Lisa Solberg is not your usual (L.A.) suspect. She prefers walking to driving a car and relies on the bus for crosstown travel. Since leaving her hometown of Chicago 4 years ago, Lisa has lived and worked in downtown L.A., the heart of the sprawling city where art is alive and well. A vigorous and fluid painter, Solberg has exhibited widely in the U.S. with solo and group shows from Los Angeles to New York. Lisa holds a BFA from University of Colorado, Boulder.
What can we say about Lisa Solberg? If you’ve seen her work, or if you’ve seen her working, there is really no introduction needed. Lisa is intense. She is totally rad and we love the energy and excitement she exudes when talking about her creative process, taking risks, overcoming challenges as an artist, and life in general. We hope you enjoy your time with Lisa as much as we did. Cheers!
Interview date: September 7, 2011
Describe your path to becoming an artist. Was there ever an “aha” moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do?
My path has always been just being an artist. As a kid, it was, “I’m good at this, I wanna do it, and it’s fun. It’s not like I’m tracing like everybody else, I’m drawing freehand.” I didn’t really have any self-reflective moments where I contemplated if being an artist was really what I was meant to do. It’s always been very natural. I’ve painted and drawn since I can remember. I was constantly drawing in sketchbooks, on walls, drawing on streets with chalk.
I’m trying to think… I don’t really relate to that feeling of having an “aha” moment, but I do have a constant awareness that this is what I need to do.
Was creativity a regular part of your childhood?
Creativity was definitely a regular part of my childhood, in the most obvious ways and in obscure ways. Through school and art classes and just being fortunate enough to have materials at my disposal, I had the opportunity to be creating all the time. As an athlete and a sister with four siblings who was raised in a very free-thinking family, I always felt challenged to think outside the box. I was inspired to think creatively and go beyond my normal comfort zone by the people I was around.
Maybe it was in middle school or high school when I realized creating was an emotional release for me. I would go in the basement of our house by myself and make art all the time. That was my sanctuary. But in terms of when I was younger, I just did it.
You mentioned family, how many brothers and sisters do you have?
I’m the middle of five siblings, born between my two brothers. I was a total tomboy growing up. And then I have an older and younger sister too. We’re a big family, a big blonde crew.
Do you know what your family’s background is?
My mom’s side is primarily Swedish and my dad’s side is Norwegian.
[Tina] You said you’ve always been creative. I have to ask… Were you one of those students who had art class every year through high school?
Yeah, for sure. But it’s funny, I think it was in grade school that there were a few years where I didn’t make “special art.” You had to do this test and I remember that I didn’t make it (didn’t pass)… and I think it was because my stuff was too messy if I remember correctly. That’s kind of ironic. I didn’t let it hinder my work at all, though. I think I sorta used it as steam. I’m very much like, “Oh, you’re gonna tell me I can’t do this? Ok, watch and I will show you.”
Did you have a mentor? Who was it and how did they inspire you?
My High School AP Art teacher in Chicago, Blake Mueller, was amazing. He opened up so many paths for us as young artists and taught us that there are no boundaries. He is very eccentric and sincere, and he was dedicated to his own work while also being dedicated to his students. Other than that, it’s sort of all over the place. I can honestly say that I can and do learn from everyone and everything as long as I put effort into it.
You have a BFA from the University of Colorado. What led you to the decision to get your BFA?
I think the better question would be what led me NOT to go to Art School and get an art degree. My answer to that would be that I didn’t want to be restricted. I knew I was going to major in art no matter where I went. I wanted to go somewhere where I could get a well rounded education. I am a believer of learning about the world on multiple levels and from multiple perspectives. There’s more to art than theory for me, and that’s what gives me the most ammunition to create. I love math, astronomy, and I’m obsessed with numbers. All those things are inherent in my art.
What’s interesting is my family actually went to Boulder when I was 10 and I remember saying, “I’m going to go to school here.” I was a total teacher’s pet in high school and was at the top of my class. I was getting ready to apply to Dartmouth where my dad and my grandfather went. That’s where everyone thought I was going to go and then I just decided to go to Boulder. I applied early decision because I didn’t have to write an essay. I was happy with my decision though, very happy.
“Maybe it was in middle school or high school when I realized creating was an emotional release for me. I would go in the basement of our house by myself and make art all the time.”
Was your family supportive of your choice to get your BFA?
