This copy of Bl!sss Magazine just arrived at my studio yesterday. I was interviewed by Liz Rice McCray, and our conversation appears on page 46 of the August 2014 issue. My drawing Alcyone was selected to illustrate the interview. Copies of Bl!sss can be ordered from their website, and the current issue may be viewed online here. For those unable to access the magazine, I’ve written out my responses below.
Your drawings are often scaled to life-size form, 10-feet tall. Will you share some of your creative process while creating these drawings? For example, how long it takes to create, medium, your strategies to sustain interest, enthusiasm, and concentration?
The large-scale work is my favorite because I enjoy creating something that is my own size. There is an odd comfort in feeling like my body would fit inside the drawing. These pieces can take well over 200 hours to complete, and the entire time I feel an urgency. What if something were to happen and I had to leave the drawing unfinished? That would be terrible. Whether large or small, an unfinished piece really nags at me. That’s one reason I put so much effort into the preliminary drawing process; I have to make absolute sure a piece will work before I begin, because once I start, I have to see the thing through.
Do you ever get tangled in bodies? What is your process to conceptualize a piece, refine it, “test” it, etc?
My process begins in a very hands-off manner, and switches to tightly-controlled by the end. My models are given free reign to improvise their own poses and move however they want while I stay out of their way and snap photographs. This leaves me with a wealth of images to sift through, play with, arrange in different configurations. It’s a very intuitive process that is alternately liberating and maddening; I’ve spend many hours shifting bodies around by millimeters, trying to get everything placed just right. I make dozens of detailed sketches from these images before I hit on one that has the right rhythm and will work well as a drawing. Then after deciding what size it should be, I can begin the artpiece.
What do you think is most misunderstood about your work?
I really don’t know. I hope people bring their own personal experiences and interpretations to my work. So If two different people have totally different understandings of a piece, that’s fine with me.
You draw from models; do you utilize dance to help you identify, refine, etc? Are your models dancers?
A few of my models have identified as dancers; most have not. Everyone carries themselves a little differently and moves with their own personal lexicon of body language. So working with a diverse array of people is very important to keeping the art fresh. Dancers make great models because they’ve been trained to convey meaning with their bodies. But the rest of us do that too, even if we might not be so conscious of it. Often the untrained can bring something really unexpected and special to the process.
Are you a dancer or were you once a dancer?
I am not a dancer, though I love dance and am influenced by it. I never had the opportunity to take dance classes when I was younger, and at this stage of my life, it’s just not going to happen. I think of myself more as a choreographer, and my drawings conduct a sort of dance.
Do you dream about flying or falling?
No, I don’t. I think some people assume my work is about my dreams because the drawings feel dream-like. I certainly make dreamy images, but they are not based on any dreams I’ve ever had.
You are formally trained: Pratt Institute, M.F.A. Painting/Drawing and University of New York at Fredonia, Fredonia, B.F.A. Painting/Drawing, Minor: Art History. Will you share a little about your school experience?
I really enjoyed being a student. It was the first time I’d ever been around other artists. Art school is a little protective bubble in which you are actually encouraged to create. The minute you leave school that encouragement evaporates. It’s time to be responsible, get a real job, pay bills, get married, have kids, stop wasting so much time on your self-indulgent “hobby.” To be an artist, particularly one not from an affluent background, requires incredible drive and dedication. I was lucky to have professors that prepared me by instilling me with a real work ethic.
What’s coming up next for you?
That’s a question I am rarely able to answer. I’m flying by the seat of my pants.
Where can people check out more of your art?
My website: leahyerpe.com