Monday, March 7, 2011

Lisa Austin, Artist Interview

Lisa in her studio

Some weeks ago I spent a refreshing 3 hours in the Mixed Media Studio of Lisa Austin.  Artists who embrace Mixed Media with the pedal to the metal, full throttle down, give me wide-eyed fascination.   You see, they have serious collections of STUFF.  Unlike us who casually put together a mixed media piece simply because we can't bear to throw away pieces of thread, or buttons, or even the Dorrita chip bag...noooo, they collect serious STUFF! 

Lisa's space did not disappoint me...I hope you enjoy the interview!


Davis: Describe how your childhood as it relates to your art making and creativity? What were your influences?  And how do you think growing up in Louisville influenced you as an artist?

Austin: I had no influences growing up. In fact, my parents and family never encouraged creativity and made fun of it. I was not influenced by Louisville at all. I began to be influenced when I moved to New Mexico in 1977 and worked on a Navajo reservation. 

 Davis:  What are some of your memories growing up with engaging art?  When did the interest become a engaging one?

Austin: Going to the Speed museum with my boyfriend every time we could when we were students. He really encouraged my love of visual art. I did get a minor in art history but never took a studio class until I was 34.


Wall of Inspiration  

Davis:  What led you to your choice of medium(s)?  And what/who were your influences in those mediums?  And how do they relate one to another, if so?  What other mediums have you attempted?  What does it mean to be a mixed media artist?

Austin: I was a studio potter for twenty years and got arthritis in my neck and had to retire from that. I hated having to do that because I was at the top of my game. However, I always knew I couldn’t keep dragging around hundred pound bags of clay much longer and always said I would quit when I was 60. It happened when I was 50. In the back of my mind I thought I would be doing fiber…it reminded me of clay, very tactile and flexible.  I love color but when I tried to work with fiber, I really missed the third dimensional quality, A LOT! I had been collecting cool stuff for years and as I looked around at the mixed media being done I knew I could do better, started and never looked back. I love Ed Klienholtz and Joseph Cornell. They make such contrasting things. Ed makes whole rooms and Joseph did small little boxes back in the ‘30s but they speak volumes. I had the great luck of seeing a Kleinholz retrospective at the Whitney several years ago when I was in NYC and I went nuts in there. I was talking to myself and running around. I did not look like a sophisticated New Yorker for sure. I saw the largest collection of Cornell in Chicago at the Art Institute a few years ago and was so disappointed. They looked dusty and beat-up.

Austin continued: What it means to be a mixed media artist is you get to be insulted a lot. I hear “I could do that” more than I care to and I think to myself “go ahead. You can’t.”  It is much, much harder than it looks. There are lots of people out there who get magazines and get “inspired by them” but I can tell who reads which ones because their work is often very derivative. But they think they can do it. The problem is: they frequently don’t do it well and there is not much very original about it. People who have junk lying around think they can too but usually it just looks like junk on a piece of plywood.

 Davis:  Describe your daily art making practices.  Include how your approach to design and what inspires you?

Austin:  I work almost every day on my art. At least five-six days a week. But I never stop thinking about it and being open to things that interest me. I keep a journal of words or concepts that intrigue me and I often turn to it for inspiration. I am always writing down new things in there. That probably comes from my background as a professional writer back in the day. I like to work with a theme since it makes sense to me somehow to work that way. My approach to design is really intuitive. I go with my gut and one of my greatest compliments was Jane Dunnewold asked me how long I had been a designer?  Then a graphic artist?  She was really surprised when I said neither. 

only a smidget of the cigar boxes stacked and ready to go

Davis:  Artistically speaking, what challenges do you face and how to you (plan to) overcome them?

Austin:  I probably work slower than I want but that is because I am very particular about what I do, what I use, how it is done, etc. So it usually takes me a good week to make one piece. Rarely, does it happen quickly and sometimes I will tear it apart and do it over because I am not happy with it. I must like what I do first before I hope anyone else does. I have no plans to overcome this. It just is how I am. I do not want to make mass quantities of something so it takes more time.

 Davis:   Do you work in series? Or does each piece stand alone?  Share your reasons for either approach.

Austin:  Usually I work with a theme instead of a series. However, each piece is one of a kind. It seems to focus me. I would be even slower if I didn’t do it this way!

the lazy susan method for button storage

Davis:   Share the milestones that mean the most to you as an artist.

Austin:  The first award I ever got many years ago as a potter. The first time I was in an international exhibit. The first time I was ever featured in a book.

Davis:  Whether it is the intent of an artist to become an entrepreneur, artists are thrown into the role the first time someone wants to purchase something they’ve created.  What advice can you share that speaks to the business side of art?

Austin:  I have several things I guess. One is: if you get “precious” over something and you can’t bear to sell it, keep it. If you are keeping too much then you are getting too precious about your work. Two: price what you think it is worth and then price what you want for your labor and consider what the market value is of your piece. Often they are far apart. If they are too far apart, you need to consider a more efficient way to work or else consider the fact you will have these for a long time until they sell. Three: if you are selling too fast, you are selling too cheap. Four: this IS a business, make no doubt about it and always remember that. Keep good records. Promote yourself. Be business-like and professional with your customers. Be on time and keep your word.

frames hanging from the ceiling

Davis:  What are your future goals and what should we be on the look out for you in 2011?

Austin:  I have a show coming up in March at Tim Faulkner’s Gallery in Louisville that is called “The Art of Seduction” and it is vintage female nudes. I hope to start a wall hanging of my trip to Africa in 2006 and spend the summer working on techniques I have learned from Jane Dunnewold. I have half-screened stuff laying around that I have never washed. That is terrible but my knee replacement, this summer’s horrible hot weather, and then work has gotten in the way of my experimenting more with fiber. I am DETERMINED to work on that next summer so hopefully you will see more fiber work coming from me

DSC_1031touch the Buddha wall for inspiration


Lisa's show, The Art of Seduction is hanging at The Tim Faulkner Gallery and will run through March 30th.  The opening reception is this Thursday, March 10th from 6pm-10pm, 632 East Market, 502.381.1314.

Lisa austin nude
Emma, by Lisa Austin

Lisa Austin's Website.



  1. Nice interview! Interesting that she felt no influence on her art from her childhood. I am sure it is there, just not apparent!!

  2. nope.....not a bit. i grew up in a very negative environment and my work is whimsical.

  3. I really enjoyed this interview. Lisa, you have great STUFF!