Most people who know me understand that I can be rather impatient when it comes to waiting. The anticipation of visiting friend and colleague Lisa Blas in her new home and studio in Brussels, Belgium certainly challenged this not so virtuous quality of mine. I planned the trip around visits with friends and relatives in nearby Antwerp and The Hague. The triangulation of these three cities of family and friends seemed a perfect reason to make a post-holiday season jaunt across the pond from Washington D.C.
Lisa is a multi-media artist and former Washingtonian who taught at The Corcoran College of Art and Design for many years. She moved to Belgium in January 2010 to join her fiancé who is an art historian. Since moving to Belgium, Lisa has taught at Tourcoing, France as a visiting artist and currently is an artist-in-residence in Ors, France.
After getting slightly lost on that rainy afternoon, I finally arrived one hour late to Lisa’s art deco building on the west side of Brussels. Feet sore with a new camera in hand (after having my original equipment stolen the day before in an Antwerp elevator) I made my way up the winding staircase and emerged into her light filled apartment — walls lined with books, plants and art. I was greeted with a much needed glass of water and a comfy chair. After showing me around her place, we shortly left her apartment and walked up to another floor to one of the smallest studios I have ever been in — measuring not more than eight feet square. It previously had been a storage space and was recently emptied and converted into a private studio for Lisa. A large window and a balcony helped to make the space seem bigger than its jewel box size. And it was jewel like. Her new collage work looked like constellations on the wall as it reflected back onto a thin mirror hanging exactly opposite from it. Shards of tiny cut colored geometric shapes deliberately placed on each page created abstract compositions dancing over tiles of paper. A playground lay below and faint voices of children playing could be heard. For a moment I felt mesmerized.
Lisa’s previous work that I was familiar with was based on a journey she began in 2003 throughout the United States where she examined archives from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century “that point to the American sensibility in all its complexities and nuances.” This research became the source of a solo show titled “Meet Me At the Mason Dixon” in 2008. She had paintings, photographs and installation that were specific to the lands she traversed and the social history they embodied.
She states: “Traveling engenders activities of documentation and collection. It is akin to plein air observation that is later brought back to the studio for assembly. Such travels have convinced me of the relevance of the nineteenth century for our present-day experience. When I set to work with materials, I am reminded of Walter Benjamin’s idea: ‘For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably’ ”.
Lisa recently travelled to India and Brazil, but most significantly this past spring to Los Angeles, where she attended her father’s funeral. It is this experience of her father passing that has inspired her recent collage work that lines the walls of her intimate studio as well as the large table in her dining room. She talks about how these little triangular shards (in the collages) originate from a photography project five years earlier.
At that time, Lisa began collecting Hallmark sympathy cards, folded them into airplane like shapes and photographed them as ephemeral, sculptural objects. These images began as a study of the form and language of mass culture, especially as they relate to expressions of grief—perhaps the most difficult emotion to articulate. Since her father’s death, these images have now taken on another level of complexity and meaning. In the collages, she begins by looking for specific colored paper and card stock that arrives in the mail. She then cuts this material into varying shapes, echoing the Hallmark cards and literally composes them onto music composition paper.
She discussed three exhibitions she had recently seen of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Fred Sandback and Henri Matisse that have fueled her current practice. Elaborating more on the Matisse exhibition in Chicago she visited last year called “Matisse: Radical Invention 1913 -1917” Lisa reflects, “As the exhibition focused on the time period of World War I (another coincidence), his experimentation with new forms of picture construction, and their unfinished quality, had a great impact on me. This interstitial, and perhaps restless period in his life as a painter seems to echo our contemporary moment in many ways. In speaking about his painting The Moroccans, Matisse reportedly said ‘…that everything that did not contribute to the balance and rhythm of [this work], had to be eliminated…as you would prune a tree’.”
I imagine Lisa quietly working at her table and in her yellow studio cutting delicate shapes to create these soundless compositions that resonate with so much personal meaning. The transformation she has made from focusing on travel that is physical and external, to a journey that is internal and now manifest in a form of a highly controlled cultural abstraction is a process of pruning I will continue to follow.
A solo exhibition of her work will be at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania opening late August 2011 to coincide with the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War. This exhibit is being curated by Shannon Egan.
For more information visit her website at www.lisablas.com
Lisa Blas Images
Categorised in: Belgium Belgium Brussels Brussels culture Drawing Gallery history hybrid identity Installation Mixed Media Multimedia Narrative Painting Paper Photography Region studio Video Western Europe