January 11th, 2021
A year ago we had the privilege of first introducing our collectors to the mixed media abstract work of Laura Wait. Now, right on the cusp of her upcoming show with artist Jane Maxwell, “Make Your Mark,” we caught up with the artist to see how this unusual year has impacted her life and work. Throughout our conversation we discuss her latest influences, inspirations, experimentations, and beautiful pastimes.
Gallery MAR: How has your practice changed in the age of COVID?
Laura Wait: I experimented for a while because it didn’t seem like I needed to worry about regular things, so it was good from that perspective. Since June, it has actually been really busy, though. I have the upcoming show at Gallery MAR.
In Santa Fe here though, the town seems pretty quiet, so it’s been a mixed bag. It’s been better for me in a lot of ways because I have more time, and I’ve been able to work away in the studio. My husband and I live on three acres, so there are less distractions… although, there are times when you would prefer to have a little more social contact.
Gallery MAR: How, if at all, has it altered your outlook on life and art?
Laura Wait: I still make art as I want to. Sometimes when things are slow, you question, “why am I doing this?” Ultimately, it’s because I genuinely like doing it. If I didn’t do art, what would I do? I’m at the age when plenty of people retire, but I think, what would I do if I retired? I’m already doing what I would want to do now.
I traveled a lot when I was younger, and I lived in Europe for a few years, so I don’t feel a huge desire to travel. So I suppose I’ll never retire. My husband and I are stay-at-home types anyways. We’re always working on our houses and we garden.
Gallery MAR: Yes, I hear you have quite the garden! Could you tell us a little about it?
Laura Wait: We bought a place that already had a garden out back. We’ve always loved gardening, so it was perfect.We have 12 raised beds, and it’s all fenced. We have about 32-40 tomato plants in any given year. I get heirloom tomato seeds from all different place and grow the tomatoes from seeds in our sunroom.
This year we had a bumper crop of carrots of all things. We share with friends, and I make carrot juice. I just harvested the last of them a week ago. It was one of those years where you wanted the feeling of bounty of a growing garden.
This year it was drier and hotter than usual, and there was hardly any rain. The critters in the area didn’t have anything else to eat, so unfortunately, we had a lot more attacks on our produce. I also grow a lot of hot pepper plants, and the critters even got into those. I’d find half-eaten hot peppers all over the place. Usually they avoid the hot peppers, so I was amazed. These must be true New Mexican critters to handle that heat!
It’s been really great to have this garden this summer. We don’t buy many vegetables in the summer. Normally, we have more fruit, too, but this year it froze at just the wrong point, so we didn’t get any. Usually we have a couple of peach trees, an apricot tree, a plum tree, a pear tree, and a couple of apple trees.
Gallery MAR: Why is it important to you to keep a garden?
Laura Wait: I like the food, and I really enjoy doing it. I like messing around in the dirt and being outside. I like the sense of things growing and being out in nature. It’s really important to be outside, and it’s very satisfying to plant these seeds and see them grow. The things you grow – like green beans, for instance, which did really well this year – they are so much better than what you get in the store.
I like flowers, too, and I tend to grow the native ones. There are a lot of different kinds of flowers that grow really well here. I have these big, massive English-style floral gardens. I just love gardening… although, it does get a little overwhelming to have to cut it back.
Gallery MAR: Do you find that the act of gardening finds its way into your artwork in any way? Are there any botanical influences to any of your pieces?
Laura Wait: Only occasionally do these botanical influences find their way into my work. I did a couple paintings a year ago that were really about gardens. I called them “Jardinaire” paintings.
But mostly, it’s still words and symbols that captivate me. My work is more about my fascination with linguistics. For instance, I found out just recently that the word “gerrymandering” is named after an early 19th century Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. He created some district that looked like a salamander in Boston, so they combined his name, “Gerry” with the word “salamander.” That’s where the word “gerrymandering” came from. I thought that was fascinating! So etymology and words still really interest me: the shape and the marks of them.
Gallery MAR: You mentioned earlier that this time spent quarantining during COVID has inspired some experimentation. Could you talk a little more about that?
