Magnolia Laurie

Baltimore, MD | by January 20, 2012

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.

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