Leisa Rich – Artist


Imagine an Artist making art for 35 years with a fine range of qualifications, a seemingly ebullient personality and a fascinating portfolio of works, and you have Leisa Rich from Atlanta, Georgia. A fibre Artist with a blog and a website. www.monaleisa.com www.richmade.etsy.com http://monaleisa.posterous.com

I read Leisa’s responses with deep interest, clearly a highly motivated Artist and a person who seems to have had many challenges and yet “bounces back” with ease. I feel sure there will be many people in awe of her tenacity as an Artist… It has taken a lot of work to edit this interview to keep it at a reasonable length, as Leisa had so much great value to add!

I hope the reader gets just some of Leisa’s energy, angst, brutal honesty, passion etc… I certainly felt she had so much to share. Thanks Leisa

Steve Gray

So Leisa, can you give us an overview of where your art is coming from or what it’s about?
I feel an increasing lack of control inherent to living life today.

Social issues of global uncertainty, unsettling politics, medical challenges, environmental woes, the insistent ways in which human interaction is being forced to morph due to technology, lack of human connection on a personal face-to-face level, and the accelerated, frenetic pace of a humanity trying to deal with the fallout of it all informs my recent work.

In addition, there is also my more personal interest in the on-going dialogue of the relationship (or often, lack thereof) between craft and art; society is finally recognizing fibers as a valid art form…how can I leave a foot in the traditional world of fiber art I love so well and also embrace and access the general mainstream art worlds’ love affair with expression through painting?

In an effort to create the arena for such dialogue and give it a voice of expression, as well as continue in my tradition as a fiber artist, I am creating Neo-surrealist, stitched, narrative “paintings” as well as 3 dimensional pieces – often in installation format and that utilize recycled media- that hint at or actually create, an alternate reality. In addition, I am seeking a tactile and visual way to control and shape outcome.

What are you currently working on?
A massive, viewer interactive, constructed and stitched alter- reality installation.

Why are you an artist?
Compelled by tactile experiences while in the hospital for deafness as a child.

How did you get into art?
I got mono (glandular fever) while on a piano scholarship at prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts private boarding school and had to drop my minor-dance for a semester, due to the illness. A friend said “Take weaving, man…it’s an easy “A”. Three days into it I was absolutely hooked on fiber and switched my major to art, much to my parents’ dismay.


How important is art for you?
It is the air I breathe, the calm in the storm, the thing that keeps me sane. And, even beyond that.

What is it about Visual Art you find compelling?
Art is perpetual change that I can control, tactile stimulation that gives me goosebumps, complete adoration- it never finds fault with me- and I can send a message out into the world and have it received.


Your art education was…?
Three degrees. A Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, then a Bachelor of Education in Art and finally, at the ripe old age of 47, I got my Master of Fine Arts degree.


The craziest thing you did at art school was…
I stayed in a destructive relationship throughout my first undergraduate degree with a brilliant and disturbed painter (who presently owns a prominent NYC gallery!) thus affecting the quality of my experience at that time. The stupidity of the young…


Was your education helpful, or a hindrance?
Hmmm…most of it was a waste of time, but there were components of my MFA that were very, very helpful. I think I appreciated and gleaned far more as an older, wiser art student. I took everything really seriously and worked very hard.


What did you do before or during becoming an artist?
What didn’t I do! I was a store mannequin; a warm-up dancer for a disco band; a lingerie salesperson; a pizza parlor waitress; a fashion model; sold silver polish; babysat; was a fashion designer for an exclusive, international fashion design company; designed hats and clothes for t.v. shows; owned a wearable art business; sold everything I owned and travelled the world with my husband and first daughter for a year; was (and still am) an art teacher to ages 3-88 years of age; did census-taking; became a Mom- twice; overcame deafness and a paralysing major car accident and reconstructive back surgery, conquered foot and knee surgery; have taken care of a dying Dad and am now helping out an aging Mom and raising the last remaining child at home.

Was art a “thing” that was encouraged in your family?
Not by my parents, but my sister and brother-in-law were excellent artists and art professor.

Did the place where you grew up have an influence?
Yes. I grew up in Canada, full of natural beauty, peacefulness and little crime or threat. Nature inspires a great deal of my work.


