Interviewer: Therese Peralta
Interviewee: Lawrence Gipe
Date Interviewed: February 6, 2023
Edited By: Liam Larkin-Smith
Link to Youtube Upload: https://youtu.be/h3mrDeI_NWI
Link to Sound Cloud Audio: https://on.soundcloud.com/afxbK
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Therese: Hello. You are listening to KAMP Student Radio. This is the Interview series. My name is Therese Peralta, and I'll be the interviewer for today. Today I'm joined by a professor here at the University of Arizona. Would you like to introduce yourself and what you do here at the university?
Lawrence: Yes, my name is Lawrence Gipe, and I'm an associate professor in 2D studies in the School of Art, which is, I guess, another way of saying painting and drawing is the main aspects and print making.
Therese: Awesome. So how did you get interested in art in the first place?
Lawrence: Oh, my
Therese: I know it's kind of a big question.
Lawrence: I knew you were going to ask it and still I have no idea.
Therese: No, I totally get it. I totally get it.
Lawrence: Yeah. I think I have to go back to my family and how I grew up to get into that. I mean, I can remember looking at books about DA Vinci and things like that. I was super bored. I grew up in the woods.
Therese: Oh, wow.
Lawrence: In the middle of nowhere. And look, how old are you? This was 74. Right. So we had three network channels.
Therese: Oh, wow.
Lawrence: And one channel that would play old movies at night. And that's that's what we had. So I started drawing, I think, out of default and boredom of of just trying to scratch something together and. Well, the whole family was creative, especially Dad's side. I mean, my brother's a musician, and my cousin went to Peabody to be a concert pianist, and now he pays the bills by being a lawyer on TV.
Therese: Oh, my gosh.
Lawrence: My other cousin Laura's won two Newberry prizes for children's literature. Yeah, you start to feel like an underachiever with his crowd around. But there was my father, George, who wrote with Steve Martin and Carl Reiner at some movies in the 80s. But I grew up in his formative years. He was not a screenplay writer, and so he was down in the basement. Back then, you had a typewriter and doing carbon copies. You make a mistake in the middle of it, you're screwed.
Therese: I've heard the horror stories.
Lawrence: He had commandeered the basement as his office, and so we would just hear it coming up through the heat vents. Godda- We knew. Well, it never made me cringe. It was just dad doing his thing, and he was writing, writing, writing, anything and everything all the time. He always had a notebook and pen at hand for notes. He was writing movies and plays all the time. And so I was very lucky in that if I blurted out one night at dinner, I want to be an actor, they just to go, oh, great.
Therese: All right. Another one? Yeah, let's go.
Lawrence: We need one of those. Too many writers already. But it's true, I was the only visual artist
Therese: oh, wow.
Lawrence: In my family, because. Well, nobody quite got it. My father was kind of like, oh, Van Gogh. He could have benefited from some drawing lessons. I feel he had a point, since early work was a little bit awkward. But I remember one story, I was having- when he was a screenwriter. I was having breakfast with Steve Martin, and my father went to excuse himself for a moment, and I was aware that Martin collected work. And I said, my father said he visited your house and saw some arts. And he's like, yeah, I'm collecting this and that. I said, what did you see over there, dad? And he said, some of it was cool, but other stuff I just did not get. And I and I said, like, what? And he said, well, there was the six foot painting of something that looked like a very agitated child scrawled across it with a big piece of charcoal. And I said, well, that sounds like a Cy Twombly. He's like, what? Cy Twombly. It's a painter. He's very famous in the 80s and 90s. It's a million bucks, this painting. And so my mother's like, well, he's like, Twombly, that sounds like the name an agitated person would have. He just did not get it. That part of the Gipe family would say, you're know, you're being had. I think the musicians and the writers, they were all very little, very super creative, but there was not that kind of feeling that- that would break a wall into something that would seem technically wrong.
Therese: That's very interesting. So you said you grew up kind of in the woods. So would you say that inspired, like, a lot of your art and what you ended up?
Lawrence: Just the boredom of it. But you know what? I visited. Like, I would go off to school Richmond. I went to school in Richmond, Virginia, for my undergrad at Virginia Commonwealth. And I'd come back, and it was nice. I liked it better visiting it after I had left it as my growing up place. But on Sundays, I was trapped. I mean, my nearest friend was 5 miles away.
Lawrence: You can't imagine. I don't know.
Therese: So kind of just like, having something to do was art?
Lawrence: Yeah, among other things. I mean, we're doing everything. We're playing instruments. But the art thing was kind of me for sure, and I was should I admit this? I was kind of a trekkie. Well, my father had all this equipment, so he would actually give me episodes. Oh, wow. So I would screen 16 millimeter episodes, and then I would screenshot not screenshot it, but I would freeze it, and then I would trace it oh, wow. And do drawings from the- I was doing postmodern stuff. I was, like, 14 years old like of Captain Kirk.
Therese: That's really cool. No, that's awesome. I love that. So, what is your favorite part of painting or just art in general? I know. It's also another broad kind of question.
Lawrence: Art in general. That's too broad. I mean, you talk about all the different things involved in it. There's the process of making art and being in the studio. The solitary attitude of that. And then it's when it's finished and it's on the wall and you need to write about it and to kind of bring it into the discourse. And then there's the entrepreneurial side of it. If you're putting together shows or writing about it or, you know, it's a big, big, big world. Now, the painting of it for me, I do like the Zen. I mean, that's my Zen meditation, for sure, and but then I like them when they're done too. And I'm like that's done.