Laura Wait: Yes, well in the spring I did some experimentation. You see, I usually work on panels and wood, but occasionally I work on traditional canvas. I think I quit doing that because I get more detail marks with a small pen on a smooth surface, and the canvas has a sort of rough surface. I always stretched my own canvas when I did work on it. I have a big work table that’s 60” x 120,” so I would roll out these big pieces of canvas that would take up the whole table. Then I would get up on top of the table and paint it with washes and big marks and things like that.
Then I would also sew. I have a piece that I never totally finished. It’s sort of like a painted quilt. I took pieces of canvas and pieces of paper and just sewed them and layered them. It was influenced by a woman named Dorothy Caldwell, who was well known for doing projects all over the world, taking local sewing techniques and bringing them into her work.
I’m not a natural sewer though. I was a book binder for a long time and I think that it just became too much like work to me. It was fun to sit there and methodically sew for a while, though. It was like meditating. I think it was good for me to do that for a few months, and then it freed me up to do some other things.
Mostly this year I’ve been working more with paper layers, which I’ve worked with before. I’ve been working with them a lot more lately and combining them with paint layers. I used to do them in a succession of layers, but now it’s melding together more than it used to.
Gallery MAR: Will we find any of those new influences and experimentations in your upcoming show?
Laura Wait: Yes! For instance, my painting “Sanguine Moon” has big shapes across the paper layers underneath it. And expanding on my interest in words, the painting’s title has a couple of meanings. A lot of my paintings are named after lunar cycles, and the Sanguine Moon is like the October Moon. But the word “sanguine” also refers to being confident or optimistic that something will get better in a bad situation, and that is how I feel about this past year. But sanguine is also a color red, so I thought, “Oh it has all of these meanings, it’s perfect.”
Gallery MAR: Speaking of new inspiration, I’ve noticed you’ve been posting a lot more paintings with numerical values lately. Could you tell us a little more about that?
Laura Wait: Sure, there’s a painting Gallery MAR has called “Hopscotch on the Equator.” That one is a number painting. I always think of numbers as symbols or letter forms.
A few years ago, I did a painting called “Lunar Mathematics,” and I did a lot of prints of color abstracts of numbers. I had incorporated them in some paintings, so I decided I wanted to do something with numbers again. I think it’s just because I like them, but I’ve also always been interested in games. I’ve done a lot of work with chess imagery in the past as well.
So I hand-drew all the numbers, water colored them with watercolors and gouache, cut them up, and made paintings out of them. So I’ve done about five of those number paintings now. They remind me of playing hopscotch as a kid. I would draw out hopscotch on the pavement, and I’d often make them these hard patterns to follow. I would do these weird patterns that that weren’t normal. It’s kind of like patterns you’re trying to take control of in your life, but you can’t really quite control them. It feels relevant, because a lot of patterns this year have been broken and changed. But I think there’s positive things that will happen from that, like people moving or being home more.
But the one Gallery MAR has called “Hopscotch on the Equator.” It’s called that because there’s something about the equator that makes me think that there’s no real direction. It’s 0 degrees north and 0 degrees south. That’s interesting to me. I also thought about the equator as being this place with bright colors. So I incorporated some of the colors you might find in the Caribbean.
Laura Wait: I’m still mostly interested in word forms like those that would be used in graffiti, so I think there’s been more of that lately. Sometimes I title a piece because of the time period, like the lunar cycle, so there’s been more of that as well. Maybe more abstract shapes, as well. I think there’s a continuity with the interest in music, in general shapes, and in graffiti.
Sometimes I look back at some old letter forms for some new invigoration of cleaner shapes. I’m using a lot more big, black bold shapes because sometimes you need that clarity. I’m always looking at design. For instance, I design a lot around the shape of a triangle, because I think it gives you a good energy.
Gallery MAR: Well, we’re certainly looking forward to seeing the show. It should be beautiful! Before I let you go, one last question: what currently excites you the most in the studio?
Laura Wait: Making things that are really colorful and really alive. I want my new work to have a lot of energy in them. I’m trying to make them feel happy and full of life, because I think it’s important right now.
We would like to extend our gratitude to Laura Wait for taking the time to answer our questions. Stop by the gallery or check out our artists’ page to see the works from Laura Wait’s latest show with artist Jane Maxwell, “Make Your Mark,” opening January 8th, 2021.
Written by Veronica Vale