The following interview was conducted in person at Eyebuzz Fine Art on October 3, 2007. Tim Thayer interviewed Lois Cremmins.
TT: Hi Lois.
LC: Hello Tim.
TT: What I want to talk about is your painting and I think a good place to start for an introduction is: how do you start a painting? What is the process you go through?
LC: Well, generally I have sketch books and I'm constantly drawing in these little sketch books - black and white, pen and ink drawings - they're tiny. They're little snippets of things I've seen or heard or felt or observed in some way. Some I can pinpoint exactly where they were and some I have no idea. They come out of somewhere in the recesses. Then I look through these drawings and select something to develop into a painting. Occasionally I start drawing without these little drawings - but often they are in my mind anyway.
TT: Some of them (the sketches) are things you have seen - I talked before with you about the school yard one…
LC: Yes, some of them are from things I've seen but most of them are probably from things I've seen but they're from somewhere in my subconscious. It might be something from a TV show or it might be some face or person. It might be something I read in the New York Times Magazine and I really liked the blue of someone's jacket against the green of something behind them. So it's not really about what it is of - it's more about the painting, not really about the subject.
TT: And the ones that are based on what you've seen, like the school yard one, and I know you are working in an expressionistic way, but are you trying to paint the actual scene or just get an impression of it. For example, did you see a moment at the school yard when the kids were in that exact position and it's in your head and you want to put it down (on paper/canvas)?
LC: The school yard thing is funny because I can tell you when I saw it. But for the most part [the work] is not something that I can even remember seeing - it's just in the recesses. I was surprised that I was able to draw out that school yard scene - because I don't usually do that.
TT: So the ones that aren't from "out there", the ones that are inside your head, do you feel that they are narrative in any way? For example, we have the one here of the man in the chair; do you just start sketching and he just comes out?
LC: Yes, I just start sketching and it comes out, it comes out as a narrative. I guess I see life as a narrative, as little stories. But sometimes they are also abstractions - well they ARE abstractions.
TT: For something like this painting (Man in Chair), is it a very specific story or is more that you want the viewer to see any story they want - like it could be their dad reading in a chair?
LC: There is no specific story whatsoever. It just is. And it's absolutely for the viewer to bring their experiences of life to my work.
TT: Is your work personal to you also…does it invoke things inside of you?
LC: It's all personal to me because it comes from me. But sometimes I'm just an observer, on the outside, not really on the inside, just watching.
TT: What are the materials you like to use?
LC: I like to use all kinds of paint - watercolor, gouache, some acrylic and oil. And lately I like to mix them all up. I like a watery quality. So even if I'm using oil I'm thinning it with tons of turpenoid. I've always been a watercolorist, from way back. And I love how things run into each other.
TT: Why did you switch from watercolor?
LC: I switched from watercolor because the colors are just not vibrant enough. I switched to gouache because I liked that opacity - the deep "vibrantness." But I also like to leave the light coming from within the painting. So that's why I'll work with gouache, and the gouache is very opaque but then when I work with oil, the oil is so much thicker that the gouache comes out from behind with more light.
TT: Obviously you've worked with a variety of mediums. But have you tried stuff that is not successful?
LC: I always hated acrylics. I didn't like that plastic look of acrylics. But I've found a new kind of acrylic that I've been experimenting with that I like very much. It has more of a flat quality to it.
TT: Do you feel like you are at a good point with the material - or do you feel like you want to keep going forward and trying lots of different things?
LC: I don't really want to experiment with material so much because I'm trying to experiment with what I'm trying to say, what I'm trying to do, what I'm trying to paint.
And the materials get in the way if you are playing with them, in my mind. I like to have mastered what I'm working with so that I can get on with what I want to do with it.
TT: How long ago was it that you started working with these materials?
LC: About five years ago I starting working with gouache. 25 or 30 years ago with oil and watercolor. I like working back and forth between these mediums, between water and oil.
TT: I see a lot of links to Expressionist work - German Expressionism or even work from the 1980's such as Jean-Michel Basquiat. Do you share anything with them? Are you inspired by them? Or are you on your own track, doing your own thing?
LC: I've been looking at art all my life. I've spent my high school years cutting classes to go the Museum of Modern Art - All I've ever done is go to museums and galleries. I think I'm influenced by everything I see, but I love the German Expressionists. I especially love one particular artist, recently, but all my life - Emile Nolde. He also worked with the mind, with remembered images. I also love the Post-Impressionists, the sense of color. Not so much the Impressionists but the Post Impressionists.
TT: To my eye I can see where their influence comes in, but where do you think you break off from them?
LC: Umm….not doing pretty scenes of interiors and women with parasols and things like that. Life is very different now. There's more tension in my work, maybe. …. Where do I break off? I'm not sure, maybe it's for the viewer to decide. I'm living in the 21st Century not the 20th Century. I think my work has more light in it. I use the white of the page more. I'm not trying to paint like them…they are just painters that I'm drawn to.
