I love everything about Kippen: her work, her thoughtfulness, her wisdom and the integrity around her pursuit. She can draw white to feel sunny, gloomy or icey, she makes the intangible tactile, and I feel as though she takes us to these individual worlds as if we were non-human creatures. The visuals below are complex studies; each recorded moment on paper is different to the next and yet we feel space without a sense of time, interiors meet exteriors and the paths of the eye keep continuing and returning. A remarkable delicate treat. Thank you for being in my life!
Where do you begin on paper? Is there a particular mark you rely on in a particular space that starts you off? or is it different every time?
By the time I’ve cut the paper (I use watercolor paper that comes in 10 yard rolls) and stuck on 8 linen tape tabs so I can pin the paper on the studio wall, I’ve wrestled with that paper enough so I can just grab a piece of charcoal and start randomly making gesture marks, any marks. It is a physical act above all else. Even if I’ve cut and tabbed three or four large pieces to have a supply of prepared paper, I still feel entitled to start any and every where I want on a new piece of paper, even if it has taken me a few months to get to the last piece I’ve prepared.
There is an absence of color in some works, how come? what draws you to your uncomplicated palette?
I’m inclined to say it’s because I had my formative art making experiences in sculpture, working in raw plastilene, plaster and then steel. I think I’m more interested in form, in general, and that doesn’t require much color – more a question of tonal variation. Also, my work is increasingly tied to a sense of place. I have been living in the same exact location for almost 20 years now, walking these woods and dirt roads, and four years ago I moved my studio into this building as well. For much of the year it is the blue tone of the sky that appears intermittently, and the rest is earth tones and tonal variations of white. I appreciate color when I see it, but left to my own devices in the green months, I’d rather be down by the brook looking at the water and the rocks. So it is simply a matter of what I see around me that determines my palette.
Your work feels like a form of pre-language, a state of what we know before we learn the language of our culture. I am so curious are you working from memories? narratives that form and go? tangents of conversations that take you elsewhere? imagery to no imagery? or are you in a free-floating empty and contemplative state? elaborate if you can.
As I have kept working, I have become increasingly aware that what engages me most in this place is the constant shifting of the pattern of water in all of its states; liquid, snow and cloud. There are also the more subtle shifting in patterns apparent in the woods including, for instance, tree falls that allow more light to enter the forest floor. Over time, these patterns seem to form a process. I suspect that what you are calling “pre-language” might refer to these on-going patterns and processes that are apparent not only to us humans, but to all living creatures. What I am trying to do is to describe the processes by depicting the patterns. In the case of describing the shifting shapes of snow in the landscape, I can work from the visual information I get by looking out the window in the front door. When it is warmer, I take some paper and charcoal outside and sketch forms that catch my eye, whatever they are. How these images become part of my drawings is in fact more intuitive. It often seems that the next right form suggests itself in the context of the drawing itself, arrived at from some internal library I have amassed by the act of sketching.
Whenever I look at your work I feel like I am journeying through landscapes of tracks, holes, shrubs over and between crevices, cliffs and rocks. How would you describe the presence of landscape in your work? How do you see your continuous fields?
A neighbor and fellow artist, Michael Sacca, recently told me that he thought of my work as mindscapes that are rooted in our common landscape. To follow your lead, the sense of journeying in the drawings might spring from my spending time tromping around the woods behind the homestead. The cliffs and rocks and the continuous fields, now that I think of it, could be a result of what our conservation biologists call “windshield surveys”. As I drive our northbound stretch of VT Interstate 89, the cliffs and rocks are the result of blasting required to create the highway, and the view of distant farmed landscape appears now and again giving the illusion of continuous fields. Last August, while I was working on a nearly finished drawing mostly in blue tones, a smallish triangular shape began to emerge in the drawing and I went for an ochre pastel to mark it, for no apparent reason. That afternoon, driving on the interstate, something caught my eye down in the valley to the left, and there it was; a field of mown hay. My ochre shape.
How would you describe your state of mind before you begin? Is it different with every drawing?
