in your paintings, often visibly, sometimes less so. What determines how you will use it in a given painting? Can you give us an example?

I follow my intuition with collage as I do with all my work. Collage is usually a response to wanting a layer of drawing in a work. And I like the freedom to delve deeply into delicate, time-consuming drawing that I can use wherever I want it later. For example, in Seen/Unseen (which is a book title I stole), I really wanted the island shapes to be a combination of paint and graphite so I employed collaged drawings there.

Has there been an evolution in your work within the past
five–10 years?

Oh yes, every day is an evolution. My work has become much more abstract over the years, but I will always try to go where the work leads me rather than the reverse.

What time of day is most productive for painting?

I’m a complete morning person. After 3pm I’m done. I get up very early and do all my chores, then head to the studio for four or five hours. I will often sketch in the evening but I don’t do larger work then.

Do you listen to music while you paint? If so, anything in particular?

I listen to music sometimes. Maybe jazz or classical or really all sorts of stuff. But many days I just keep it quiet in my studio, as I don’t want to be too emotionally influenced by anything.

Does your wild tortie cat have a special studio job?

We have a tortie cat named Emily who is so sweet and silly, but she is way too assertive to be anybody’s assistant! She stays home and does whatever she pleases while I go to work. She’s been enjoying the company of my work-at-home husband, John, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What do you love about painting or what drives you to paint?

The world and everything in it makes me have to paint… just to get some peace with everything I feel each day about living. Mysterious things, intense realities, things I can’t control or understand, beauty, harshness; all get explored and help me stay grounded as best I can.

What do you hope to give people through your paintings?

A moment of respite. A sense that being fully present can mend broken things and can make life richer.

. . .

Represented in Maine by Cynthia Winings Gallery:

Represented in Massachusetts by Clark Gallery:

Favorite Maine restaurant?
That’s easy... Chase’s Daily in Belfast for any meal,
but especially Friday night dinner!


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