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Lori Hyland's Abstract Paintings--From Spirituality To Song (2011)

April 5th, 2012 in Constantly.Consuming.Culture. by Patrick Ogle

For Cathedrals To Jazz

I first saw Lori Hyland's art from across a crowded room, a room that was in the Art Miami tent during Art Basel week 2010. I struggle to put into words one of the particular things that attracts me to a painting. As near as I can come is to say that I am mesmerized by work that seems to dramatically change when seen close up and then from a distance (or visa versa). I am not speaking of simple distance. I know this isn't exactly an eloquent way of describing this but I am not an art critic but just a guy who goes to museums.

But Hyland's work is special. She is the only artist I spoke to at length during Art Basel week 2010. Hyland lives in Los Angeles and went to both Pratt and the School of Visual Arts for art and did her undergraduate at USC.

"I was going into film school at USC and had a detour by getting married. So my undergrad degree is from there. I have been painting only for four of five years." says Hyland.

When she first started painting she was led in her work by spirituality. She was especially influenced by travels to the Gothic cathedrals in France. But Hyland didn't wear this influence on her sleeve.

"For first 3 years, even though you wouldn't know it unless I told you, they were very spiritually oriented," she says. "I was very much affected by my environment, the earth and environment."

In more recent years her work has a different influence, music.

"I love jazz so much." says Hyland (who is also a singer).

Art School Struggles

Jazz has taken over for spirituality. Doesn't it always? Or is it the same thing? Hyland isn't sure of the reason for the focus of her work changing.

"I wish I could give you a really good reason for going from spiritual and space oriented kind of environment to jazz it just happened like that. I said �my god I love jazz,' she says. "I sing blues; My whole life revolves around music and art so why don't I connect music and art? They are the same thing. One you apply to canvas and one you hear."

She says that all the old singers, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and more sang from the heart. Blues and jazz are from the heard and Hyland says that is where her paintings come from as well.

Hyland went back to art school after some time off.

"I wasn't a kid, I went there later (art school) studied figurative drawing, I just sat and did life drawing for a year because I wanted to have a really good classical foundation. I wasn't thinking in terms of being an abstract artist. I'd be sitting in class w all these kids, they could draw awesomely, they could copy anything They would miss nothing. I had to go thru a really big struggle to draw. I learned to because anybody, if you apply yourself, can learn to draw. But it was nothing for them, it was just a rendering."

But a funny thing happened when Hyland looked at the work of these young artists; she saw something missing in the precise, correct work.

"When I really looked at their work there was very little passion, very little feeling, it didn't represent a struggle, and maybe that is why I like blues so much too, it always represents a struggle." she says.

All art comes from struggle of some sort. This doesn't mean artists have to hack off their ears or drink paint thinner. The struggle doesn't have to be extreme, it can be internal, it can be mental. Or it can be trying to master the form in a drawing class as Hyland did.

Classical Training & Abstraction

After working on the form and classical technique Hyland promptly decided her work would not be based on the external world.

"I don't want to reference anything on the outside, I don't want to even reference nature; except as it comes to me, as nature does, just in a quiet maybe subliminal way," she says. "I didn't want to do anything anyone else was doing. I didn't want to paint anything that represented exterior reality. Because then I felt it was a copy, that it was not myself. That is why I became an abstract painter, because it represents me. My feelings, my emotions and my dreams."

Some might think; if your aim is abstraction why study classically? This is sort of like asking; if you want to be a plumber why learn how to use a snake?

"I feel very strongly about learning the basics and the essentials. It was like going to school I will never use algebra and geometry again but what it does is it trains your mind in a certain way," says Hyland. "Then you can release. It is a kind of paradox that you go into this restrictive kind of education but if you approach it right it gives you freedom--because you never have to think about it again."

And just because she doesn't paint portraits is not an indication there are no forms in Hyland's work. Form abounds.

"I felt I really wanted to learn to draw, wanted to see how people moved, understand the figure, and so I did it then I released the whole thing," says Hyland. "If you go on my website you will see some very abstract and figurative work. Some of my paintings may have 100 200 figures in them."

Her paintings are abstract but are carefully done. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking an abstract painting is somehow a random thing. This is not usually the case with anything good (allowing for the odd "happy accident").

"If you don't go through that process (at least for me I cannot speak for others) I don't have a complete understanding, it is necessary for me to go through the fundamentals," she says. "I don't need to know all that music, all that theory to sing the blues but I can still pick up a sheet of music and see what the writer intended and then put it away."

Educate Yourself On Art

Abstract art often perplexes people not well versed in art. This isn't some dismissive, elitist, statement. American football perplexes many who hail from Europe. Cricket perplexes Americans. It is mostly a lack of familiarity, not knowing the rules, that leads to a lack of understanding. And knowing about art is, generally, more rewarding in the long run, that understanding football (depending on the artist or football team of course).

"A lot of people do not understand abstract painting. A lot of people, they want to love art but they do not know how to love art. If you do not know you need to immerse yourself in it. When I was in New York I went to museums every single day. I looked at art constantly, I would go to the Metropolitan, and I had reading privileges there, and they would take out old master drawings, and I would just look at art," says Hyland. "They have to look at art all the time. You have to. I think that is the most essential thing to keep looking, even if you don't get it. Eventually you will get it. Eventually you are going to find something that resonates with you. It may be classical drawing, it may be abstract, it may be pop, It may be surreal but you are going to find one artist that really speaks to you and is going to bring you out. It is like being in school and that one teacher that knew how to get to you and made a difference in your life. I think it is the same with art; you are going to find one artist who speaks to you. For me it was Van Gogh."

Later, when she became more sophisticated, she gravitated to the German Expressionists.

"I was particularly affected by it because that period was just totally amazing period. The Nazis called it degenerate art." she says." Those are influences for me. Maybe they would influence others too because art is so universal. Everybody wants to be touched by beauty or a certain line or certain chord of music. It is just a matter of exposing yourself to it and then you are going to find it."

And what about the painting that struck me from across a crowded room? Matrix Fragment is the sort of painting Hyland paints to relax, to cool down. They are reflective and, she HINTS, maybe not as tough to do as some of her others.

"It is almost like a reverie; it is realizing. When I want to settle down for my other paintings I do one of these. I call these my R.E.M paintings. " says Hyland.

They are quite striking, beautiful and nearly impossible to get the full measure of via online images. Hyland's work at Art Miami was shown by by Timothy Yarger Fine Art who will be at Art Chicago/ Next beginning on April 28.

This interview was done during Art Basel week in Miami. Lori Hyland graciously took time to talk with me and I ungraciously took four months to post the article, for which I apologize (Patrick Ogle).

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