Was there a big turning point in your art journey that caused you to think that “it’s all worthwhile”, or “oh yeah I get it…”?
Hmmmmm, I am still waiting for the big turning point. I have always gotten it, but my work has not got the recognition and sales I would really like. But, it is always worth it because I have no choice. This is what I was meant to do and I love every moment in the studio or watching as my students have their own AHA! Moments.

What caused you to choose the medium you currently work in?
My mother used to make Barbie doll dresses for me and bring them to the hospital so I could play with them and dress my barbie. I loved the satins, silks, the tactile. I absolutely love texture and touch…and we are sorely lacking in touch in these technological days.

Has your work changed much since your early efforts?
Yes and NO! Concepts change, technical skills improve, but my work STILL has that push/pull dichotomy of intriguing and attracting the viewer, while at the same time repelling them.


You know you are successful in Visual Arts when…
You feel good listening to others verbally screw your piece and take what you want from the critique, but still know who you are. Thick skin is very important.

Creative streaks do they come in waves for you?
Mostly riding the Big Kahuna…but when there are external stresses in my life, it takes a huge toll on my work. Recently, my husband lost his job and I didn’t make anything for several weeks. That has never, ever happened before. Usually, it is one or two days. I can’t stand going longer than that without putting my hand to it!

Do you get creative glimpses of urges happening and how do you work with these?
My creative urges are 24/7, 365 days a year. I need to clone myself.


How important is the clarity of concept to you, prior to starting an artwork?
Very, very, very.

Do you have a personal description of “Art”?
That would take volumes and more time than I presently have to discuss! We’d have to get into a debate about fibers’ place in the art world, and then that would lead to the never-ending Craft vs Art debate, and then I would start espousing all of my negative feelings about the hierarchy of painting and how they think they are the Kings….

Do you have much contact with other artists?
I try. I am the state representative for the Surface Design Association and am on the Board of Directors for a new fiber arts center we are opening up this year in Atlanta and I have some artist friends.

Working towards an exhibition, is it a daunting task?
Not if you time it well, stay focussed, work hard, and never, ever leave anything to the last minute. I am a highly organized, prolific artist. The Martha Stewart of the art world. Everything is labelled in my studio and storage.

Some say the lifespan of many “artists” post educationally is about five years, any thoughts on that?
Holy shit! Are you kidding me?! I just graduated in 2007 with my MFA, am almost 50 and am just getting started! Throw that question out!


What sort of research and or reference material do you do for current works and has that changed over time?
Some things deserve lots of research, others very little. It depends on the project. I access the internet a lot…don’t go to see any art books at my local library because A) they have too many Dead White Guys and B) I have a better, more comprehensive selection of my own books. I read art books voraciously and collect them prodigiously.

Do you hope the viewer will “get” what you are trying to communicate or do you feel compelled to spell it out to them?
First rule of grad art school…never give them everything.


What can you say about your work that might not be evident to the viewer?
Time is NOT on my side. I don’t slap dash some paint on a canvas and call it a day. Most of my pieces START at 400 hours each.

What can you tell us about your creative development process?
Idea comes into head, sit down and start making it. Hang it up, put it on the floor, look at it, attack it and change it, look at it over and over again, repeat several times until you know…just instinctively KNOW…it is done.

Art is about entertainment, experiment, inventiveness or shock for you?
Personal vision and human expression. An invitation to look differently and experience. Titillation. Provocative thinking. If I see one more bowl of fruit I will scream….


About significant moments in your life, the sort of things that changed things for you forever… perhaps altered your Art…
Who how why what and where…? Some intimate things can’t be fully discussed at this level. I do know that my physical challenges and growing up in Canada, and my shock at the human condition are all significant. Having kids and not having enough time for myself is significant. Doing something for 35 years and not being recognized is significant. Hanging out in my Dad’s electrical shop with the other “guys”- the plumbers, pipe fitters, etc. with shops in the same complex- was significant. At one time, female genital mutilation et al was highly significant. Babies being dumped alive after birth in dumpsters was significant. The way a leaf curves to catch the light is significant. It’s a life and it informs every single art piece.

If you stopped doing art right now would you miss it?
I would die.

Is motivation to work an issue for you and how do you overcome it?
Never. I am always motivated (except for after the shock of my husbands’ job loss).


Your first “decent” gallery representation, how did it come about?
I still don’t have any. No one has accepted my work.

Is your art, “art for art sake…” or a matter of “art for commercial viability?”
Well! Ain’t that a loaded gun! Both. I do it because I have to, but it sure would be nice to pay some bills because of it.

