"Abstraction is not a style, but a state of mind…a way of thinking about action, time and circumstance, confidence and risk-taking, boldness and subtlety." - Paul Lorenz
As we further our series on individuals who make and create by hand, this week Parekh Bugbee focuses a lens on artist Paul Lorenz. I first came to know Paul's work in Berkeley, California, in the mid 1990's. Between shooting assignments for Bay Area magazines and weekly newspapers, I would periodically connect with Paul in his East Bay home studio to photograph his latest works. My recollection is that Paul was super prolific then, as he is now. At the time, he was transitioning between a career in architecture to creating and showing his paintings full-time. Photographically, this was the pre-digital era. I remember setting up my hot lights, assessing exposure coverage with a Sekonic incident light meter, loading roll after roll of Fujichrome 35mm tungsten slide film, all the while engaged in fascinating conversations with Paul. Topics like the passion for travel, his latest abstractions, the qualities of working with paint, characteristics of pigments, surface textures...or just whatever questions were coming up for him that didn't have immediate answers.
With an education in Bauhaus architecture and fine art, Paul Lorenz has carved an intriguing niche in the international art world: bridging the principals and immediacy of painting, drawing and sound with the logic and detail of architecture. All three media are a balance of physical structure (wood, canvas, paper); visual structure (brush strokes, scrapes, tears, lines); and color, whether overt or atmospheric, allowing the process to be the final subject.
Graphite drawings are an important section of Paul’s work. Based upon drafting exercises from his years studying architecture, his drawings depict abstraction in its purest form, geometry. Though minimal in logic, the drawings contain richness in developed space and positive/negative relationships.
Paul works and lives in Paducah's LowerTown Arts District in Kentucky and exhibits with numerous galleries in the United States and Europe. As a member of Pintura Fresca, an international group of abstract artists, he has exhibited worldwide, with past exhibitions in Australia, Singapore, Austria, England and Sweden.
I was able to catch up with Paul recently at a current showing of his work at Soltesz Fine Art in Portland, Oregon.
- Geoff Oliver Bugbee
Parekh Bugbee: Every artist has an original story, let's hear yours. Could you describe the origin of your work and how your vision unfolds today?
Paul Lorenz: Wow, nothing like starting an interview with an easy question! Like many artists, I started drawing and painting at a very young age. My parents encouraged my imagination...art supplies, craft projects, piano lessons, etc. Having an older sister (almost 13 years older) brought many influences to my life at an early age too...the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, fashion, politics. All facets came together when I started studying architecture in college. The Bauhaus curriculum at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago opened the door to seeing a logic in design, materials, tools, applications, and processes. Ideas I had to explore in college guide many of the art pieces I work on today. When I was working as a full-time architect, I needed the looseness of paint on canvas to balance the hard lines of making construction documents. After leaving architecture full-time in 1999, I have found that I need the structure of hard lines to bring logic to the expressionism of the oil paintings. The idea of randomness, the mathematics of geometry, the act of 'making' all play together. Letting life enter and influence the logic keeps art moving forward, whether it is a painting, drawing or a sound piece...whether in my studio in Kentucky or in a residency in China, Mexico, etc.
PB: Where do you look for inspiration?
Lorenz: Everything has potential to inspire. Architecture inspires me a lot...scale, the play of materials, the way one enters and receives volume and space. Color, the way colors react to each other, or how color is created. Nature, finding surprise in small details or broad areas. Drama, in nature's violence or quiet, or in man-made actions like film or music. Surprise is inspiring - that moment of disorientation in a new city, or reaction to a new circumstance. For me, creating art is about creating that new circumstance to work both with and within.
PB: Where do you show your work and what's on deck right now?
Lorenz: I work with five galleries currently, four in the US (New York City, Seattle, Dallas and Portland) and one in Europe (Florence, Italy). My studio in Kentucky has a small gallery as well, which I use as the transition space between the working studio and sending work to the other galleries. I have just started working with Soltesz Fine Art in Portland only a few months ago, which is very exciting. Work always appears and feels different once it leaves the studio, so new galleries offer new insights into future projects. Currently I have a solo exhibition of paintings at the Yeiser Art Center in Paducah, Kentucky (August 15 - September 23, 2015). These paintings were created while I was an artist-in-residence with the Shangyuan Art Museum outside of Beijing in 2014. I am very fascinated with ink, and the Chinese ink paintings - old and new - really made my wheels turn, so I explored ink on paper for my three months at the museum.
