In 2010, Magnolia Laurie’s career had her frequenting Washington D.C., among other cities. It was then she was a fellow with Hamiltonian Artists and also when I first met her. A few months before, I had seen images of Laurie’s work online. I was impressed by her artist statement, which articulated a content with broader-than-average concerns. It seemed that the intended questions in her work venture outward to become ‘big’ philosophical ones about the purpose and purposelessness of life, which are imagined from outside the point of view of our species’ survival. Hence, at the Hamiltonian Gallery during an artist talk, I introduced myself to the artist and the two of us had a quick chat. A few months later, I was pleased that she accepted my offer to visit her studio in the Woodberry area of Baltimore.
Magnolia Laurie is a painter who works in a variety of mediums that include installation, drawing and sculpture. She currently lives in the Baltimore neighborhood of Hampden, and teaches drawing and painting at Maryland Institute College of Art and American University. Laurie’s professional programming has been hearty to say the least. Concurrent to her continual participation in fellowships and residencies, Laurie’s work was included in selected group exhibitions at New York University and Maryland Art Place. During that time she also had her first two solo shows in Brooklyn, NY, at DRWR Gallery and Causey Contemporary. As a result, two of her paintings are now part of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art’s permanent collection in Kansas City, MO.
After meeting at the Baltimore Penn Station on a Monday afternoon, following the conclusion of one of Laurie’s morning classes, we went straight to the studio. Emerging from a road flanked by industrial warehouses on each side, our car entered a wide clearing with trees in the distance and nobody in sight. The studio location was filled with the kind of seclusion and quiet that’s often rewarding for studio practice. Once indoors we entered a large room that had piles of Laurie’s paintings all over the place –sixteen on one wall alone. Small works were wrapped in bubble and stacked in boxes. Stacks of larger paintings sat up against the wall with one or two lying on the floor to dry. Views of other buildings came in one window; and views of trees came in through another. Against the wall sat a reclining chair with piles of books surrounding it. We both proceeded to pace around the room. Laurie talked about her process and work rhythm, taking cues from paintings on the wall that were facing us, many of them still in progress. A bit later, we both sat down to discuss the places she’s lived, the content in her work, and that which informs it.
In addition to her relatively nomadic experience in the US, moving from city to city, the artist has lived in several other countries. Much of the thought put into her work’s content is sparked by her experiences abroad. During a visit to Italy, she was reacquainted with a cultural sense that she said she hadn’t felt since her time growing up in Puerto Rico. She referred to this sense as ‘a casualness with history’. Things like a walking tour on top of the centuries-old cathedral roof, or the sight of a city dweller’s small shack touching the back of an ancient amphitheater, were some of her examples.
Laurie noted while living in Zurich, the distinct and often socially minded intentionality that permeates the way things are designed there. “It is so contrary to what we’ve been accustomed to in the United States, in terms of safety guidelines, codes and precautions,” she says. A parallel influence came to Laurie during a more recent stint in Turkey, when she saw temporary, makeshift structures that people had assembled out of recycled materials and various scraps. Laurie’s imagery includes environments–sometimes arctic, sometimes desert, and structures which, in the paintings, occasionally appear to be wrapped in coded flags (at times the same ones historically used by ships in distress). They convincingly stem from her perspective on the environment and cyclical nature of our habitat. These representations are imbued with a sense of impermanence.
During the visit, I mentioned to Laurie what I am most taken with. Her paintings appear to be quite aware of dialogue occurring in contemporary art, yet at the same time detached from our own times with an existentialist mood. I was most impressed with her compositions that mesh together abstraction (marks “for marks’ sake”) with marks that represent concrete symbols or rudimentary forms/objects. Each work seems to be a different image, a different moment, despite the fact that she starts and builds up numerous pieces simultaneously. They are demonstrative of a well developed sensitivity to painting.
She also reads a lot, and creates titles for her works that are starkly poetic. In answer to the question of what she is most content with at this point, she said she was happy that pieces of her work could have themselves singled out by a curator for museum acquisition. After all, and due to her continuing practice of balancing teaching with artist production and networking, I am confident there is much more to look forward to, by way of Laurie’s poignant voice.