May 29, 2007

Laurie Lipton

Behind the smooth, almost photographic surfaces of Laurie Lipton’s pencil drawings lies a world of intricate detail. Inspired by the hyper-realistic paintings of the 15th-Century Flemish masters, she has developed an unique, decidedly painterly graphic technique using a permanent-point pencil in a way that mimics these artists’ endlessly patient application of egg-tempera paint. From thousands upon thousands of distinct, precise, cross-hatched pencil-strokes, she builds up rich, monochrome tones. ‘I see my pencils as “colours,”’ she writes, ‘with the “H” leads as cold and the “B” leads as warm.’ Lipton concedes that this painstaking approach ‘takes forever,’ adding that ‘no one in their right mind would have the patience to draw in this way, which is why it works for me so well.’

Detail from 'Love Bite,' a pencil drawing on paper by Laurie Lipton, 1990.
My mother and father had the normal reaction of Jewish parents and exclaimed ‘Genius!’ every time I showed them my work. They were extremely proud of me, and displayed my tortured, pain-filled masterpieces to dinner parties of friends and relations. The dinner guests would look at me—a pretty, beautifully-dressed, petite little sweetie—then look at my artwork, and slowly edge away.
Detail from 'Too Long at the Fair,' a pencil drawing on paper by Laurie Lipton, 1997.
I was accepted into one of the best universities to study Fine Art, but became disillusioned with what was on offer. It was the 1970s, and ‘doing your own thing’ was fashionable. If the assignment was a self-portrait, students would bring in rocks, broken mirrors, or slashed canvases, and explain why it was a self-portrait: talk art. I used to cut classes and hide in the library for hours copying Dürer, Goya, Memling and Bosch.
Detail from 'Rush Hour,' pencil drawing on paper by Laurie Lipton, 1988.
I only draw about the things that affect me deeply. Why bother spending so much time and effort on a piece if I'm not passionately involved? I want my work to dig into me, to be so subjective that it goes beyond itself and is able to affect other people. I am trying to be brutally honest with myself in order to communicate, to touch on a truth. It’s like an archeological dig deep down into the day to day.
Detail from 'Sea Change,' drawing in charcoal on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2000.

The images above are details of drawings reproduced in a ‘press book’ (simply entitled Laurie Lipton) compiled by the artist’s agents in 2003. The quartet of details below were scanned from the catalogue of a 2005 exhibition of Lipton’s drawings on the subject of the Mexican Día de Muertos (‘Day of the Dead’). These books, together with a variety of limited-edition prints, are available for purchase from the artist’s official website, which also features a comprehensive gallery of her drawings.

Detail from 'Los Paragüeros,' drawing in charcoal and pencil on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2004.
I envied the Mexican approach [to death]. The dead were always with them, visiting annually, getting up to all kinds of mischief, a reason for celebration. Families gathered on graves, picknicking with the dead, whole villages turned up to give offerings to households in mourning, and tourists arrived by the busload from all over the world to party with the Mexicans and their ghosts. Death was incorporated into their lives and ‘normalized.’ In the profound words of a TV commercial: they made it a ‘totally organic experience.’
Detail from 'Family Reunion,' drawing in charcoal and pencil on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2005.
Mexicans embrace death in their culture, whereas my culture runs from it, screaming. We encourage youth, beauty and the illusion that we have all the time in the world and will never, ever end. We frantically face-lift, botox, throw vitamins, creams and money at death. Death only happens to other people. Only losers die. Skiulls always look like they’re laughing; maybe the joke is on us.
Detail from 'Madonna of the Sacred Bones,' drawing in charcoal, pencil and ink on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2005.

Each one of Lipton’s drawings can take weeks, or, in some cases, months to complete. Of the last image, below, she writes:

The lovely Lady Death appears frequently in Mexican folk art. This is my painstaking version. If I had painted this image, it would have taken me half the amount of time it took to draw. I had to draw around the white lace. It took eons. It nearly killed me, which would have been very appropriate.
Detail from 'Lady Death,' drawing in pencil on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2005.

The images above are all copyright © Laurie Lipton, and are reproduced here with permission: click on them to see them enlarged, and in full.

Posted by misteraitch at May 29, 2007 09:15 AM

Thank you for scanning the drawings at a high enough resolution for us to appreciate at least some of the details. The lace on Lady Death is indeed pretty crazy - anyone in their right mind would have done the white threads with a brush.

Posted by: 6-pack Chopra on May 29, 2007 03:00 PM

These just take my breath away, and remind me of why I come to your beautiful blog. I especially love the 'Well Cathedral meets Metropolis' image, but all of them are amazing.


Posted by: paulm on June 3, 2007 02:48 AM

Having just emerged from the labyrinthine catacomb of her work (the three fates! that infinitely complicated mantilla! etc.), I must return to work. Thanks!

Posted by: marly on June 7, 2007 05:53 PM

very nice! the obsessive nature and morbid subject matter reminds me a little bit of charles benefiel:

Posted by: fawn lust on June 8, 2007 06:48 AM

Found your website by accident and really enjoyed the drawings by Laurie Lipton!

Thank you!

Posted by: Cangrande on June 10, 2007 03:21 PM Interview with Laurie Lipton

Posted by: beinArt on June 12, 2007 06:53 AM

wow, cool pictures

Posted by: lucy on October 23, 2007 04:15 PM
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