Spiritual Realm: Interview with Lisa Ostapinski

Lisa Ostapinski is a painter and art educator based in Oakland, CA.  She works with unusual materials and processes including metal leaf gilding, encaustic painting (beeswax), sgraffito and oil paint marbling.  Her work juxtaposes archaic media with modern forms producing a fresh, contemporary take on these art historical techniques.  Lisa’s imagery pulls from a diverse array of sources including textile and jewelry design, architecture, modern painting, the natural world, scientific illustration, religious painting and occult symbolism.  She chooses lustrous, visually rich materials such as gold leaf and beeswax for their natural beauty as well as their historical use in European religious painting to evoke the divine.  Lisa’s work is an exploration of the potential for abstract forms and luminous materials to communicate ideas about the spiritual realm.

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Tell us about your journey as a painter. When did you first start using symbolism in your work?

Years ago I started out painting illustrations from vintage science textbooks from the 60’s that I found in thrift stores. I was interested in how cultures interpret and respond to biology and the natural world; how we make sense of the world and our place in it through visual imagery. It was a natural connection to explore the ways in which humanity visually represents ideas about the spiritual realm. I was really drawn to traditions of mystical symbolism from many different cultures and its distillation of form in the service of representing something as abstract as spirit or the idea of God.

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What would you say your current paintings are about?

My current work is about light and form; my images are a culmination of everything I encounter. I get inspiration from everywhere: the shape of a doorway, quilts, the floor on the bus, a flower, something my son drew, the curve of a wall, a design from an old handkerchief or a necklace. I like how these things are completely random and then in another way they’re not, how everything is connected.

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Is there a significance of the materials you use in your work? Explain how you choose what to include in each piece.

I am working with light and so I use gold leaf which is extremely reflective as well as encaustic and oil paint. These three things reflect light in different ways and I have been playing around with figuring out where I want the gold to show, where I want the white paint to cover and absorb light and where I want the soft glow of the beeswax. I choose these materials because they are natural and beautiful. My work has a certain dynamic energy in person because of the aliveness of the materials.

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What are your favorite activities outside of the studio?

I work full time as a teacher and I’m a mother so that doesn’t leave much else. Spending time with my family, hiking, growing food, sleeping if possible

What do you hope the viewer experiences when looking at your work?

I don’t think I hope anything, I make my work for me, because it’s what pleases me and what I think is beautiful. It’s not sophisticated or conceptual but more craft or design oriented, and I’m comfortable with that. I’m older and I’ve been painting my whole life, decades now, I’ve learned not to try to please other people. But it’s always a great feeling to have someone else get it, you know?

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Name a few living artists that inspire you.

There are so many, it’s really hard to just name a few. Kiki Smith, Nick Cave, Eamon Ore- Giron, Anish Kapoor, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Olaffur Eliasson, El Anatsui, Damien Hirst, Kehinde Wiley, Wangechi Mutu, Ai Weiwei, Olga de Amaral, there are so many more

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What are you currently working on and what should we expect from you in the coming year?

I don’t know what to expect from me but right now I’m working on plenty of new pieces, also commissions and collaborations with other artists.