PB: Tell us about an artist or influencer that you most identify with?
Lorenz: Impossible...there is not just one, but many that play in my head at any given moment. Artists that conjure challenging beauty...painters like Willem de Kooning or Kazuo Shiraga...composers like Morton Feldman and John Luther Adams, architects like Shigeru Ban or Tadao Ando...everything seems to be a combination of the visual, the audible and the physical. Global influences that create a contemporary whole.
PB: Creative folks often have a happy place when they're fully immersed in their work. What's happening when you're in the zone?
Lorenz: 'A happy place'...I have never considered my studio a 'happy place'. In general, my 'happy place' is full of questions, few answers, but a lot of work and play to find satisfaction. When the time is right and the lack of satisfaction, or commitment, or resolve occurs, the frustration elicits the 'blindness'...working with complete confidence, instinct and abandon to find the answers, to find the conclusion or to simply end the process. Working 'blind' is the best...it is freedom and knowledge, it is trust and endurance...it is not instant but needs to be enticed or provoked.
PB: On the topic of Man vs. Machine, what does 'made by hand' mean to you?
Lorenz: A difficult question. I create all of my own work, the paintings and drawings are done with my hands. I do use others to make my stretcher bars and wood panels. I am not a wood craftsman. I do not make my paper, I buy paper already made. I do not employ others to create my work, I am not a project or product manager. When I was working as an architect, 'design' meant something different than 'art'. If I design a chandelier and have it manufactured, it is 'design'. If I create a chandelier through a mental, visual and physical process with my own hands, it may, or may not, be 'art'. With numerous people I have wrestled with this idea of 'art', fine art', 'craft', and 'design'. It is very personal for every individual. When I sign my name on the back of a painting, it is because I painted it.
PB: You have recently ventured from two dimension into sound. Can you explain what took you there and your relationship with it?
Lorenz: Music has always been very important to me. I was at the Venice Biennale in 2009 and attended their music fesitval. I heard a concert that pushed all of my buttons...it was symphonic, dissonant, violent, fascinating, captivating, challenging...and I needed to know more. The composer of the piece performed was Iannis Xenakis, a composer that I was not familiar with. I investigated him and his work and found out he was a structural engineer for LeCorbusier back in the 1940's and 50's and used many of his drawings as the basis for his music compositions. Suddenly a light turned on in my brain...making lines, giving them length of time and pitch...a visual vocabulary that I was very familiar with as an architect and artist suddenly seemed to make sense in sound. Interpreting a drawing into a sound piece is fascinating for me...it is like learning a new language. Making a drawing for a sound piece is easy...it is visual and fun...interpreting the drawing into sound is the challenge. Giving parameters to the sounds, choosing instruments, moving from a drawing to sheet music, they take a lot of concentration and I really need to focus to make it happen. I work with an audio-engineer to record the interpretations via computer. I am not a composer in the traditional sense or intent, but sound is a result of interpreting the abstract drawings or photographs.
PB: Where's your favorite place in the world and why aren't you there all of the time?
Lorenz: Another difficult question! I am from Chicago originally, and Chicago will always be 'home', but I do not see myself moving back. Many places intrigue me...but I do not necessarily want to live there...they would stop being special. I have a long and marvelous relationship with Italy, which I am fortunate to get to visit often. I do love being in Mexico...I spend winters in Merida, Yucatan recording sound pieces, oil painting and renovating a house/studio. I work differently in Mexico and I want to explore that more. I do not speak Spanish, so there is an automatic challenge, but the colors, heat, rhythm, history all make me smile. Merida is a special place.
PB: What's your next adventure?
Lorenz: Professionally, I will be participating in the Florence Biennale in October. A sound piece I created in China, a string octet, will be performed live during the biennale. This is the first time a sound piece is being performed by an ensemble, so I am excited and nervous. I met the musicians last May and I know they will be brilliant, but moving from the privacy of my studio to a public concert is a new experience. I have been involved in a couple of improv concerts of my sound work, but a formal concert is a big deal. For me, the live performance is the culmination of all the drawing and interpreting. Personally, I head to Merida with my partner after Christmas to see what new things will be discovered.