Far Flung Artists: Lisa Wade
Local art opportunities influenced her path
By Leslie Grace / A! Magazine for the Arts | October 31, 2012Lisa Wade grew up in Abingdon and attended Sullins Academy in Bristol, Va.
"It was at Sullins as well as the William King Regional Arts Center that I was first exposed to art and art history," she says. "I had an innate connection with visual representation, and I understood at an early age that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I felt I had finally found my voice and was just beginning to learn to speak. I will always be grateful for having been exposed to the arts at Sullins and William King. One should never underestimate the importance of the arts in the mind of a child when it is still fertile and receptive ground, and creativity hasn't yet been extinguished as one matures."
Her fertile imagination and talent led to her winning the 2010 Celeste International Prize, an award chosen by fellow artists from selections made by a panel of critics and curators, with her installation, Inverted Shelter.
"Inverted Shelter illustrates the accumulative effect of everyday alarmism in regard to terrorism," she says. "Each time someone chooses to stay home, not to take that train, plane or metro because of terrorism advisories which, like weather forecasts, identify days of greater or lesser risk — based on what criteria and by whom we should be asking — for me it is like they put a sandbag in front of their door. With each decision that they make to limit their mobility, they stack another one, and yet another one. It illustrates how the fear of the unknown and the idea of self-preservation in a safe country like America could lead to us shutting ourselves away from the outside."
Wade's work is rooted in the socio/political realm. Her G8 series takes the flags of the G8 nations and extracts the colors that make them readily identifiable, painting the flags in various shades of gray.
"This statement on globalization renders visible the risk of favoring the western model: an indistinct, muted world where all of the nations will tend to look and act in the same manner," she says. She chose to use diluted tar to paint her Nationbuilding series because it "is a petroleum product and functions as a literal reference to one of the chief motives for the war in Iraq."
She says that living abroad has helped her observe the U.S. differently. "You see how it is perceived by the greater part of the world and, from a distance, can see certain mechanisms much more clearly. That is true of Italy/Europe as well. Even though I live here now, I was born an "outsider,' so I am always analyzing preconceptions, because they are not innate but learned behaviors.
"Artists are filters of the time in which they live. Much of my work functions as a reaction to the media, especially the American media, which has administered a steady dose of fear and alarmism in order to keep the population in check. I take the thread spun by the media and pull it towards the most extreme possible outcome to identify the danger of following that road full course."
Wade says that one of her most fulfilling projects was a workshop with Gypsy children in the nomadic camp outside Rome. It was a project called quadratonomade (paintings in motion). The program's goal is to bring art to the most marginal of society, and then bring those creations to the highest public forums of art. The stop-action video that she and her students created, was composed of more than 600 drawings the children created using rudimentary animation techniques. It was shown in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome as well as at a special event within the camp.
"It was great watching the children shriek with delight when they saw their drawings flash on the screen. These are children that are invisible on the streets of Rome. They didn't understand why we would take the time to work with them. I said, "I believe in you and in how you perceive the world, and I want others to experience that.'"
She says she happily gives her time to children's workshops and to schools because she benefitted greatly as a child from the instances when she was introduced to art.
Wade is working on a project she calls Shelter. It is an allegory for the 21st-century condition: self-isolation/displacement in a global world. "We live in a time marked by instability: the economy, war and climatic change," she says. "People want to feel secure and often create their own private universe online, feeling infinitely connected with the world, yet often not knowing what lies beyond their own front door. I wanted to emphasize this sense of displacement, by creating a room without any windows and placing digital monitors that function as windows on each of the three walls. What plays out on the screens is an accelerated time-lapse video that transports the viewer into different habitations, one after the next."
She is also using camouflage as a surface on which to paint. She began when she moved to Germany. "I felt the need to establish points of reference, so I made myself my own nation and, letting the organic shape of the camouflage inform boundaries, I began to add neighboring nations representing new acquaintances until my personal atlas grew to map a non-existent world." The work is entitled Where Mine Ends and Yours Begins.
She says, "you can adjust to living absolutely anywhere. The trick is not to project your personal expectations upon that culture, but to accept the place for what it has to offer you. A lot of Americans are frustrated with how Italy functions, and they become miserable living there. I don't expect American standards in Italy, just like I can't expect to find a decent espresso in the U.S."
There is one thing she does miss from home, other than her family: pecans. "I always make a pecan pie when I celebrate Thanksgiving in Italy with American friends. You can't find pecans in Europe, and I bring them every year just to have that connection with the South. Virginia was and will always be home, even if I haven't lived there since high school. Looking back after living in so many places, growing up in a small, tight-knit community like Abingdon was really a gift. I lived amongst open, dedicated and compassionate people, and I hope that I also acquired those qualities."
Artist's Bio: Lisa Wade
Born: Washington, D.C., moved to Abingdon at 4
BFA Wheaton College, Ill.
MFA Painting, American University, between Rome, Perugia and Washington, D.C.
Winner of 2010 Celeste International Prize
- Sandra Watkins
Lisa Wade's G8 flag series
Where Mine Ends and Yours Begins by Lisa Wade