Mostly I’m curious as to what the drawing will be like by the time I’m finished with it. These drawings go through so many stages that I’ve become accustomed to begin with a kind of give and take: I draw some gestural marks with charcoal, those marks lead to so something else. Maybe they get wiped off but another form starts taking shape. Or maybe I get really interested in some clump of snow on a tree branch or a rock I pick up that is in some way relevant to the work.
I sense your work articulates the fragility of boundaries and edges with clusters of organic shapes that appear and disappear intangibly rather than a focus on one particular area of one kind of motif or shape. Does living in Vermont have anything to do with this kind of ‘geography’ or visual construction you reveal on paper?
At this time, the single most compelling reason for my stubborn insistence on living as I do in rural Vermont is that I am able here, as I hope I’ve described, to get a fleeting, intermittent yet real sense of a process that has all to do with appearances but somehow alludes to more than appearances. If the resulting work has echoes of fragility and intangibility as you say, that is the “hard won line” I’m after. It is, after all, my attempt to answer the question that attracted me to philosophy as a college student: “what’s really going on here?” I am not taking a naive or nostalgic stance here, but rather, eyes wide open.
What are some of the drawing materials you use on paper?
I start with vine charcoal because it is so forgiving. After I’ve been working a while I might start erasing back in some areas and then use conte crayon to make more definite marks in those areas. Then perhaps a little earth tone in the form of pigment saturated soft pastel. As I begin to make more articulated forms, eventually I will need to make some real changes that often entail eliminating a form that no longer works in the drawing. That’s where the erasing, the white pastel and the gesso get applied. Again, as I discover areas that I think work well, I use the liquid gel medium to protect them from being rubbed out. There often comes a time after much work that the drawing seems to flounder. At that point it is often helpful to rub the drawing over its entire surface, revealing intricate patterns which emerge as by-products of the initial layers of charcoal, gesso and gel medium.
What is the difference in your creative process between working large scale to small? Is there another kind of feeling and thinking going on moving between scale of works?
I like what I heard (was it Guston who said this?) that when you are working large, the work engulfs you. When you work small, you engulf the work. There is so much give and take in my work and moving forms around and getting suggestions of new forms from the hints from already drawn forms that I like to have room to move around within the drawing. The 42”x52” format is as small as I can get while still feeling that I have the space I need. For now, I have stopped making small work except as series of charcoal gesture drawings.
I love how I can feel all the seasons and a variety of temperatures in your work even though I am seeing roughly a similar palette in each of them. At times I am looking at frozen ground, and cloudy smoggy impenetrable skies to hot spring day to the end of fall, does weather play a part in your work? If not what do you make of the remarkable subtleties in each work with such a clearly distinct style that is yours alone?
Perhaps what you are seeing is the result of my working on each of these drawings over an extended period of time – several seasons. In the course of working on any given drawing I will be responding to the environmental cues around me at that point in time. In the most recent work completed this winter, the influence of snow shapes is obvious. The subtlety is the result of having learned to erase, then draw, then save what I like, then erase and then to be willing to erase the “best” part so as to make the drawing work on its own terms. I had a teacher once who said that erasing something fabulous is never a waste; it will come back later in another drawing. While this may not literally be true, it is certainly a comforting thought.
Do you think your palette will change to another monochromatic range of harmonies and dissonances?
Sure, if I move to New Mexico, for instance, to that area with the amazing red landscape. But I suspect as long as I remain here working in this manner, I will retain this palette more or less.
Who influences you and moves you and makes you think in this world we live in?
Right now I am reading The Shape of a Pocket by John Berger. He has a great ability to describe what artmaking is about. I am taken especially by his assertion that artists are not creators, per se, but receivers. We are in collaboration with that which we see in order to make our work. That is certainly congruent with my experience. Another recent influence is the poet Jean Valentine; her Lucy poems. “Lucy” is the 3 million-year-old skeleton of the earliest known hominid discovered, and the poems fuel my determination to see and receive and respond with my work in the most rigorous manner possible.
All images are the intellectual property of Lisa Kippen. If you want more info about her work please contact her at www.lisakippen.com