Inside the mind's eye

Jessie Lawson's paintings portray a world far from this one
Sunday, November 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:10 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Q:Would you say painting is a form of meditation?

A: I would say it is extraordinarily engaging. It is a physical and imaginative act that is completely absorbing for me. I love the look of a blank canvas; I usually have one in my dining room.

Q: Your work resembles Spanish and Mexican folk art. Do you purposely use this stylistic background for your work?A: No, but I do base paintings on other paintings. One of my paintings in Ellis Library is called “To Velázquez and Picasso.” I dedicated it to them because it’s based on Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” which Picasso copied. I use very famous compositions deliberately, like a joke. Sometimes I’ll do it just for the hell of it, but you can actually learn a lot that way. These imitations are a part of self-teaching.

Q: What are the different mental elements to your work?

A: I’ll tell you something: My work creates an alternative world that is much nicer than this one. That world is harmonious and joyful. I don’t think humans were put here to rule with an iron fist, so I show that the cats in my paintings have lives and spirits, too. I believe in the “beingness” of my beings. I think my work also relates to the gender issues that I have taught and studied over the years. My art challenges the idea of women or other species as objects rather than subjects in their own right.

Q: What are some experiences in your life that have influenced your work?

A: First, I grew up in a socially radical household. When I was 8, my mother got cancer, and I had to grow up really fast. I remember I used to make paper dolls with dog and cat heads. I kind of set aside my artistic endeavors until I was close to retirement.

Q: What materials do you use in your work?

A: I paint with acrylics, but I do collage, so I use a lot of materials like wrapping paper, letters and altered prints. So I’d say it’s mixed media. Sometimes I use fabrics, clay, wood and beads.

Q: Since you started painting, how has your life changed?

A: Well, I think that the cause and effect is complicated here. I have a 31-year-old kid who went to college and started a life, and I was getting ready to retire. My starting to paint and my life changing happened simultaneously. I don’t want to be the retired person who sits on the couch all day watching TV. I do have a TV, but it receives no channels, so I can’t go there.

Q: Have you ever painted by number?

A: No!

Q: What is your favorite color?

A: I don’t have just one. I like many, many, many colors.

Q: Your work is playful and brightly colored. Do you think this reflects your personality?

A: Yeah, I like comedy, but especially black humor. I really don’t like stuff like Mary Engelbreit, it’s too “Good Housekeeping.” I think you can be socially critical and incorporate irony into your work but still have fun.

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