Sunday, November 25, 2007

Art Space Talk: Lynn Digby

Lynn Digby describes herself as a contemporary realist. Much of her work is focused on the search for harmony in complexity-- realism serves as her vehicle. Awareness of the paint surface and tactile qualities of brush and canvas are key to her approach. Lynn explains that she wants her paintings to obviously be what they are without being overly derivative, photographic, or formulaic.

Sharpie Chic, oil on canvas, 20" x 16"

Brian Sherwin: Lynn, tell us about your early years-- your early artistic influences?

Lynn Digby: I think I’ve always drawn. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making art. As a child, I remember looking at wonderful art from the National Gallery, and various collections from all over the world in books at my aunt’s house. I remember being just transfixed at the paintings, and wanting to paint.

BS: Lynn, where did you study? Can you tell us about that experience?

LD: I went to college and graduated from Mount Union College, majoring in art education. I have never "studied" studio art as such. I am self-taught for the most part.
Pierced Portrait, oil on canvas, 16" x 12"

BS: Lynn, you have stated that realism serves as your vehicle in discovering harmony and complexity. You went on to say that you do not want your work to be overly derivative, photographic, or formulaic. Can you go into further detail about your goal in painting? The direction you have taken?

LD: I had decided a long time ago not to be overly worried about what was "in style" or what particular movement was the current rage. That never made sense because I feel that making art is personal and relevant only in the context of my personal view. My personal view is, of course, influenced by my exposure to art and to my environment. But other than that influence, I can’t jump on bandwagons and still make art that is authentic to me. So, my interests have led me to want to communicate a kind of richness that I see in a way that facilitates that message.

I have worked with abstract, non-objective pieces in the past (trying to be novel and relevant to what was considered modern and cutting edge, I suppose), but they have left me unhappy because they can’t quite get to the essence of what I am trying to convey. I understand this approach, but it’s not a vehicle of any use for my work now.

Working with realism is risky because there is so much of it out there that IS derivative, a copy of something better left as a photograph. But for me, the photograph is the beginning only. I use it to give me information that allows me to overlay a sort of ordered saturation. I start with an idea, and use conceptual sketches, photos and direct observation to get me where I need to go.

I think this is what is misunderstood in good photo-realist art, too. I’m not a photo-realist myself, but I know some darn fine ones, and the reason they are, is that they take the image and make it both hyper-real and personal at the same time. They create little worlds within the outwardly detailed world of the photo. They give it MORE.

I try to do the same thing. I like the idea of using a classical painting approach that has proven its immediacy and effectiveness over centuries. I feel no need to reinvent the wheel, or create a new artistic language, because this one resonates with me and serves my needs. I find it exciting to take the well- established language and use it to say what I want to say today. The use of photographic references is a stepping-stone to the concept I’ve envisioned for the painting. I make and manipulate many photographs to give me what I need for my basic idea. Then, the photographs are used as jumping off points to help me achieve my goal for the work. In some ways it’s cool not to worry too much about the process, too. I am really not process driven. I’m concept driven, I suppose. I want the product to stand on its own and the process to take a back seat.
In Your Face, oil on canvas, 11" x 14"

BS: Lynn, you have also stated that you look for serenity and stillness within chaos. You must admit that to some degree we live in chaotic times... how is this reflected in your portraits? While conveying this chaos... how do you find calm?

LD: I love to take absolute chaos of texture, color, form and movement and delve into this, but at the same time, find a sense of unity and calm that keeps it all together. I think this has to do with ordering values carefully as much as anything. But I am also trying to achieve an overall sense of quiet, of focus.

I’m struggling with this all the time. I want there to be another more hidden layer of emotion. I guess I’m looking for a kind of spiritual thing. It frustrates me constantly! People are endlessly complex and in motion, but there is always an essence that isn’t. It’s the constant. I want that to be what presents itself through the outward embellishments and decorations people display.

BS: Lynn, you do not attempt to glamorize the subjects of your portraits... in a sense, you focus on capturing the authentic person that you see. Do you see this as a critical practice? Are you looking for the outward or inner flaws of the individual?

LD: I guess I come from the place of really liking people. I enjoy seeing how people decorate themselves, but I tend to look past the outward "stuff" and want to meet the person within. I find people with interesting features, well, more interesting. I don’t see flaws, as such. People are people, and usually quite interesting and attractive, despite not having perfect features. I’d like to think that the fact that I like my subjects comes through. I don’t glamorize because there is no need, and it’s inherently dishonest to do so. Instead, I try to give an honest, but sympathetic presentation of the real person. (It just occurred to me that I wouldn’t want to paint someone I didn’t like…something to consider!)

I just see no point in negativity or derision for their own sakes. The path can be walked between cynicism and sugarcoated glamorization. The unembellished truth of a person’s appearance is far more interesting to me.

BS: People often hide aspects of themselves while in public. Do you try to convey this in your work? Are these portraits a study in psychology?

LD: I don’t think so. I am just trying to convey who these people are to me, their personality, and their liveliness. I sometimes choose subjects that have outward extreme body decorations, because we tend to stare at those and not get past them. I find it interesting to try to get past all that and make the center of interest something else.

BS: Would you say that they are an exploration of spirituality?

LD: I think so, more and more. Recently, I became aware of symbolist Gail Potocki’s work, and her work has become a major influence in my way of thinking approaches for new work. I like the idea of subliminal, and symbolic elements within the work used to convey a deeper layer of meaning.

BS: Lynn, can you tell us about your studio practice? Do you follow a routine?

LD: Routine? What’s that? I am a total failure at work ethic. It’s my Achilles’ heel. I am trying to force myself to work within a routine, because I know I need that, but so far, I’m all over the place.

BS: In regards to painting-- what is the medium that you prefer the most?

LD: I love oil paint. I’ve only worked for 3 years in this medium, so I’m really still learning the basics of it, but it’s sumptuous and sticky, and so buttery to blend. And I love the rich color, too. I used to do a lot of watercolor, and the transition to oil was remarkably easy. I am pretty sure I’ll never look back.
The Red Dress, oil on canvas, 24" x 12"
BS: Can you discuss some more of your influences? What artists or art movements have inspired you?

LD: Historic artists that have influenced me deeply are: Vermeer, Sargent, Carravagio, Velasquez, and Rembrandt to name only a few. As I mentioned before, recently Gail Potocki’s work has made me very excited. But some other living artists whose work I love (I can’t name them all. There are so many!) are Alex Kanevsky, Sean Cheetham, Jeremy Lipking, Hanjo Schmidt, Marti Jones Dixon, Nahem Shoa, Rose Fremuth-Frazier, and many others. One of the wonderful things about networking online is that I have been able to "meet" some of these people and discuss art with them. This is an amazing and tremendously useful thing!

BS: What is your goal as an artist? What do you hope to achieve with your work?

LD: I want to be able to communicate something that is beneath the surface, I suppose. It’s hard to find words to describe, I’m afraid. It’s like an underlying buzz of something else that lies just below the surface of the senses. Something not visible, really, but present. I didn’t say that very well.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

LD: I think I’d like to say that I am comfortable with having a small voice. I don’t think my work will ever set the art world on fire, but to me, this isn’t what making art is about. I am really happy to pursue my own ideas and play with their expression in paint. My wish is that people who see them enjoy them, and that some of what I am trying to do is made clear. That’s about it, I guess.
You can learn more about Lynn Digby by visiting the following page-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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