Interview: Lara Williams

Lara Williams, a visual artist based in the midwest, utilizes the plants in her home and photographs of places she travels to and hikes in her paintings of nature and our kinship with it. Using bright colors and subtle lines, she evokes feelings of contentment in the outdoors.

"In my paintings, I find inspiration in nature and my relationship to the natural world. The idea of control also finds its way into the conversation. I find myself often reflecting on our need to keep nature close, in our homes and offices, and how that sentiment clashes with our urge to control how it moves and works within our confined spaces. I am also interested in how meditative and freeing it can be to let go of that control and allow nature to do what it will.” 


Tell us a little bit about your artistic background.

I’ve been in love with art and painting and drawing since I was a child, and remember coloring with my markers thinking that it would just be the tits to become an artist when I grew up, with the whole image of the starving artist with the turtle neck and funny hat in my head. I even wore turtlenecks for about a week when I was 8 just to feel more like a real artist. I would get so excited anytime I made a new discovery, like how to actually draw a neck so it looked like a neck or realizing that drawing a nose took fewer lines to make it look real. That excitement never really wore off, though I did put it on the back burner so to speak, and just kinda bebopped around until I decided to finally hunker down and go back to school to really figure out how to make it work. I graduated from the University of Iowa just over a year ago and have been experimenting with my work since then. 


Your work has a calming feel to it. Tell us about your process and inspiration. How does each piece come about?

Generally, my process is pretty simple. I can’t even get a sketch to feel good if I don’t have a pull towards why I’d want to reimagine it to paper or canvas in the first place. So I guess my process starts with the initial spark of curiosity and then depending on what I’m painting, I’ll take a picture, set up my workspace or set up a still life, then do a couple sketches, and just dive in. 

My landscapes have always felt calming to paint, they’re of places that hold meaning for me, places I’ve traveled to or places that are always a source of refuge. I’ve always been inspired primarily by the colors and shapes of the natural world, I love hiking and kayaking and just reaching a small area on the lake or river to chill out with the trees and watch the wind move everything. 

The more architectural work was just so fluid and carefree when I started it. I had been forcing a narrative that I couldn’t seem to make work for a really long time while I was in school. Just pushing it and pushing until I finally just felt so burnt out that I started lusting after certain shapes that would come out of the frames and corners of the art building. It felt so natural that the compositions worked better as studies on nature than a lot of my other work at that point. 

And the watercolor still lifes started as ways to study composition and get a finished painting out quickly without stressing over it as much as I can with oil paintings. 


Does your work have any personal or spiritual meanings? If so, how?

There's a lot of personal meaning in the work I do. When I finally came to the conclusion that my art didn’t have to be easy for others to understand why I was painting it, it started feeling more fun and more honest. They teach you in art school so much that you have to value concept over everything, but sometimes a still life of my aloe vera is just a really therapeutic way for me to appreciate its existence and my relationship to the plants in my house and around me.


What are a few of your favorite places to visit or travel to that inspire you?

My favorite place so far is the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. The area was huge, so pristine, and you have to be respectful of the world in order to be there. It's not a place for tubing all day, drinking and playing loud music, which is great, but hardly a way to connect with your surroundings. I also found a lot of inspiration in Thailand a few years ago and veering away from the great outdoors, I actually really love NYC. I’d like to spend a lot more time there, with the museums and all the galleries to choose from. 

What artists do you admire?

The masters that I look up to are Gaugin, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Gustav Klimt and Albrecht Durer. I love Charles Demuth. Also Kandinsky and all the artists associated with Die Bruck. There are sooooo many artists today that are stunning, and while my paintings have not necessarily been influenced by them, I’ve gotten into cartoons and really love looking back at the cartoons I grew up with like Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren and Stimpy, and old Loony Toons, as well as R. Crumb.

Also, I love the work of Mickalene Thomas I also love the work of Mickalene Thomas, and have found a lot of inspiration from Miyoko Ito.


What do you hope your viewers experience when looking at your paintings?

I hope people are inspired regardless of their experience with it. I’ve come to believe that as long as the work makes sense to me, I think whatever someone else experiences is valid and true. So I can’t really expect people seeing my work to see what I do, or what I’m trying to get through to myself, I just hope something happens to them while they’re looking and it keeps them excited. 

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What are you currently working on and excited about in your studio practice?

I can’t wait to get back to my oil paint, but have a one-year-old daughter running around and have felt a little trepidatious with how to keep her away from all the chemicals and from destroying a wet canvas, so I usually just work on that once a week while she’s with family for the day. When I do that, I’m working with the more abstract architectural compositions, but just started a couple landscapes that I’m excited to see what colors I can find.

I’m using a lot of walnut ink my partner and I made a couple years ago right now. Working with the ink we made has always been really rewarding, but now gives me the ability to experiment a lot even with much less time. It's a lot of fun right now, I’ve been using it to work on a  lot of landscape stuff and work from photos I took while hanging out at my mom’s place in Las Vegas. 

On a completely separate plane, I’ve been cutting out a bunch of rubber stamps and experimenting with that. It's definitely a trip, printmaking is pretty crude when you’re new to it, but it gives me more freedom to be silly and more humorous with the subject matter while working my ass off to get a decent registration.