If you have been working as an artist for a while, how do you feel about earlier works that are in people’s collections / ownership?
Actually, I think I have a pretty awesome life’s work record. Some of my pieces from 20 years ago are similar to things I see now that are garnering attention and sales.


Some say a measure of an artwork is the ability for it to hold a persons attention or cause the viewer to come back after an initial glance and become captivated by the work, is that so for your works or an intention of yours?
It is totally important to me. I want to suck the viewer in to my story…and lately, to contribute to that story, physically.

People around you (family friends etc.) what would they say about the way you work, the moods you have, your life as an artist etc?
That’s another loaded gun! My father used to say, “Why can’t you paint some pretty pictures and make money?” That says it all.

What or how do you respond to the term “Starving Artist”?
Another loaded gun. I try to be positive about it, but my life stays on the Starving Artist side, despite all of my good attempts to make it otherwise.


Which is more important to you, the subject of your work, or the way it is executed?
Subject. I want to connect with an artwork. I was moved to tears once by a piece done on a piece of cardboard…

How important is society, culture and or history to your work?
It is all crucial. The most important thing an artist can be is educated, enlightened and informed.

Have you won any awards?
Yes, actually this is one area I have been quite successful in.


The problem with the art scene today is…
It is incestuous.

Have you ever made an artistic pilgrimage? If so, where did you go and why?
I sold everything I owned, travelled around the world and looked at all sorts of art along the way.

How did you go about marketing your art?
Website, blog, twitter, demos, teach, mailing list, occasional magazine ads, give-aways, charitable donations and more.

How many artworks do you produce in a year?
Dozens of significant pieces.

How often do you work in the studio?
Every, single day.

Do you ever question being an artist?
All of the time. I feel tremendous guilt for taking so much time and money away from my retirement with my husband and from my family….

How do you cope with any low points?
Feel depressed, shake myself off and move on.

How long do our works they usually take to complete?
400-600 or more hours of work. The one I am presently working on will take a year.

How did you approach your first gallery?
Doing everything that I was taught to do. The approach, the portfolio of images, etc. I did what everyone suggested. Still no gallery will take me…and here in Atlanta, it’s all about the “who-you-know” so fat chance of getting noticed here.

Do you think art school nurtured you or somehow crushed you?
Both. I had a lot of diva professors with their own favorite students and agenda.

How did you manage to survive financially at the beginning of your art career?
Working, always working…while pregnant, while a Mom, always working.

How do you establish your art work prices?
A formula and then forge the formula because I know no one is going to pay that. Right now I get about 50 cents an hour.

Can you respond to this quote “Anyone who is half assed about art should get out.” (Janet Fish).
Yep. I know what she is saying. Unfortunately…it seems a lot of half-assers and ass-kissers make it. I know one.

What was life like for you as you were growing up?
Lower, middle class, good Canadian family. Parents who never understood where in the world their two artistic daughters emerged from.

How did your first solo show go?

Did you have any idea about how the art world worked in the beginning?
Certainly not. I was full of optimism and enthusiasm! I still have the enthusiasm but not the optimism. Especially in these tough economic times.

How do you continue to grow, or is this not important?
Always and it is always important. I see a lot of artists become successful doing one form of art and they stay with that forever because the money is good. I have a love/hate relationship with that view….

Did you have an inspirational teacher, and how did that affect you?
No, I actually had teachers who were always against me. It was important to me to rise above their negativity and find my voice and believe in myself.

Here are a bunch of statements you can respond to any way you want. Go for the first thing that comes into your mind, or not…

Sociable and out there, or withdrawn or intense? Sociable WHEN out there, withdrawn in the studio.

Tough and resilient, soft and fragile? Tough on the outside, a total jellyfish inside.

Small and intimate or large and bold? Large and bold.

Security or insecurity? Insecurity.

Feel the art and hear the image… Feel. Literally.

The world is… a bitch. Awesome. A dichotomy.

Delicate and subtle, strong and bold? Strong and bold.

Intellect or careless casual connections… Intellect.

Critics are important because? People love to listen to negativity!!!!

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Compiled and edited by Steve Gray © 2009+

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One Response to “Leisa Rich – Artist”

  1. Contemporary Visual Artist Interviews : Art Re-Source on June 23rd, 2010 11:33 pm

    […] Leisa Rich […]