I don’t think it really mattered to them what I majored in. They never warned me or said, “Oh, can you do this?” I’ve just taken it and made something and they’re like, “Oh, you can do that.”
I was a professional skier for a while and that’s when they were like, “Are you sure you want to do this professionally? You could die.” Me becoming an artist was maybe a relief for them, like, she may have a hard life but it’s less likely she’ll die.
(all around laughter)
Did you start skiing in college?
We went on family ski vacations for spring breaks. It definitely escalated during college. What I went into was more like park terrain stuff, jumping and doing tricks and things.
Like X Games kind of stuff?
Yeah, I was in X Games. (This was before woman skiers were allowed in X Games, I foreran the boys and was on television, but we weren’t allowed to compete.)
Did you ski after college also?
Well, I took some of college off to ski. I was also doing art during that time, even though I was traveling all over the place. But then I had too many injuries to continue skiing, so I had to stop. That was about 5 or 6 years ago.
It’s interesting that you have an athletic background because we were watching one of your videos of you painting and there is so much movement, almost athletic in a sense.1
Totally. I am a very physical person, I think. I describe my work as being very physical and active, it exhausts me.
Who has encouraged you the most along your creative path?
My family has been incredibly supportive, and I am very thankful for that. They always found ways to help me out if I really needed it without it being too obvious. I have also continually received much support from extended family and friends overall regarding my work. It’s always nice to visit home (Chicago), and have super random family friends come up to me and talk specifically about why they like certain paintings that they’ve seen on my website.
Any big moments for you that were a risk? What about your move from Chicago to L.A. 4 years ago?
I knew you were going to ask this. This (L.A.) has felt very natural and organic, and meant to be. I didn’t ever think, “This is a big risk.” There are little things that you get scared of where you have to put yourself out there… but in terms of risk, I don’t recollect any specific moments. There are so many little moments and you have to take risks every single day. Like with painting, putting your work out there, meeting people, it’s all a risk. A lot of artists don’t feel comfortable doing it.
What made you choose L.A.?
It was a big decision. I was either going to move to New York or L.A. I’m a very independent worker so it’s even more important for me to be in a city where there is a lot happening. I can go to big art openings any night. There’s so much going on in the L.A. art scene right now. It’s exciting. What made me initially decide was the space here compared to New York. Downtown L.A. is full of warehouses and has an industrial feel. I didn’t know anyone here or anything like that. It just spoke to me. It made sense. And it’s way cheaper.
Have you ever had to work a non-creative job?
I worked in a fashion boutique for about 4 months. That’s it. For a few summers, I worked for my dad doing digital art. Right after college, when I lived in the city of Chicago, was when I worked at the boutique. I was also painting the whole time and I began to sell paintings on a regular basis. I realized it was pointless for me to go to work. It wasn’t enough money, it didn’t make sense.
In L.A., you talk to people in similar situations. You make a big chunk of money at one time. If you’re lucky, you can keep doing that. Your idea of money and the whole dollars per hour and your time/value association gets disassociated with normal society and what people earn on an hourly basis. For me, I don’t want to do anything that’s on an hourly basis anymore. I’m in a different place as far as what my time is worth. It’s fortunate for me. It’s interesting to think about.
That’s fascinating. Do you make much commercial art?
As a general rule, I don’t do a lot of commercial stuff. I did do a K2 snowboard line this season. They picked an image I had already created, which was great, because I had already done it. I think I have a hard time with commercial work because I don’t enjoy having commissions. I don’t enjoy trying to create something based on what other people want. That’s just not how I work. I’m an extremist in that sense.
You’re a purist.
Yeah. I’m also working with a fashion brand and they’re making a Lisa Solberg line. I’m so inspired by fashion, especially high fashion. I’d be interested in doing one-offs, like custom pieces with high-end fashion designers where they would incorporate some sort of textile with my aesthetic or prints. That’s as far as I take it with that stuff.
“I love the raw energy in honesty. I also like dualities and androgyny and the way things can be muted yet so powerful, or vice versa… things can be powerful but at the same time, they are delicate.”
What themes are most present in your work/creative life?
Being honest. I love the raw energy in honesty. I also like dualities and androgyny and the way things can be muted yet so powerful, or vice versa… things can be powerful but at the same time, they are delicate. I am subconsciously always using fashion as an inspiration, which sometimes forms into a theme and sometimes not. I like movement and impact. I can’t really say if these are all themes as opposed to inspirations, but it’s just what I thought of first.
