Artist of the Week: Laura Hart Newlon

Laura Hart Newlon is an artist living and working in Chicago. She has recently participated in exhibitions at Schneider Gallery (Chicago), Sullivan Gallery (Chicago), Wassaic Project (New York) and Johalla Projects (Chicago). Before focusing on her career as an artist, she played the violin and studied visual anthropology. Newlon completed her BA and MA in cultural anthropology at Western Washington University and the University of Washington, and her MFA in Studio Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she currently teaches.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I’m an interdisciplinary visual artist with a background in social science, cultural studies and photography. My work often evolves through sculpture and photography, though I’m less interested in distinguishing between the two media than I am in combining them and exploring the moments of resonance or awkwardness that result. I’m a collector of all sorts of everyday ephemera—textiles, secondhand objects, knickknacks—and these things act as materials, departure points, in my practice. I’m interested in working with objects and materials that are familiar but have had, or can have, multiple lives, especially in the space of a photograph.

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(sculptural work by Crystal Gregory)

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? My friend and fellow artist Kate O’Neill and I are working on a collaborative endeavor called Tropical Depression, which is part curatorial project, part creative prompt for the development of our own work. We’re in the beginning stages, doing some wide-ranging research that includes reading ethnography, listening to music, reading about natural disasters and thinking about rattan furniture. It’s great.

I’m also beginning to develop some photographs that are inspired by the work Anni and Josef Albers as well as 1970s children’s craft projects which I grew up making in the 1980s. Think Homage to the Square re-imagined as a potholder but living as a photograph.

What are you currently watching on Netflix/what’s on your Netflix queue? Recently watched Hot Tub Time Machine. The documentary Theremin: An Electric Odyssey is on its way soon.

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How did your interest in art begin? I always enjoyed making things and was involved with a lot of crafts as a kid, but I think I trace my specific interest in photography to growing up on an island and becoming fascinated with photographs of other places as a teenager. I’ve traveled quite a bit as an adult and photography definitely fueled that itch. Interestingly, my art practice is still very much concerned with image-making but I don’t have the need to travel much at all now to make my work, though the materials I use definitely come from all over.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? I make photographs that are the love child between still life and abstraction.

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Tell us a joke. Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Because he was dead.

What artists are you interested in right now? Gedi Sibony, Amanda Ross-Ho, Annette Kelm, Letha Wilson, Dirk Stewen, Uri Aran…there are so many. I’ve recently been reading about female members of the Bauhaus who made exciting work but were, for a long time, largely overlooked: not just Anni Albers, but Marian Brandt, Gunta Stölzl, and Gertrud Arndt, too. I’m interested in how their work becomes this fascinating mix of abstraction, tactility, architecture, space and form.

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What’s your favorite thing about your city? Chicago has a very active creative community, especially for young and emerging artists. This town is famous for its artist-run spaces, many of which are showing great work, partnering with other exhibition spaces, and generally experimenting with different models for making and exhibiting that are not entirely beholden to the familiar commercial model.

I also love all the thunderstorms we get here in the summer.

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What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? I thought Amalia Pica at the MCA here in Chicago was great; I’m also excited for the installation that Amanda Ross-Ho is currently working on, also at the MCA. She’s constructed a huge replica of a mannequin head that we often use in studio lighting classes in photography.

What is your snack/beverage of choice when working in your studio? The drink of old women in Florida: La Croix bubbly water.

What do you do when you’re not working on art? I read, cook, ride my bike, waste time, occasionally watch some series television, eat tacos…normal human stuff.

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What are you really excited about right now? I recently received a scholarship to attend the Vermont Studio Center residency, which I’m thrilled about. Due to a busy summer and fall schedule, I’ll be there in January, when it’s freezing and snowy—the perfect chance to hunker down and make a lot work.

Any current or upcoming shows we should know about? I have work in a four-person show called Surface Tension at the Schneider Gallery that’s up now into the beginning of September. I’m showing alongside artists Ben Alper, Daniel Hojnacki, and Diane Meyer, and though I didn’t know their work well before this exhibition developed, I’m excited by what they do and what conversations open up as a result of our work being in the same space.

If you hadn’t become an artist what do you think you’d be doing? I think I’d still be making art, just with some other primary focus. This was the year I was slated to complete my Ph.D. when I was in graduate school in anthropology…so maybe I’d be doing that, research and writing. But I spent years with this vague feeling that I was trying to fit a square peg in a round whole by getting my doctorate in anthropology. Being an artist feels like a good fit; maybe it’s the only fit.

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What are you listening to right now? William Onyeabor. He’s wild.

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? A professor of architecture once called my photographs “delightful and heroic” which are two words I’d never use to describe my work…but it was a bizarre, wonderful response.