Lari Washburn is a dear friend of ours, and a talented painter and recently converted ceramicist. Lari's eye, use of color, composition, and inventive way of creating her unique and signature look have always been an inspiration to me. It was through finding her work a good six years ago that I really began to fine tune my own eye, and saw making art as an extension of myself and the other creative things I already do.
She is one of the warmest, kindest, and most positive people I know. It's a joy just to be around her, and when I get to visit her studio and witness her creating her pieces, I get lost in a dream world of shapes and colors and happiness. She has always been so gracious about sharing her process and work with the world. We have a number of her pieces hanging in our home, and I hope to one day own one of her big paintings.
Her addition of ceramics a few years ago did not detract from her other artistic endeavors; instead it only amplified what was already in existence. Her plates, spoons, bowls, and taco holders (yes, taco holders. Genius!) are just another extension of her drawings, sketches, and paintings. The palettes, markings, and shapes flow from the canvas to the plate so easily, it makes me wonder what other goodies she will add in the future.
It was also with the addition of her love of ceramics that required a new studio space. Working out of a small room in the upstairs of her historical home in Wiscasset, Maine for years, she finally took the incentive to acquire a new studio space in the old mill in Brunswick where she could add her own kiln to the mix.
My daughter and I spent a lovely morning visiting Lari in her new space, while I captured her process, work, and vibe of her sweet little studio.
Read Lari's Q&A below for more informaton!
Describe your work in three words.
Intuitive, Detailed, Abstract.
Have you always been artistic? Did you grow up in a creative family? If so, how did this influence you and your work/path in life?
My mother was an artist. She was mainly a painter in oils and watercolor. Her work was mostly based on nature. She painted landscapes, seascapes and animals mostly. But she also made ceramics and sculpture and was in general what today we would call a maker in all senses. She really could make anything and so for me this was an important influence…although I think it was unconscious as I was growing up. She just did that and it never struck me as unique until much later. She was very different from most women of her era. Very independent as a thinker and shaper of her own life. I owe her a huge debt in how I think of creating today.
Did you start out in painting? Did you pursue art in college?
I was very encouraged all through high school to pursue painting. I went to school and earned a BFA in painting. I later went into a corporate job. The need of money called me in that direction!
You mentioned you used to have a corporate job and eventually left that to start painting full time. What was that transition like and would you have done anything differently looking back?
I worked in a very cerebral corporation, Bell Laboratories, for many years. I eventually found a way to use my interest in creativity during the last 5 years I worked there by founding a creativity center as a consultancy within Bell Labs for engineers to learn ways to access their more intuitive selves to contribute to their work. It was successful and proved to be a benchmark for other corporations. Part of what we offered were intuitive painting classes that I’d found from a wonderful teacher in California. They were great at helping people learn how to take risks. When I left there it was because I wanted to get back to painting. That’s when I got my first studio in Chicago and started to paint full time. That was 1999.
How long have you been in your studio space? What’s the best part about it?
I’ve been here at Cabot Mill Studios at Fort Andross for 9 months. Since moving to Maine in 2002 I’ve had my studio at home. So having this space is great because I’d totally outgrown my home studio, and I’ve wanted to have my own kiln since getting into ceramics 3 years ago. I think the best part is that I treat my studio as very sacred and specific space. I don’t do anything here but work on making my art. I don’t have the distractions I had at home so I’m more focused. I also think I literally needed more space in order to expand my work.
Tell us a little bit about your ceramics…this is a relatively new venture for you? How did this come about and where do you hope to take it?
I’ve always loved ceramics. Something about the earthiness and sculptural qualities of working in clay has always been of interest. And I like making things people can use to enhance their lives in a very utilitarian way. I’d met Ingrid Bathe, a wonderful ceramicist who lives near me and so admired her work, which is very pure and done with so much skill. I started to take lessons from her about 3 years ago, and it just became more and more interesting to me. And I started seeing how working in three dimensions was informing my painting and drawing, and I liked that. There is so much I want to learn and do, and I still study with Ingrid when I get the chance. I’m a beginner in so many ways, but I like bringing the elements of my drawings into the clay. I now have my own kiln so that is very motivating.
What has been the best thing you’ve done for your artistic career?
Learning to listen to my own voice. Working with Stewart Cubley to learn how to access the intuitive was the most important step I’ve made. He is a teacher from California who runs workshops called “The Painting Experience”, and in many ways I owe him my return to painting.
How has moving to Maine from Chicago been for you? Has Maine found its way into your work at all? What is your impression on the Maine art scene?
It was challenging to move from Chicago where I had more ties in the art world to Maine. I think I’ve spent my time here sinking in to my own work in a way I did not do in Chicago. It’s hard to hear your own voice when you are always going to shows and galleries. I lived two blocks from the Art Institute of Chicago so I would go there all the time and just spend time with art. It was amazing and necessary, but at some point, in my opinion, an artist has to stop looking so much and start working from what they have inside. I am still such a newcomer to the Maine art scene, and I want to get out into it more now that I feel my voice has matured into my own.
What has been your biggest challenge in your artistic career?
I’m a naturally shy person and so getting out and revealing myself feels risky sometimes.
Where do you turn to for inspiration?
Nature and meditation are the biggest inspirations for me. I need stillness in my life in order to be creative and peaceful enough to work effectively. I try not to get too inspired by other artists because I think my strength comes from being in touch with where I want to explore. That is not to say that I don’t give myself over to reveling in the work of other artists! But it’s tricky.
Your white pieces are like a signature piece for you. How did you develop this idea and what is the process like?
I developed the technique of pouring acrylic paint using squeeze bottles through wanting to “draw” with paint and not being satisfied with brushes to do that. I love the fluidity of drawing and wanted that in my painting. And once I got the formula right and understood the various issues with thick layers of paint, I got very into the meditative movement of doing these works. I’m still very interested in developing this method. Last year I did a whole series of them on raw plywood panels just to see what the difference in supports would be. I’ve done lots of things with them, but I feel I am still at the beginning of knowing what I am trying to express with them.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope I’m better and better each year at going where my intuition leads me. I want to do a long residency somewhere to focus on the poured paintings. I’d like to curate some more shows. I’d like to learn much more about clay, particularly learning how to make utilitarian pieces based on how they will be used, and also on sculptural works in clay. I want to learn to throw on the wheel also. And become good at making my own glazes. And I hope to find more places to show my work here in Maine and outside of Maine as well. I’d like to show in Europe and Australia too. I guess I’d see myself in the thick of making art in 10 years!
Thank you so much Lari!
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