Do you have any routines? What’s your typical workflow when you’re creating?
Sometimes doing one piece after another happens right away because the pieces are so connected. Sometimes it’s super fluid. But I do typically finish one painting and then go to the next without working in between. It could take me a few weeks or a month to finish a piece. Sometimes I start with something and go through so many layers and end up back where I started. And sometimes, like in Coconino (featured in the header art), it just works and I’m okay with it. I let it go. I have to say it’s finished, even if it only took me 24 hours to complete. The work ethic, the working part, it sometimes gets in my way and I think a piece is not done when it really is.
I don’t have any routines besides trying to stay balanced and healthy. Especially after I finish two paintings, I’ll take a break and work on personal drawings or travel. I go on road trips, head to the beach, or try to be in nature. I love downtown L.A., but the air sucks, so I’ll go hang out in Venice. I’m pretty intense in my studio when I’m painting. When I start to work, I can paint nonstop for days straight. I like the intensity of being in a piece without having any outside influence once I’ve begun. I don’t like to communicate with people. I’m like a hermit. I work very hard and am excited, but exhausted, when a piece is finished. So it’s important to break and find my balance.
As a creative person, do you ever have those moments where you feel like everything you create is just shit?
Yeah, definitely. You have to do something to just shift your perspective or the way your hand is moving. I’ll have a day when it literally just gets worse and worse. But I know deep down that even if I get super frustrated about that, in working through it, something always comes out of it. I never quit. It’s a relief to know you’re not a quitter. I think a lot of artists can just spaz and have a horrible day and toss their work. I’m so committed to my approach and, having a huge canvas on the wall, I’m not going just stop and burn it. I know that I’m going finish it, it’s just that some are more difficult than others.
Are you satisfied creatively? Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
I feel very happy and thankful, but I can’t say that I am ever satisfied creatively. I have dreams of doing certain things, a lot of those are really private. There’s always so much going on in the moment that I don’t have a lot of long-term goals. I do have dreams of having multiple, rad studios and I don’t know… being on the cover of Vanity Fair, or whatever. In not such vain respects, I have a goal to be one of the most respected artists of my time. These are all things you work toward but don’t necessarily think about on a daily basis. I want my goals to be realized. I don’t want to be a wisher. I am always trying to push the envelope and my ideas are always changing, not the overall concepts, but the details.
Knowing what you know now, if you could go back and do one thing differently, what would it be?
I know it sounds disgustingly cliché and nauseating, but I don’t have any regrets.
If you could give one piece of advice to another artist starting out, what would you say?
Always create work. Always take chances. Find your inner and honest voice or calling that can carry you when you need it.
Now for some fun questions. Current album on repeat?
I usually have iTunes on random. I have sooo much music. When I need to stay in a particular mindset, I stick in one genre, like classical, or sometimes more poppy, energetic indie music.
Do you have a favorite movie or movies?
I’m not very good at naming favorites on the spot, but I do have many. Fantasia, Fight Club, Blade Runner, The Jetsons, and Avatar are a few.
What’s your all-time favorite book?
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
And your favorite food?
I eat like a rabbit. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, a lot of simple foods. I tend to eat sushi on a regular basis as well.
Okay, one last deep question. What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
No one’s ever asked me that. I never thought about it. I’d say, for me, I immediately think about a balance between what my friends and family say and what the world says at large. I want to achieve a level of influence on people in a positive way or just in a way that makes people think or inspires them.
I ultimately paint from a void and for myself, and then the next step is to see what it does for a person viewing it. I strive to give people a feeling of purpose. You know, the “what is the meaning of all this (Life)?” question. I think the answer to that lies undoubtedly within oneself, and if I can help people start to find that within themselves through a piece of my work they identify with, I’m pretty happy. I want people to remember that about me. Equally, I want family and friends to say, throughout her life and career, she was a good person. I’d like to leave a legacy of being a balanced, but extremely influential person.
Oh, and in terms of legacy… ever since I was a kid I’ve said I want to be on the sign in my hometown:
“Welcome to Barrington, IL,
Birthplace of Lisa Solberg”
“I want family and friends to say, throughout her life and career, she was a good person. I’d like to leave a legacy of being a balanced, but extremely influential person.”