Photos by Laura Sellers and Mary Cozen.
Asheville artist Laura Sellers’ acrylic altered landscapes are what might have happened if Bob Ross spent time abroad with Salvador Dali. Sellers nestles fluffy black bears alongside florescent bold lines and makes the scenic Asheville mountains float away into the clouds on mixed media.
Sellers’ hand-painted grey and blue crates are juxtaposed in foggy, sleepy meadows stirring thoughts of industrialism’s assimilation in nature. She has a way of melting nature down and shaping it back into stirring exhibitions of man’s relationship with the earth.
Sellers is soon to graduate from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC with a Master’s in Fine Arts. AMPLIFIER’s Carmen Vaquera interviewed Laura Sellers to find out what it is about the Blue Ridge Mountains that inspires her work.
[Carmen Vaquera] What is your first memory of art? Did you have one of those magic, sparkly moments as a child where you knew that you were destined to become an artist?
[Laura Sellers] My grandmother on my mother’s side was a landscape oil painter. I remember being little and rubbing my hands across her palette knife paintings to feel the texture. She painted lots of snowy mountain scenes from her home in St. Paul, Virginia, and I wanted to be just like her. I spent a lot of time sketching from life, especially birds and my pets. Somewhere along the line I realized that people thought that I was pretty good at this, and my mom entered me in a few contests in elementary school that I placed in. I’ve also had some phenomenal art teachers in my life who would let me use their nice professional materials for my own work.
[CV] What artists or artworks have inspired you the most?
[LS] I visited Europe a few times on school trips when I was younger, and seeing some of the Italian masters’ paintings was life changing. I’ve also recently started going to New York City with Western Carolina’s MFA class, and I was able to see some Albert Bierstadt landscapes in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I saw, for the first time, a lot of light sculptures like Dan Flavin’s work. That’s sort of where the idea for the projection piece started.
[CV] Your current works and mediums are all over the place. How have your studies influenced that? Is there a unifying theme?
[LS] My work reflects my life. I feel pretty all over the place most of the time, especially driving back and forth from Cullowhee to Asheville every day. There is a unifying theme of human intervention through technology in landscape. The mediums of projection installation, photography and the paintings are all conceptually unified through the idea of altered landscape.
[CV] Explain earthwork photography and how you approach this medium.
[LS] Earthwork photography is a way of documenting onsite sculptural earth works that most audiences would never see since it exists outside of the museum and gallery space. My first inspiration to do earthwork sculpture was Robert Smithson who created Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. It is very hard to travel and see this piece in person, so the work is shown mostly through photography. I started placing cubes in the landscape around my house, and it just seemed so strange and great. It became an interesting game of waiting for the right conditions and finding the right place to shoot the cubes.
[CV] Explain sculptural projection mapping and how you approach this medium.
[LS] The first time I ever witnessed projection mapping was an Amon Tobin set at Moogfest in Asheville, and it was mind blowing. My partner Eric Harrison is a lighting technician, and so we’ve been interested in creating new stage lighting. He downloaded the program to start mapping and has more experience working with it than me. I built the cubes knowing that they would make an interesting 3-dimensional surface for the projection. Then we filmed Catawba Falls with a few cubes placed in the waterfall to project back on the cubes in the gallery.
[CV] What is your medium of preference?
[LS] I think deep down I will always be a painter, but I do not like confining myself to one medium. Photography has always been part of the painting process, and I find projection mapping to be the most challenging and exciting medium at the moment as a way to paint landscapes with light.
“The cubes are representative of our modern intervention on the landscape. I do think the land is being damaged and has already been damaged, and at this point it is more about managing that and trying to find more renewable ways to live in harmony with nature.”
[CV] I am most familiar with your acrylic works of altered landscapes and nature. They’re so unique. What inspires these paintings?
[LS] I do a lot of driving especially back and forth to school. As a child my parents were divorced, so I spent a lot of time on the highway travelling back and forth to see them. I’m also an avid hiker, and I love going on long walks with my dog. There is something about moving through the landscape and the Blue Ridge Mountains that provides endless inspiration.
[CV] How does Asheville and the surrounding area influence your works?
[LS] My artist grandmother lived in the mountains, and I have another aunt who lives in Asheville. In a weird way, moving to Asheville was like coming home for the first time. My house is surrounded by a few acres of unused farmland, and the pastoral scenes just beg to be painted. I also live next to a black bear preserve, so I have lots of encounters with wild life that usually end up getting painted.
[CV] We live in this gorgeous mountain mecca, but everyday we are seeing more of it torn down. Luscious green mountainsides are now prime real estate for shopping malls. Can we enjoy a more modernized city and preserve its beauty at the same time? What are your thoughts on this matter?
[LS] The cubes are representative of our modern intervention on the landscape. I do think the land is being damaged and has already been damaged, and at this point it is more about managing that and trying to find more renewable ways to live in harmony with nature. At the same time I live in a house on the side of the mountain, so I am also part of the problem. It’s a hard issue to handle, but I think the people are pretty conscious of this, and we can all do our best to conserve when we can.
[CV] You do a lot of live paintings. How would you describe this experience to someone who is new to this?
[LS] Live painting is pretty nuts. You drag a blank canvas, an easel and half of your studio out into a field or through a crowd at a venue. Then you do your best to make a decent painting in front of dancing people. I love painting at outdoor festivals because of the space and the natural lighting, but you also have to deal with the weather. I’ve had to run carrying everything through a downpour, and I thought my painting was ruined. In the end, the rain really helped the piece. It’s a great way to meet a lot of people and promote your work, but it is also like putting your heart and soul out there for anyone to judge. It is completely opposite of working in a quiet studio space.
[CV] How do live paintings enhance the experience of a festival or a show?
[LS] Live painting gives people the opportunity to watch a painting happen from start to finish, or at least witness part of the artistic process. I think it adds a visual element to the shows beyond the lighting. It is especially interesting to watch how large groups of live painters develop their work over three or four days at a festival. Some festivals now promote the artist lineup as much as the music lineup.
[CV] You will be graduating this December, and I am assuming it is safe to say that it has been a long road here. Explain what has kept you motivated and what experiences you value most. What have been the most challenging experiences?
[LS] The “long road here” was probably the most difficult part. Western Carolina University is about an hour and half from my home in East Asheville, and during my first year I actually rented a living room and slept on an air mattress in a log cabin to keep from having to commute every day. Eventually I just started commuting, but the drive really wares on you. Driving in snowstorms was probably the most terrifying and inspiring part of the drive. My motivation is always my work and my family. I know that when I can teach at a college level it will make things better for them. My most valued experiences are our group shows and trips to New York. In the end it was definitely worth it.
[CV] What’s next for you? What do you hope to achieve in 2016?
[LS] I am sort of in after shock from completing my thesis, but I guess the next step is trying to find a new studio space possibly in the River Arts District. Until then, I might be painting in my house studio. I’d love to do more projection mapping at festivals and shows, too, so we will see where the cubes end up.
[CV] Where can we find your up-to-date works and how can you be contacted?