December 26th, 2022
Look … and then look again.
When you view a Laura Wait painting, your eye is drawn past the surface images to the hints of a history below.
Take, for example, her “Thunder Moon Rising.” As Wait puts it, “This gives the idea of a feeling, of a certain time of the moon in summer. The paint is acrylic, but it’s very thin paint that lets the light through to a lot of layers. You can see the paper underneath through those layers.”
Wait and her husband, who live in Santa Fe, like to sit together in the evening watching the stars coming out, and the moon “doing this or that.” Seeing Venus rising in the sky inspired her painting “Venus on the Wolf Moon,” a multi-layered work which also employs printed letters from a book — cut from some pages the artist calls “old stuff of my own. I like to use my own materials. And I like titles that suggest a story for the painting.”
Wait’s journey in the art world began in high school, where she became fascinated by woodcuts, silk screen, and paint. A degree from Barnard College in art history led to a key development for her: a 1976 London course in printmaking, lithographics, and silk screening, and then on to bookbinding. Her studies at Croydon College of Art earned her a certificate with merit for a one-year course in 1977, specializing in intaglio and bookbinding. She continued her studies in traditional bookbinding at Croydon, and received a certificate with distinction for a three-year course in 1981.
When Wait returned in 1981 to Colorado, she worked on library conservation and rare books in order to support her painting career.
“I was fascinated by the stuff I got to look at, and also by my work with calligraphers in Denver,” Wait recalls. “I started making my own handmade artist’s books, using handwriting, printmaking, calligraphy — all kinds of materials influence my work, everything from medieval manuscripts to contemporary graffiti. And in 2004, I stopped working for other people.”
Wait’s artist books are extraordinary. Several of her books bear Latin titles, such as “Artus Litterarius”; some have minimal texts, and others are purely images overlain with graphic elements (occasionally squares or exotic checkerboards). It is the esthetic of the words and graphics, not the texts themselves, that is important to the artist.
Wait was drawn to what she calls “the art of the letter, some of it inspired by Asian writing, and most of it layered in some way. Books often refer to religion in my work.”
Despite her successes in the book genre, Wait decided it was time to move on.
“I thought, ‘I should just paint,’” she recalls. “I prefer to ‘work big.’ Books are too confining – though I still feel there’s something about a book that’s really cool. People do collect them.”
Wait’s experimentation with media has led her in some intriguing directions.
“There’s always something below the surface in my work,” she explains. Often inspired by history, she is drawn to hieroglyphics and ancient Asian calligraphy. The idea of “what lies beneath” fascinates Wait: “I’d love to go to Rome and look at the old walls with stuff underneath, all the stuff that is hidden.”
Her work is always evolving, Wait says.
“Commissions can be hard, if you do something you did before. I try to make everything new, and to get more space and a sense of openness in my painting. I like what I do: I really enjoy it. It’s important to make a connection with people.”
Interview and authored by Melinda Bargreen