Now Featuring Lana Williams
Oakland painter Lana Williams thinks hard about process, both the process of making a painting and the process of looking at one. Using dyes, watercolors, oil paint, pastel and vinegar, her materials interact and react, shifting as they’re applied. But this activity is offset by the modesty of Williams’s gestures, which are spare and simple and invite slow, calm contemplation. Williams is also part of Bonanza, currently in residence at the LPP+ Residency.
MH: Can you talk about your use of materials in your painting practice? I’m particularly interested in your use of dye as a pigment, because of the way is soaks and bleeds, and often ends up being a very different color than in bottled/powdered form.
LW: I like to experiment with different materials for the challenge that a new medium brings. What interested me in working with dye is its unpredictability. The way it seeps through and dyes the layers of paint on top; the way its intensity shifts on different surfaces. There is also an element of time that I like about using dye– it has a permanence and an aptitude to fade. I think of it as an ephemerality that enters the paintings, which generally contradicts the nature of painting.
MH: How has your mark-making evolved over the years? The works in your LPP edition have a spontaneous, quick hand, and you’ve also made larger works that this same sense of fluidity. Some of your other paintings involve layers and hard lines that seem heavier and more solid.
LW: I think my work tends to shift as my materials do. My older paintings had more oil paint in them and my more recent works use water or vinegar, so perhaps it’s due to the basic chemistry. But it would be interesting to make a heavy watercolor. My current challenge when making a painting is focusing on restraint–to make one mark that will do the same thing as three or four. For the LPP edition, the works were made on a cross country road trip, and I wanted to utilize the immediacy of watercolor and oil pastel.
MH: You just wrapped up a show at Interface Gallery in Oakland. Congrats! Can you talk about what you were thinking about as you prepared that work, and what you have coming up next? (Also, is the travel you’ve been on recently art-related? If so, I’d love to hear about it.)
LW: There were two main thought clouds I had floating around in my mind when I was making the work for my show at Interface Gallery. One idea was related to dress and identity– the complexity, layers, and mutability that dress allows for expression–and the perceptions that are formed of oneself and of others via dress. The other thought cloud arose from the location of Interface Gallery situated in a “shopping” alley, so I wanted the work to address ideas of display, commodity, and value. For example, I made a bench that had a very industrial polished look, but it had round legs that negated its function. I like the idea of expecting something of an object, but somehow the object fails (purposefully) to meet that desire.
Right now I am working on a clothing line with my collaborative Bonanza (Lindsay Tully and Conrad Guevara) for our LPP residency. There is a blending of ideas between our collaboration and my personal practice. The clothing line we are making during the residency stems from a fascination we have with the recent trend of artists producing fashion lines, a critique of fast fashion, and questions of value. We are making unique pieces, but they will be marked as OBO. We are as interested in the forms of hype to promote the line, as we are into making the actual garments themselves. There will be a runway show on Friday, October 23 at Incline Gallery. We have an open casting call for models at the residency, so if anyone is interested they should stop by Adobe Books or send us an email! Bring head shots! Bonanza is also participating in Art Night SF, organized by Jenny Sharaf, where we are planning to have an impromptu, guerrilla-style fashion show.
MH: I really enjoyed your recent KQED profile, which touched on the ways we value objects — your paintings on silk, for example, tiptoeing in territory that alludes to clothing and fashion as well as painting, and ending in the art camp because of context (on a wall, in a gallery), not because of their materiality. How did these interests lead you to painting, or emerge from your painting practice?
LW: When thinking about preparing for my show, I wanted an object to tie both thought clouds together. I came to the idea of the silk from being fascinated with this small square Hermes catalog my boss received in the mail and how the silk scarves in the catalog have a high value placed on them. This led me to thinking about how our culture constructs value systems beyond just clothing or fashion– the somewhat arbitrariness of these systems, and yet how readily they are accepted.
MH: It’s interesting that you’re thinking about paring down, restraint, at the same time as you’re thinking about clothing and commodity, two of the less restrained parts of our culture. How are those impulses working at the same time for you?
LW: Like yin and yang. The abundance and fast pace at which images and commodities are seen and consumed draws me to counter that by stripping away excess. The act of painting and viewing a painting require a slowing down – so making paintings that require restraint seems right right now. To really look at a simple gesture or mark asks a lot of a viewer. I just finished a great book by Terry R. Myers called Save the Last Dance For Me, about the painting by Mary Heilmann. It slows down and does the work of reading the painting.
And Bonanza’s clothing line comes from a more critical look at fast fashion and how it is valued, but is also drawn to making something accessible. We have always been interested in the social play and political function of dress.
MH: How is your Bonanza collaboration going? What is it like to design for something that goes on the body?
LW: Bonanza is great! We just wrapped up a show at the di Rosa where we made an installation called They Know Better, for the show Body Talk. Bonanza is always up to something, whether we are just hanging out or working on a project, both actions tend influence the other. This is the second time we have made clothes for the body, the first was when we made costumes for our movie short, The Initiation, which can be found on YouTube. For the movie and the clothing line we wanted to use a more populous medium, something that has a different form of accessibility than an installation. We often bring other people into Bonanza to make projects, so making clothes for bodies is a very direct way to work with lots of different people.
MH: I’m curious about color in your work and am not quite sure where to start in asking you about it… There’s quite a bit of clear, tropical brightness against atmospheric murk, running right up to but not over the limit of what a beginning painting class might call muddy or overworked. It seems provocative but I can’t pin down why. What are your thoughts about how you use color?
LW: When I was taught to paint, my mentor told me to always keep the excess paint on my palette that I didn’t use. When all the leftover paint mixes together it makes a beautiful harmonious grey muck. When you use this grey next to saturated colors it makes them appear more vibrant–this method has stuck with me.