Lisa Blas

Brussels, Belgium | by January 31, 2011

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.

You can see Lisa’s work in other upcom­ing group shows here in the U.S. at the Mary­land Art Place in Bal­ti­more, and this sum­mer at Addi­son Rip­ley Fine Art in Wash­ing­ton D.C.

For more infor­ma­tion visit her web­site at

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  • enid turner says:

    Wow, what a great read. i only wish i could see the art a lit­tle closer to fully appre­ci­ate its sub­tlety. Can’t wait to see you, sis!!!



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