TT: Why do you paint, as opposed to doing some other type of artistic expression, such as writing or sculpture or photography?
LC: Well, that's a good question. First of all, I see everything in flat. I cannot do ceramics or sculpture. I've tried those things and they're just frustrating to me - it doesn't interest me. And I'm drawn to paintings, I love paintings. But I can tell you, all my life, except for raising children, the one thing that's made me feel worthwhile is painting.
TT: I know what you mean about sculpture - I remember working on something and then realize I have to move around it - it was really hard to get my mind around it.
LC: Well, some people think in three dimensions - or many dimensions- and some people think flat. I think flat for an image.
TT: How do you like to work - in terms of number of hours, do you like big blocks of time, or a little bit everyday?
LC: I basically mull over things for awhile - a long time. And then I need stillness to do that. And then I start working and I don't stop for days and days. I just get into a creative frenzy. I forget to eat lunch - things like that. And think about it all the time - well, I think about it all the time ALL THE TIME. But especially when I'm working - it's hard for me to drive…it's hard for me to function in other ways. So I'm not one of these people that can go to the studio 9 - 5 and at 5 o'clock shut the door and walk out. I don't function that way.
TT: And the sketch books - do you carry them around with you or are they lying around your house…
LC: I always have a sketch book with me. I also keep one by the side of my bed - like people have a diary - a lot of times I do some sketches before I go to bed. Or in a relaxing time during the day I'll sit down and do some sketches.
TT: I would assume the sketches are much looser - not so much in the way they are drawn, but more in terms of subject matter - so is there an editing processes to get from them to a painting? Would you not do a painting from a sketch because of a subject matter?
LC: Surprisingly I think my sketches are works of art as they are. I surprise myself how interesting the compositions are - and a lot of times the paintings are verbatim - right from the sketch. I don't edit a lot.
TT: So it's more a question of time - you can't make all your sketches into paintings… so how do you decide what becomes a painting?
LC: I just look through them and something will make me say "Oh, I'll paint this one."
TT: In the paintings, color is very important. With the sketches I assume you are just working in black and white - with pencil or pen…?
LC: Pen, black pen.
TT: So is that kind of nice to have those two different worlds, color and black and white?
LC: It is. If you look at my paintings there is a lot of linear quality to it - there is a lot of movement of the thin brush. I use a tiny little brush and I "draw" a lot in my paintings - kind of like drawing/painting. So those come from the sketches, and the sketches are the compositions. They are the framework I work with in order to put the color on.
TT: So then, where does color fit in, in terms of the meaning of the artwork?
LC: Oh, color is all the meaning of the art work. It's about the color. I feel like, you have five senses, but color is your sixth sense. It seeps into you and it creates emotion, creates a story itself. So it really is all about the color.
TT: So I see - from a sketch the painting becomes a completely different thing.
LC: Absolutely. It goes somewhere else.
TT: To recap - you are perfectly happy to have people interpret anything they want from it, and that you have your own personal feelings about it, is that right?
LC: Yes, I'm perfectly happy to have someone see what they want. And for me they don't really represent a particular moment or time. For me the interpretation probably changes all the time anyway, from day to day. They are very open ended. A lot of times I'll paint something and it will surprise me, because I don't know where it came from and what it's about. I have to live with it for awhile to even accept it.
TT: Yes, that's the thing about painting, is that it is not as literal, it is not a story that you are telling, it is more abstract.
LC: Right. And my goal when I'm painting is to make an interesting abstract painting. It is about the paint, it's not really about the subject matter. My interest is the paint when I'm painting.
TT: I know for a lot of artists it is about the process of making art and the end result is not as interesting to them. How do you fit into that?
LC: The process is important. But sometimes it's not fun. Sometimes it goes easy and it is fun but sometimes it is really hard and I don't know what the heck I'm doing. So I like the result when I'm satisfied with it. So I'll say "Leave this. This is the result I'm happy with."
TT: What sort of outside influences do you have, what do you like to do besides painting?
LC: Well, besides painting, I like to look at art. I work part time in an art museum, a contemporary art museum. I also, have a job: I'm a florist and a garden designer. I've been doing that for many, many years. I have a wonderful family. I like to jog and I love to travel. I like to be in nature. I used to like to garden, but not so much anymore (laughs).
TT: Because gardening is part of your work?
LC: It is part of my work, but it also takes time away from my painting. So I force myself to stay indoors, even on a nice day, and that is very difficult but I really want to paint, paint, paint. And gardening is too time consuming. Even though it is very satisfying and beautiful, it's very time consuming.
TT: Do you have any influences outside of painting? Does music influence you?
LC; I forgot to talk about that - yes. Music especially. A lot of times just listening to the radio I'm conjuring up paintings. Based on the rhythms, mostly. I like the rhythms - maybe you can see the rhythms in my paintings, I don't know - but they are part of it. I was married to a musician for years so music is within my soul.
TT: Are you also a musician?
LC: No…I played violin, but I'm not a musician.
TT: Well, thank you very much.
LC: You're welcome.