Artist Lawrence Carroll eloquently delivered the keynote address at SACI’s first MFA in Studio Art Graduate Commencement Ceremony this spring. The MFA students had the opportunity to meet the artist previously at his exhibition Ghost House at MAMbo in Bologna. Below is an inspiring interview with the artist by Camilla Lastrucci.
Is there an artist or a master who inspires you?
Many artists have inspired me through my life and continue to. Not only for what they create but also for how they chose to live their lives. I believe it is a moral duty for an artist to give something back, not just with their work but also with their time. Time is our greatest treasure.
We cannot forget how important other artists were to us when we where young and starting out, and how they helped us in so any ways. We must remember this, and in our own way we also must give something back. I always tell this to young artists, that one day their turn will come and they must never forget that.
Why did you decide to come to Italy?
I had been coming to Europe with my work since 1989 when Harald Szeemann invited to me to a show in Hamburg, Germany. I was many times each year in Germany, France, or Italy. One night at a dinner in Verona after a show of mine, Angela Vatesse invited me to IUAV in Venice to teach one class with the subject painting; that was over 10 years ago.
What do you think about the art scene in Italy? How does it differ from the American one from which it originates?
I am really not the one to ask. I really do not find myself in a scene often. I also did not while I was in Los Angeles. In New York in the mid 1980’s I was somewhat more active, although I prefer being away from that noise. I enjoy the solitude of the studio. We travel enough to see enough. I do not go to openings much, but I do enjoy seeing shows when in different cities, as I love looking at painting.
You studied art at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. What kind of relationship did you have with your teachers? Do you think anyone in particular has influenced your artistic career, and are you still in contact with any of them?
I had some great teachers in college, some that fundamentally changed the direction of my life. That is without a doubt. I was a somewhat lost kid who loved to draw. I was so fortunate to find teachers who encouraged me and pushed me and who were honest to me about what I was making. I do not think, actually, I know for a fact I would not be an artist today if I had not come upon them. I was a lucky kid.
In your opinion, what is an artist?
I can talk about painting. I think the great painters are individuals who are able to take their work somewhere else, at times not knowing where that is. [It is] as if the work is being made through them, almost in an unconscious way. They are lost in that time of making and when they come out of the other side of that experience, they have something profoundly theirs, and have given something wonderful to painting.
[Artists] are able to look at the painting in front of them not for what it is, but for what it can become and they are not afraid to go there to find that, and at the same time risk loosing what is in front of them. They have no fear that they will eventually find what they need.
That is one way. There are many, and that is the beauty of painting. We are always being taught what a painting can be. What a painter can be… it is endless. Human creativity is endless.
Do you think that you can teach how to become an artist?
I think many artists have something in them from the get go. I believe many young artists have a certain curiosity about the world and how they see and feel and navigate the world. Or how they feel lost in it, and are trying to find in someway how they fit in it. They may need help in shaping that view. I believe you can open doors and point some to places that may not be obvious to them. You can help them understand their own nature and help them find ways of protecting that and trusting that and embracing that and not fighting against it. You can encourage them to find something that is theirs and to nurture that.
You can encourage them to be disciplined and hard working, and to accept failure as part of one’s path and embrace that and not run from that. We all fail, and in failures we truly can find things, things that one could never find in another way. Life for everyone is imperfect, so why should one think the studio practice should be in any way different?
What is the task of a teacher?
Personally I believe the task of the teacher is to really look at whom you are talking to. I have no agenda when I teach. I could care less about that. I am not trying to get them to join my view of things, how silly that can be. That is not my place to impose that on a student. I really try to find out what they are trying to get at, what they feel compelled to make. I do not do classroom critiques where all the students put their works up and they all talk about them. I talk to them one on one. I try to get to know them and for them to get to know me and for us to trust each other and open up. I push them. I give them always a lot of work. I try to get them to push themselves. I try to get them to surprise themselves; I try and teach them to be able to feel uncomfortable with what they are creating, to give themselves time to see what they have in front of them. To break their rhythm and routine and to forget about what they know and leave that all behind for sometime for something they do not know so well. To tell them they can always go back to what it was that they where making, but I tell them that it will never be the same. It will be richer. I teach them that they need to trust what it is they are making this is their fuel. The work does not make itself they have to make it. They have to give all they can to what they are making. Fail and struggle with it. Have a bad day with it, a bad week and bad month and come back and go at it again. Just do not give up. Keep pushing to you find that something to hang on to in the painting, and then build on that. I encourage them over and over and over again. And I simply tell them; no one can do this for you. You have to do this for yourself. And I tell them they are not alone in this. And for them to seek out the company of community, be it one person or 20, we need others. We cannot do this all alone.
You have taught painting at the University of Venice. What kind of relationship do you have with your students?
I tell my students that unless we engage one-on-one, we will get nowhere during our time together. We must in some way have a dialog, we must open up to each other about what it is the young student is trying to get it, trying to articulate, like to bring form to. It is my job to help the shape that, guide them, provide what I can for them in terms of support, references of other artist who’s work thy may not know but connect to. I see my self as a bridge.
What do you think is a priority to teach to your students?
To be curious
To never stop…. It is your life and how beautiful to have this ability to create. It is a responsibility if you have the opportunity to take this as serious as possible.
What is your relationship with technology? How have new technologies changed the way of making art and teaching it?
I use the computer everyday, for my studio work, but it has little to do with my paintings or the things my paintings are about.
The above interview with Lawrence Carroll by Italian journalist, Camilla Lastrucci was done during the spring of 2015 for SACI’s first MFA Commencement ceremonial events. ©SACI (Photos © Lorenzo Guasti/SACI)