Artist and curator Erin Lorenzen chatted with Kellie Lehr about her experience as an artist in Northwest Arkansas and what’s next for the Fayetteville-based painter and curator, including an upcoming curated show at 211 South in Bentonville.
INTERVIEW / ERIN LORENZEN
PHOTO / KAT WILSON
I hear through the grapevine that you and I have some things in common. First, that we both love to make art and curate exhibitions. Can you tell me a bit more about your connection to both creation and curation?
That’s great! I’m a painter based in Fayetteville and a curator of a small commercial gallery in Bentonville – 211 South. I’m halfway through my MFA in Visual Art at Lesley University College of Art & Design, based in Boston, MA. I’ll graduate next June. While I’ve done lots of creative things, it wasn’t until 2015 that I really started focusing on my painting practice. Since then, it’s just been a series of small steps.., but in a way, it feels like coming home after avoiding it for so long.
Do you include your work in your exhibitions? What kind of feedback do you get about doing that if so?
I showed my work, by request, when I first took over curating the gallery in early 2019. Since then, I’ve only shown other artists. I’m considering doing something in 2022, but we’ll see. I enjoy working with other artists to create exhibitions and there are so many great artists that I’d like to show. Curating is a very creative process and allows me to stay connected and give back which I enjoy.
I find that the work that catches my attention usually has a common thread that connects it. Do you see patterns in the work that catches your eye?
I enjoy work that is open and illuminates complexities- regardless of the materials used or whether it’s painting, sculpture, ceramics, etc. It can be surprising or disquieting, but I like work that provides a new way of seeing something – from different angles or in a new light. We live in a world that offers quick answers. I’m more interested in the questions. Art that unfolds over time and incorporates nuance and openness, and allows us to sit with uncertainty. I guess I’m just more interested in existence than reality. To me, existence speaks to potentials and possibilities.
What is your experience being an artist in Northwest Arkansas?
Northwest Arkansas has a lot to offer. Fayetteville has the University of Arkansas, and its School of Art is incredibly rich, both in the quality of the teaching and the artists they bring in to lecture, show in their Fine Arts Gallery and give workshops. Fayetteville has two galleries – Art Ventures and Fenix. Also in Fayetteville is Mount Sequoyah, where my studio is located, which now has over 30 artist studios and is also showing work and offering residencies through Creative Spaces. Springdale is growing and has Interform, which recently hosted a month-long art exhibition in 10 downtown buildings called Assembly. Bentonville has the world-renown Crystal Bridges Museum, the Momentary, and 21C. These museums are bringing in artists and cutting-edge art from all parts of the country. This area is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s incredibly dynamic.
We have such amazing art destinations here in NWA. How would you say the market is for art here? How are we doing as far as getting local art into local homes?
I think it’s strong, and there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth. Collecting art from local artists is so rewarding, relatively inexpensive, is an investment in the local community and supporting the artists’ work. Living with art is incredibly enriching on many levels, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot to find work that resonates with you. The more opportunities you can take advantage of to see art in person helps you understand what you like and want to live with. I began collecting art when I moved here and am so glad. It makes me so happy to see pieces by artists I admire that I’ve collected over time. I’ve done a few exchanges with artists, and that feels very rewarding as well. Support for local artists and the organizations that support our local artists is vital.
What motivates you to keep making art? Any words of wisdom for those feeling discouraged as the pandemic drags on?
One thing that has helped me is to just focus on taking small steps. Some days, one small sketch or a few pages read in an art book is all I can do. Another small tip I’ve recently been incorporating into my practice is stopping short. That may sound strange but it’s about stopping when you’re sure of the next step. My work is call and response so this isn’t easy but knowing exactly how I will start the next day makes getting started more seamless, and things can get flowing more quickly. In addition, I find that slight shifts in my mediums and materials help me find surprises and new ways of working that led to discovery which motivates me.
What are you working on now in your studio? At 211? Beyond both?
I’m working with raw unstretched canvases using primarily inks, charcoal, acrylic, and oil paint. I’m using a process of folding and washing in the initial layers, which create geometric and organic patterns. The folding method holds meaning for me both in terms relating to the domestic that is subtle and the way we experience time and memory. I’m thinking about things like compression and expansion, what is hidden and revealed. There’s an art movement called Supports/Surfaces that occurred outside of Paris in the late ’60s which I feel a connection to. Some of the works on unstretched canvas have taken the shape of garments and refer directly to the body, rituals, feminism, and mythology. I’m reading a book right now called The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony.
I’ve also been exploring non-traditional ways of presenting paintings. I think my work as a curator has perhaps stimulated some of my curiosity in exploring other ways to show work – whether it’s outside in nature, being “worn” by performers, and/or draped and hung in different ways in different settings. I’d like to create more site specific work and find more unique venues.
From a curating standpoint, the current show at 211 south (Intimate Immensity featuring Chris Schultz & Adam Fulwiler up until Oct 22nd) was our first annual MFA call for art designed to give current and recent graduates from the U of A an exhibition. The next show I’m working on for 211 South will feature selected works by Robyn Horn, Sammy Peters & Delores Justus. I’m so excited to bring these pieces together in the gallery and share them with visitors. I’ll share more as it gets closer (https://www.instagram.com/211south). This show will open on Oct. 29 and be up until Jan. 23.
I’m honored to have one of my paintings in the Walton Arts Center 2021 NWA Art Exhibition at the Joy Pratt Markham Gallery Sept 30 – Nov 5th.
I also have work at Boswell Mourot Gallery in Little Rock.
Who are some of your all time favorite artists and biggest influences?
Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, Paul Cezanne, Gerherd Richter, Eva Hesse, Carrie Moyer, El Annatsui, Charlene Von Heyl, Sonia Delaunay, Eric N. Mack, Julie Mehrtu, Richard Diebenkorn, Amy Sillman, Michelle Grabner, Lygia Clark, Simon Hantai, Bridgette Riley, Sam Gilliam, Jack Whitten, Marc Bradford.
The teachers at the U of A that have really influenced my work are: Sam King, Marc Mitchell, Stephanie Pierce, Kristin Musgnug, and David Andre
In my current MFA program, these mentors are a big influence: Jered Sprecher, Jason Stopa, Laurel Sparks and Molly Zuckerman Hartung.
IG // @KELLIELEHR @211SOUTH