Mud Season Review

Chasing Shadows, Stealing Light

An Interview with Featured Artist Linda Laino

by Kristin LaFollette, Mud Season Review Art Editor

I’ve always had the sense in this unpredictable and spontaneous country that I never know what is going to happen when I walk out my door. I have the same feeling when I pick up a paintbrush.”

Linda Laino

You mention that, as an artist, you are “a hunter and a thief, chasing shadows, stealing light.” How is this reflected in your work?

This was a poetic attempt to express my artistic process. All artists, I think, train themselves to be aware of the world. Noticing is akin to hunting. But not simply noticing. I consider “hunting” to refer to finding just the right image or color or form that suits the painting or composition. “Chasing shadows and stealing light” reminds me of how fleeting the creative act is. I’ve referred before to the process of making a painting as a series of “little deaths,” meaning there are many paintings contained within the version that is presented to the public as finished.

I’m a huge fan of Dada and Surrealism. How did you become interested in creating Surrealist work? Which artists inspire you?

I find it interesting that many people think of my work as Surrealist since I don’t. Truthfully, I find Surrealism as an art movement to be rather dead or moot. In the early twentieth century, Surrealism was defined by dreams, psychology, and the unconscious, but it came about at a time in art history when to make work with these ideas in mind seemed strange and “unreal” to the viewing public. It was the shock of the new. With the advance of modern art, however, artists are constantly invoking images that defy the “real world.” I don’t consider simply juxtaposing two illogical images together in a painting a cause to call it surreal. I place images together for compositional reasons as well as offering an ambiguous or multi-layered reading. In general, I try to resist the labels.

When I was discovering art as a teenager, the Surrealists were the most intriguing to me at the time and, in early years, I was enamored with the imagery I found there. But I think my paintings (and my interests) have more in common with the expressionists and artists like Schiele, Clemente, and Basquiat and precursors like Bacon and Guston. Currently, I am enamored with Jennifer Packer and Mexican painters Julio Galán and Felipe Baeza. Surrealism was based on the irrational. By that standard, you could include quite a lot of contemporary art! I’m more interested in the distortion of images and ideas from reality, not in painting “automatically” without thought as the Surrealists intended.

Your recent paintings “explore human interaction with various forms of nature in unusual ways.” Is this exploration present in your featured work?

I’ve always relied on nature for imagery and symbolism. The organic forms in biology, whether human, animal, or plant, provide an endless fascination for me. When I returned to the figure in 2020, the forms of nature I had been working with naturally had connections to the body. I pushed that idea with certain paintings like Cocoon and Lightbirds, merging the forms—physically, psychologically, emotionally—into the picture where elements of nature became like foils for the figures. I’m enamored with artist and teacher Peter London’s idea that, as humans, we are nature, and so this connection is a case of “like meeting like.”

All these pieces are described as mixed-media paintings. What materials went into creating the artwork?

My primary medium is watercolor. For many years I’ve painted with watercolor on rice paper, finding the two so beautifully compatible in their transparent qualities. There is always a lot of layering going on, applying the rice paper onto a box frame in a collaged manner. I like constructing things. It’s my background in fibers and love of texture and handmade paper that sneaks in. I practiced intricate hand-sewing not just with my artwork, but also in restoring old textiles for many years. When I worked with fiber techniques, I was often cutting things apart, sewing them back together, and collaging various elements in untraditional ways. There is something of this approach that I still use when I make my paintings. I’ve recently come to the idea that I don’t want to succumb to a hierarchy of materials, so I incorporate acrylic, gouache, graphite, monoprints, wax crayons—whatever I feel is necessary for the quality of image I’m after. I want to allow each material its own integrity.

You are also a writer and a teacher. Do you see these roles intersecting? Where can we read some of your recent written work?

Absolutely. I’ve been a lover of writing and reading all my life, although I only began to publish my writing in the last ten years. Poetry has always been an influence. I taught English language arts for six years in Mexico and loved being immersed in literature and writing with my students at that time. My writing and painting definitely talk to each other, and I am often pinging back and forth between the two. I have published quite a few poems in small presses and anthologies and maintain a blog to occasionally indulge my interest in nonfiction thoughts, but it is very inconsistent. You could have knocked me over with a feather in 2019 when I had a poem nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I was quite thrilled. Next month I have a flash fiction piece and prose poem coming out in a small press from Guanajuato City called La Presa. I’m very excited that the journal will translate both into Spanish. Early in the pandemic, I began writing a novel. What a learning experience that has been! “Poco a poco” as we say here. I had always been afraid to attempt fiction, but now I love it.

One of your favorite pastimes is “finding beautiful things on the ground.” As someone who also enjoys finding inspiration in nature, I’m intrigued by this! What can you tell us about this pastime?

The detritus of nature has always intrigued me: the decomposition of a leaf, flower, or animal that distorts and transforms the known into something unknown. I’ve had an ongoing series of “memento mori” paintings that deal with this aspect of death in nature. It always feels like a gift when I find something that has landed on the street or sidewalk in such a distorted and out of context way. I find beauty in this. It helps that due to the rough terrain of the town where I live in Mexico, diligent looking down is required, so as not to fall! I have gotten some odd looks from people watching me photograph dead birds.

Since 2012, you’ve lived in Mexico, and you mention that living there has impacted your artwork. Talk more about this.

The way in which moving to Mexico has impacted my art the most is that it’s been easier to structure more time for writing and painting. I stopped teaching four years ago and that opened a lot of space, both in the day and in my brain! I have found support and respect here in artist and writer friends that feel more available than what I had in the states. Besides that, there is much in Mexico to be inspired and excited by. I love the proximity to Mexico City where the art and design never stop. More day to day, I’ve always had the sense in this unpredictable and spontaneous country that I never know what is going to happen when I walk out my door. I have the same feeling when I pick up a paintbrush.

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