An Interview with Archway Artist Joan Laughlin
Where are you from and how does that influence your work?
I was born in the Midwest but have mostly lived in Houston since I was 2 years old. Though Houston is a very new, urban environment filled with lots of concrete and tall, modern buildings, I am attracted to the wild beauty of the natural world that still grows in and around the city, in the cracks and in-between spaces. Although it was not intentional, this interest could probably be seen metaphorically. My mother grew up in the country in a tiny farming community, but due to the circumstances of her time, she ended up, not in the country as a farmer’s wife, but in the modern city of Houston married to an oil executive. Despite the influence of modern life, we can’t be completely domesticated or modernized. There is something feral or wild that still exists.
Describe your work.
I am an oil painter. I taught myself how to paint after I moved back to Houston from Los Angeles in 2002 after attending an MFA program in New Genres where the concentration was mostly on Conceptual Art and Critical Theory. Today, I mostly paint small-ish paintings of flowers, plants and trees, sometimes roots. They range in size from 8x10 inches to 18 x 24 inches. I use photos taken from my walks as source material.
How do you work?
I mostly work from photos that I take. Sometimes, I will try to work from life. But that can be difficult. I have a full-time job in a field completely unrelated to art, so I have to paint around my work schedule and working from photos is more convenient.
How has your work changed over time?
For about 10 years (from 2010-2020), I mostly painted monochromatic landscapes in a color similar to Van Dyke brown. Many people commented that these paintings looked like black and white photos. I showed and sold many of those works, but I got tired of making them, they took forever to do, as they were very detailed. I was still teaching Drawing at this time and every semester when we got to the lessons on Color Theory, I would realize how much I really loved color. I’m drawn to artists who are great colorists. The David Hockney show at the MFAH comes to mind. And, I love the work of local artists Michael Golden and Cary Reeder mostly because they are such great colorists. When I was making that monochromatic work, I was thinking a lot about death and dying. My Dad had Alzheimer’s then and I spent much of my time caring for him. Those days, I would go to the art store and look through the beautiful colors made by Williamsburg Oils and sometimes would just buy a tube of a gorgeous color like Egyptian Violet, knowing I wasn’t going to use it, but it was so beautiful I had to have it. These tubes of gorgeous colors were like precious gemstones to me then. I knew that one day I’d work with color again. And, now I am!
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration on my walks through the Heights where I have lived for 18 plus years. I love looking at the gardens. I also find inspiration in the the wild brush and flowers that I see on the side of the road while driving.
What motivates you to create?
I believe in Beauty, with a capital “B.” During the most difficult times in my life, I have turned to art and nature for solace, hope and direction. I believe that Beauty can save the world. And, that we can find it in our simple everyday environments that we often overlook during our busy, stressful lives.
What are you most proud of to date?
Artwise, my one-person show at Galveston Arts Center in 2017 curated by the wonderful Dennis Nance.
Do you have a network of other artists, and how do they support you?
Well, I’m a member of Archway Gallery which fosters a spirit of support for all of its members. Every month during the monthly gallery rehang, I feel inspired to keep making newer and better work after seeing the new work that the other gallery members have made. Aside from that, my parents always supported and encouraged my art education and activities. I’m the only one in the family to be involved in the arts. It seems that this interest was important for my parents, too. My mom always tells me how much she learns about Art History by visiting the museums with with me. I have visited countless museums with my parents. It’s one of my favorite things to do. They created their own personal docent by funding my art education! For the past 3 years, I have worked in a field completely unrelated to art, and, in a weird way, this has made my practice more important to me. The little extra time and energy that I have is devoted to my art practice. I really need it, don’t know what I’d do without it.