Tamar Arnon: We first came across your work in 2010 when we were instantly taken by the harmonious combination of abstraction and realism in your paintings. Can you tell us more about that period in your work and how you navigated with such confidence between the two styles?
Annie Lapin: I’m endlessly interested in the way the mind organizes visual information. I love it when the drama of a painting can unfold in a kind of Brechtian way, revealing it’s own artifice through obvious brush work and images that barely hang together, all the while drawing the viewer in despite an awareness of the mechanics behind the picture. The paintings for this upcoming exhibition reveal their construction and their method of production more overtly than any of my other paintings, put together in a kind of farcically simplistic manner, but in a way that gives rise to more complexity and possibility.
TA: Is your work mostly based on real places or is it entirely inspired by your imagination?
AL: The work is never based on real places, rather I generate imagery through my understanding of the way space can be laid out in a picture plane. In a way, the picture plane is it’s own place out of time, a stage for the action of the painting. Sometimes the picture plane for a painting happens to open up on an art historical space, so I find myself rearranging ready made marks and light effects from a remembered understanding of, say, romanticism or rococo. The newest works open up into a less defined, weirder picture space. It’s characterized by units of landscape and architecture, which interact with visceral splashes and pours of paint. The idea of the raw canvas also becomes a component of this place; even though there is no actual raw canvas, the simulated color of canvas weaves in an out of the paintings in broad swathes, sometimes acting as ground and other times acting as volume.
TA: You are known for your strong use of colour in your work but your recent London show included a number of monochromatic circular paintings featuring semi-abstract heads or portraits. What is the idea behind these paintings and how are they made?
AL: Speaking to the ideas mentioned above, those works woke up in the in the space of the baroque portrait picture plane. But they’re kind of only half-formed wisps. I was interested in finding an image that stood in stark contrast to the lavishly constructed drama of a Baroque portrait, one in which the painterly materiality of the work was laid bare and minimally applied, but which at the same time could still pull you into the same psychological sphere. The use of the tondo form for some of these canvases was meant to simultaneously highlight the banal/decorative function of this “old-fashioned” type of painting as well as to draw a platonic/mystical circle or “sphere” around the elemental magnetism at the core of this type of portraiture. That duality of opposites is pretty key to that work.
TA: Your current show at the Honor Fraser Gallery in LA marks another shift in your work. Tell us about the most recent visual language you are using.
AL: The new body of work continues some of the ideas that have always intrigued me; how personal individual memory helps construct an image; how space in the picture plane can be made to shift by allowing the viewer multiple reads; how the physical transmits the psychological. But in particular, after working with the found material of art historical language for a few years, I wanted to develop a body of work that was not as laden with the psychology of romanticism, or even the notion of “History”. I wanted to be able to incorporate all sorts of imagery too… I started using spray painted writing in various layers of the works because in letters I find a strong parallel to my interest in the depicted landscape as a form that is highly communicative, but one which can just as easily fall apart into purely formal mark making. I think the work encompasses all of the old ideas about landscape and visual memory and spatial flux, but within a framework that allows for more clarity but also more strangeness.
TA: We see in your work, especially the more landscape based paintings, a fair amount of influence from European art history yet you live and work in LA, a 21st century hub of art world creativity. What’s it like being a young artist in LA today?
AL: I see European art history as a kind of shared globalized paradigm at this point, for better or for worse. But specifically, before grad school I worked in the education department at the Yale Center for British Art. The school groups who I would lead on tours in were mostly kids who had never seen a painting, let alone ever left the city to see anything that resembled the British countryside. I was really interested though in the responses the works in the museum elicited… totally zany reads, but thorough and complex and powerful. I think it’s what led me to think of the forms in art historical work as something that could operate separately from the originally intended content.
While I’m moving away from such specific art historical references, I think moving to LA may have actually heightened that interest originally, because LA is all about faux history and faux landscape. It’s everywhere, houses that look like miniature castles with turrets and stained glass windows, shopping plazas that look like Elizabethan villages, gardens that are lush and pumped with water in the middle of the desert. All these things that don’t belong in the context… I’m kind of in love with the way these forms get recycled, and become something totally new here, in a place that’s only around a century old.
TA: Are there any other art forms that inspire your work like music, film, literature etc?
AL: I read random fiction, but also a lot of straight history books, particularly histories of opposite cultures colliding, eg. the Spanish and Native Americans during the conquest, or Medieval European spice traders traveling to Asia. Not sure exactly what the fascination is, but it’s something to do with how one culture might try to make sense of the forms of another culture… this may be ingrained from my own childhood as I moved around from DC to Kentucky to Tokyo, finding every culture totally mystifying but amazing. I sometimes play piano or guitar to give my mind a rest from the visual – though I’m not very good. That and I also have an unrealized quest to start hosting a semi-ritualistic monthly group sing along with a bunch of artist friends in my backyard… although I haven’t figured out how to make it sound enticing to anyone yet. But one day it’ll happen, and I’m sure it’ll be an awesome disaster.