In Focus: Lisa Sigal's "Riverbed" at LAXART

LA><ART entrance with Lisa Sigal’s Park Avenue, 2013. Photo by Michael Underwood.
Lisa Sigal (2012 Visual Arts) has a solo exhibition, Riverbed, on view at LA><ART in Los Angeles through February 23. Sigal’s installation brings together plein air landscapes, abstract geometric paintings, and architectural materials like drywall and window screens. I connected with Lisa to learn more about this new body of work and how it developed:
Jenny: Your work centers on architectural spaces, and some of your recent projects have been outdoor installations or “interventions” on existing architecture. Can you talk about how the work in the LA><ART show relates to that past work?
Lisa: The work I made in LA is part of an ongoing body of work responding to architecture and the built urban environment. For the most part, I am a studio artist who would like to push a painter’s concerns out onto the street. I am interested in responding to the particular qualities of a place—the studio, an exhibition or a public space—and what influences come to play.
My earlier works were large-scale paintings that responded to interiors and the details of how a room was constructed. When I started experimenting with working outdoors, it was exciting to leave the traditional canvas support and paint on the walls instead. They had their own history and texture. Each wall painting expanded my thinking about content and its source. For example, when I painted Women’s Balcony, on the drill hall wall of the Park Ave Armory, the painting felt like a quiet protest. When I painted a line that traversed NYC buildings and rooftops [for the New Museum project Line Up], the line connected properties and mapped a view of the neighborhood.
I’m interested in making connections between the work that I make outside and things I make in the studio. For the show at LA><ART, I wanted to respond to the architecture of Los Angeles—in particular, more marginal or precarious environments in the city. 

Riverbed installation at LA><ART. Photos by Michael Underwood.

Jenny: The title of the LA><ART exhibition, Riverbed, references the Los Angeles River. What interested you about the river and the local landscape?
Lisa: Like Line Up at the New Museum, I wanted to have an organizing structure for my research. After meeting with a several UCLA professors—geographer Diane Ward, architectural historian Rick Miller and historian Rob Sullivan—I decided to map the diverse architecture along the line of the LA River. It is a hidden river that flows through 48 miles of Los Angeles. The river, in the most densely populated areas, is architecture, each of its angles engineered as a gigantic storm drain. Historically the communities along the river had been flooded, some washing away before the LA River was constrained with cement. In some areas, the river is only a trickle of water; other spots are real riverbed—flowing water and lots of indigenous plants and birds. I wanted to respond slowly, feel connected to the landscape and come away with stories. So I decided to paint what is built along the river.
Jenny: How did this body of work develop, both inside and outside of the studio?
Lisa: I flew to California with my old French easel and oil paints and worked outside for a week. The range of construction and land use is varied and I painted at as many locations as I could. The brilliant light and the unexpected encounters were only made possible by being there.
I made seven little paintings on the river. Once back in the studio I started to make constructions on wall sections, using prints and screens. I wanted to combine the intimacy of painting by the river with the more distant view of mapping the place.

Lisa Sigal, Hinged Painting (frog town), 2013. Photo by Michael Underwood.
Jenny: What triggered your use of the screens?
Lisa: I started using the screens a few years ago. I liked that they are lightweight, and I’m interested in their associations with home. Screens are utilitarian and of no value once removed from the window frame. Once they are painted, they transform what can be seen through them and incorporate the peripheral view.

Lisa Sigal, Hinged Painting (city of vernon), 2013. Photo by Andres Ramirez.

Jenny: Do you approach a gallery installation in the same way that you approach an outdoor project?
Lisa: My approach to making work for a gallery and working outdoors is similar. The main difference is my thinking about permanent art versus ephemeral art. I benefit most from the combination of the two. Often the projects that I do outside are on my own, and the odds for something unexpected are much greater. I have learned a lot by relinquishing the need for complete control and being thoughtful in the moment. My objective is to continue to take risks in the studio by bringing the outside in so that decisions are not random but have a practical application.
In the case of my show Riverbed, I wanted the work to be very present in the space of the gallery but to refer to the built environment outside. I wanted the final pieces to engage painters and architects equally. I painted on Tyvek and pasted it to the walls in order to question the integrity of the room as a malleable constructed place.
Jenny: What other projects do you have on the horizon?
Lisa: I am interested in going to other cities, painting outside and exploring ways to interpret provisional architecture in my hybrid painting practice. I’m going to have a show in April at Samson Projects in Boston. I will show some of the pieces from the LA River in combination with paintings of riverside buildings in New York City. I’m curious to see how the works will overlap and how the content will be altered.
Lisa Sigal’s Riverbed is on view at LA><ART in Los Angeles through February 23, 2013.

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