Lori Wegener, Drawer, Painter & Printmaker
"Waking Dreamscape," by Lori Wegener
Artist Lori Wegener shares with LFF about noticing and rejecting gender stereotype in high school, her conceptual landscape artwork and her latest children’s book illustration project, feminism in her work and more…
My growing up was very stable, linear, sheltered, and rooted in family. I was born and reared in Omaha, Nebraska, in an atmosphere of Catholic tradition, Midwestern modesty, and “family first.” My father, an English professor, and my mother, an English teacher, raised my five siblings and me to be highly opinionated, idealistic, and imaginative individuals who are now involved in art, education, architecture, advertising, theater, design criticism, and women’s studies.
In high school, I started noticing gender inequity in my classrooms and the pressure to conform to a boring stereotype—in particular, a female stereotype—and it no longer felt okay to be me. I felt isolated and a little cheated, and I wished for something bigger and better. By late high school, I had witnessed the intellectual and personal freedom that my older sister gained by traveling far away for college. I wanted those freedoms too!
I moved as far as I could travel without a passport to attain a degree in fine arts at Wellesley College in Boston, MA, a liberal arts college for women filled with free-thinking, driven students and professors, and then a M.S. degree in Art and Design Education at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. I taught in the New York City Public Schools and The Brearley School in Manhattan and worked as the Programming and Development Coordinator at the SONY Wonder Technology Lab in Manhattan. During that time, I also did some design and computer work and published illustrations in academic publications.
Feeling restless and deciding that I wanted to develop my artistic skills and a solid body of art, I returned to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to study drawing, painting and printmaking in the M.F.A. program with Karen Kunc, Martha Horvay and Keith Jacobshagen. I had a lot of enthusiasm, curiosity, ambition and a spirit for adventure that I never really learned to harness and use, and I still struggle with that, so I’ve learned to express this longing and passion through visual art and to transmit that passion to my students.
How’d you get into art?
As a kid, I spent a lot of time in my tree house and in our playroom, imagining and fantasizing with LEGOS, books, National Geographic magazines and art supplies. I often lived inside my head, so transporting myself into the worlds of paintings and drawings was natural and exciting. It is still amazing to go to these visual worlds, and it feels even more wonderful to be able to create such worlds myself. My parents did many art projects with me in the kitchen and took my older sister and me to museums regularly. My father was especially influential. His passion for making and sharing art with me fueled my desire to create. His attention and feedback and that of my art teachers and classmates made me feel unique and fed my pride in being “artistic” and ultimately led me to consider a future in fine arts and art education.
Tell me about your work, style, inspiration?
My drawings, paintings and prints cover a variety of rectangular surfaces that become building blocks for creating a tangible yet mysterious landscape of images from my imagination. My intention is to create a duality of part-abstract, part-representational imagery that captures a place existing somewhere between fantasy and reality.
I hope to engage viewers with my artworks by using heavy, dramatic brushstrokes and line work. The graphic marks of the organic forms curve, twist, bend sharply, fade in and out, intertwine, overlap, repeat themselves and do almost everything a heavy mark is able to accomplish in two dimensions. The bold look and purposeful presence of the marks in my art contrast against the indistinct forms they carve. Sometimes, the marks lighten or blur into shadow, soft texture or indefinite form; however, the majority of the lines and forms are clearly molded and sharply articulated onto the surfaces. Instead of building enormous and completely unrelated encyclopedias of painted squares, collagraph prints, drawings and paintings, these organic, tangible artworks are formally related and build loosely unified grids of imagery.
I hope that observers will feel more involved in the viewing experience by allowing the art pieces to be seen from multiple perspectives, by laying the artworks on the floor, placing them between pieces of glass suspended from the ceiling or painting them on gigantic canvases, papers and cloths. I play with expectations of pattern, predictability and familiarity by organizing many of the same painted rectangular surfaces into grids. However, the drawn and painted images in the gridded collections are very different from one another. Different spatial perspectives, types of marks, levels of abstraction, and measures of distances between viewer and subject matter all vary within each collection.
I want viewers to feel surrounded by and drawn into attempting to find a single, coherent, familiar message and image. I want viewers to use problem solving, play, imagination and mental work to make out the meanings in my art. I want them to ask themselves questions such as: Is what I am seeing imagined organic form or the illusion of something familiar and real? Do I see positive or negative spaces? Are these individual images inside the larger grids related, and if so, how and why? Indeed, many artists create ambiguous or part-abstract, part-representational imagery. I intend to involve viewers in a stimulating art-viewing experience that continuously rejuvenates itself by inspiring questions rather than answers.
"Frontier Lines," by Lori Wegener
What’s your latest project of excitement?
I am currently writing and illustrating a children’s story that is part-autobiography, part-fantasy. I have also been making relief, collograph and engraved prints. These prints and the drawings, paintings and mixed media pieces I have been creating recently are “maps” or landscapes of macroscopic and microscopic places that seem real and look representational but are purely imagined.
Does feminism play a role in your work?
Unlike drawing, painting, sculpture and just about every other traditional art medium, printmaking, a less esteemed and once-outsider art process, has had more female representation and inclusion. I have always been drawn to printmaking for this reason and because it has the look of drawing, with complex layers of texture, color, line and space. I suppose that my desire to be part of a uniquely-led female art medium and my persistence in making art in a male-dominated art world is feminist. The content of my work is a reflection of my mind and my experiences and does not directly explore feminism or feminist themes. However, I definitely consider myself a feminist and a humanist.
Is Omaha a good place for women in art?
Though Omaha is politically and socially conservative compared to many other areas of the country, there is a lot of interest in and appreciation for art here, so many galleries and shows in which to participate. The art scene is growing and a little less exclusive and more welcoming than it is in larger, more urban centers. This is a good thing, not only for women artists, but also for anyone—emerging artists in particular—wanting to share his or her creative talent. It is an exciting and dynamic time to be a woman artist in Omaha.
Keep up with Lori at http://artgirlnotes.blogspot.com/.