Artist-in-Residence Lisa Diane Wedgeworth Champions Empowerment and Creativity
August 14, 2018
by Ryan Lutz
We sat down with our newest resident artist at the Camera Obscura Art Lab, Lisa Diane Wedgeworth, to learn about her journey as an artist, the public events she's offering at the Camera Obscura Art Lab, and her desire to empower creativity in others. Wedgeworth’s project at the Camera is a suite of small-scale abstract paintings that acknowledge and celebrate the space she and other black women occupy amidst the rapidly changing demographics of her community.
She'll also be leading workshops that focus on handmade expression and the exploration of digital tools, and a series of discussions specifically created for this residency called "Claiming Creativity." In total, these events seek to engage participants in an integration of thought, feeling, analysis, expression and sharing.
Lisa Diane Wedgeworth will be working onsite alongside fellow resident Aparna Sindhoor from August 18th to November 17th. The presentation of their new works will be on Saturday, November 17 at 3 p.m. RSVP here. Click here to learn more about our other new Studio Resident, Aparna Sindhoor.
Question: Could you talk to us about your creative journey?
Lisa Diane Wedgeworth: I have been making art since I was a child at Wilton Place Elementary School. I have vivid memories - while other kids were outside playing during recess - I was inside making a dollhouse out of cardboard boxes and having staff members support me by allowing me to have the space and privacy to create. I have been making since I was very young, but I don’t remember ever really using the word artist. I did always have an interest in looking at art and storytelling. I loved folktales growing up and hearing my mother have conversations with people, asking simple questions like "How did you meet so and so?" And these amazing stories would be shared. So that has always been interesting to me, the telling and sharing of personal stories. I draw from these memories, they inform my work today. The making, the storytelling, the personal narrative and my interest in the stories behind objects comes from there.
I don’t think I used the word artist to describe myself until I was in my early twenties. I guess I always knew it intellectually, but never had the vocabulary to say I did this kind of art or that kind of art. And because I couldn't draw in high school I never said I was an artist because people always assumed that you knew how to draw if you were an artist. It wasn’t until I took a photography class in high school did I find my medium and when I was in my twenties and started a body of work called "The Goddess Series," photographing black women nude in nature that I started using the word. For me, they were the embodiment of various goddesses and spirits. When I produced that body of work, that is when I became comfortable calling myself an artist.
Q: Tell me more about this focus on black bodies and space in your current project.
LDW: Some time ago I was invited to participate in a collaborative project in Miami, and the statement for the project included the idea of artists being the forerunner or leaders of gentrification. When I read that my first thought was, "ain't nobody following me to Florence Avenue," which is where my studio was located. Developers and Starbucks weren't following me to the Hyde Park neighborhood where my studio was located (it is now a medical marijuana store). At this time, I was taking the bus and seeing a lot of trash on the ground. Except, I'm looking at the trash and seeing artifacts. This is evidence that people exist here! Everything from the floss picks to cigarettes to hair is proof of our existence. And I was thinking that there were people here before the explorer (the collaborative project was based on a historical explorer’s work); before the gentrifier.
People always use this word discover, and on some level I understand it because it’s a simple term. However, it becomes a much more loaded word when discussing gentrification and new populations of people moving into an existing community, and then the existing community getting pushed out, ignored, or excluded from a community they already lived in. So I started thinking about that when I saw abandoned braids and tendrils of hair on the sidewalks, and seeing these hair artifacts as evidence of women who are here, but aren’t seen. I started collecting the hair, bagging it, documenting where and when I found it. I also began photographing black women’s hair, specifically colored braids and weaves. I took the hair and reinterpreted the colors that they were wearing in their hair and made it into small abstract paintings. Then titled the paintings with their first names. The paintings become a manifestation of a particular woman's energy or aura. I see these abstract paintings as celebrations and acknowledgements of their existence. I've also been thinking about perception and language used to describe the changing neighborhoods and the populations living here. You can see a black woman with multicolored braids and refer to her as ghetto, then while in Santa Monica a white woman with colored hair is perceived to be artistic or her colored hair is evidence of her personal expression.
Q: Why did you choose abstraction?
LDW: I've been making abstract paintings since grad school, I didn’t feel the need to paint the women I met during my daily excursions in a recognizable form. Abstraction allows me to reimagine these women as color, shape and texture.
Q: And the concept of helping others empower themselves creatively?
LDW: It's just in my nature to empower others. I remember teaching kids in my neighborhood how to do backflips, even though I couldn't do a backflip myself, but I encouraged them… (smiles) I taught neighborhood kids how to ride bikes, I taught my daughter, my sister and my daughter’s aunt how to drive. It's just my nature to teach and empower people. And everyone has the potential to be creative; oftentimes we suppress this internal need. It's important for us, especially in this time in our culture, for us to embrace that. We need to paint, cook, draw, write, dance, weave or whatever we need to do, to tap into some form of creativity to stay sane, to find some type of joy in our lives. That's why I am excited to launch this Claiming Creativity discussion series at the Camera Obscura.
Q: What should people expect with your classes?
LDW: I structured the workshops in a way that allows us to use different parts of the brain and a variety of mediums to excavate and exercise different forms of thought. We begin with a writing workshop, then either a drawing or painting workshop, followed by a workshop in which we’ll utilize digital tools, then rounded out by a fourth workshop in which we’ll discuss the need and routes to claiming creativity. I wanted to create workshops in which people with different learning modalities and different needs of expression could be empowered. The goal of the workshops is to give people exposure and different skills with a variety of media. Hopefully the different media will give you different ways to think about or analyze your life, your experiences from which you’ll draw from.
Overall, I want people to come without any preconceived ideas. Expect to experiment, expect to play. Don’t take yourselves so seriously. We only have a short time here and my desire is to ignite interest or hunger for creativity or personal expression. I want participants to be free to experiment and make mistakes. Mistakes are how you grow. Be open to and ready for experimenting and playing because that is what this is about!
A full list of Wedgeworth's workshops is available here.
Based in Los Angeles, Lisa Diane Wedgeworth is a inter-disciplinary artist whose work is rooted in storytelling. Informed by personal narratives, her work takes form as painting, video, installation, photography and archived oral histories. Wedgeworth earned her MFA from California State University, Los Angeles in 2014. Her work has been curated in numerous gallery and museum exhibitions, including the Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles and the Harvey B. Gannt Center in North Carolina. From 2015 - 2016, Wedgeworth exhibited emerging artists in her studio-based project space, PS 2920, formerly located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. She is a recipient of the Animating the Archives: The Woman's Building A Metabolic Studio Archiving Project Fellowship and was the 2016 Georgia Fee Artist/Writer in Residence in Paris, France. This summer, she was a Hermitage Art Fellow in Englewood, Florida.
About the Camera Obscura Art Lab
The Camera Obscura Art Lab at 1450 Ocean in Palisades Park is a hive of activity, where adults of all ages can roll up their sleeves and dive into hands-on crafts, art, and cultural programs. Artist Residency programs invite local artists into the Camera to practice their craft and share their work with the public. Click here to learn more.