Therese: Kind of like that sense of accomplishment.
Lawrence: Here’s a lesson for you. You know, if you're just coming up, even if you love what you do, sometimes it's a pain in the ass. Everything is work. And so you get to this hump in a painting. Sometimes it's like, I got to finish this. And sometimes they don't get finished and they get covered over and we start anew.
Therese: That's very interesting. I feel like that's a good metaphor for life. I don't know. So how do you think you've impacted the art community?
Lawrence: I saw that question. I don't think we impact art communities. I think we're either in them or we're not. And we're productive parts of them or not. I feel like I have a few different axes of communities that I engage with and here in Tucson and in Los Angeles where I have my studio and so you have to be present if you can. Not to jump forward, but one of the advice I give to students is to show up to openings. I think that 50% of success in the art world is, is going, and social media, we'll get to that, right? Well, there's a place for that, and I think it's great how it spreads it around, but you have to see artwork, in fact. It's crazy that you need to go and actually look at the museum here. I tell you, there's some serious paintings up there, and you can see them live. Second floor, just sneaking through the elevator. No.
Therese: Go through the back door. Get to see some cool art. But along that note, is there anything you're currently working on?
Lawrence: No. Yeah, I'm working on shows. I'm putting together shows with a kind of team of artists that are environmentally themed, and I've worked with them in a couple of different contexts. So kind of percolating little shows with them in LA. One in a commercial context and another in a nonprofit context, a community center kind of context.
Therese: Oh, that's awesome. Yes, especially I think the environment is like, a very important issue today.
Lawrence: Well, artists seem to be, you know, really looking into it when you I don't know, there's just a lot of I don't want to call echo artists or whatever, but we're all thinking about you get obsessed with things like this, what do we do? And we don't think that any of the art we make. I don't know. I speak for myself. I don't think it can change anything. But I think as a community, as a movement within the art world at large, if we continue to bring environmental issues forward in front of the public in a constructive kind of intellectual way and a thoughtful way, that's. That- that's a portal to helping you know.
Lawrence: I would hope so.
Therese: Definitely. Yeah. So kind of backtracking a little bit. We were talking about, like, growing up and what inspired your art kind of to begin with. How do you feel, like, your environment externally or, like, your feelings or things going on around you in the community or just maybe in the world impact what you want to create?
Lawrence: Well, I think I'm always thinking about politics, and I'm always scrolling through news, so there's plenty to get upset about.
Therese: Oh, definitely.
Lawrence: But I don't think that the work just comes out of that. I think what we were the issues we were talking about with growing up and the context of that, there's a lot in picture that's interesting in terms of connecting to that, because I would watch old movies all the time. That was kind of what I did with my father. And so a movie is just it's black unless there's light shining on it. And, you know, in painting, it's about you're painting light. You're following light. You're making this. You can have a cinematic painting, you can have a painterly photograph. We all kind of overlap. But the thing is to find the drama in the image. And often I'm just scrolling around under a topic maybe, and I see an image that has all the kind of elements that I need or want. Lately, I've been working in landscapes, so it will have this kind of epic landscape quality that could translate into a big romantic painting.
Therese: No, I think paintings of nature are just so beautiful and really brings you into that natural landscape, especially if you don't see it every day.
Lawrence: Well, I have to warn you that the landscapes I paint are not necessarily the most whimsical. The latest series is taken from stills from Russian drone footage from the RT network. It's now censored, but in 2017, 18, I was pulling a lot of just screenshots off a video, drones going over buildings before they were demolished, or finding ghost towns in the Caucasus or all these kinds of like, things that drones find that we don't really see. There was a comment about surveillance to it, but also about the anthropocene and how things kind of get taken over by nature. I just finished one of this mid 50s brutalist hotel that was built in the middle of the jungle outside of Rio, and they went bankrupt just before it opened. And so for 60 years, it's just been 70 years, it's been rotting away until it looks like this 20,000 square foot ice tray. And the jungle is taking over on all sides. There's no roads to it anymore. It's just being subsumed by nature's jungle. So for me, the image has these two tech mixtures of the geometric and the organic, and it has this cold building in this warm forest. But it's also your metaphor for life, perhaps.
Therese: That's very beautiful. So what artists, would you say, or other artists have kind of inspired you maybe growing up or even today? Like, if there's other influences that you take after?
Lawrence: I was trying to think about that. When I was growing up, there were just a few books around, really, and one of them was Da Vinci, and it took in all the stuff he did from the military drawings to anatomy to everything. And I thought that was very interesting, this kind of really wide lens that this fellow had you know, it fascinated me. But then you get into school and you start to learn things, and I was in Baltimore. I started to visit New York and go stick my nose into shows and things. I remember seeing a Holbein show and a Van Ike and Brookel and going to the Frick Collection and seeing the Holbein of Sir Thomas Moore and just thinking, those are yummy, you know? I want to do something like that.
Lawrence: Yeah, I will. But then also at the National Gallery when I grew up, there were these big landscapes that. Seen in retrospect, were really just kind of propaganda paintings to send people out to the west. But there are these Bierstadt and Church and these painters from the mid 19th century that were painting these enormous Western scenes that were really just amalgams of bullshit they were putting together, sketching together. And, but as a kid, you look at it, you look at them, and you're kind of awed by the technique and the vastness that they got with the colors. So growing up, being close to museums that I occasionally visited was certainly a big inspiration.
Therese: Of course. Yeah. So when talking about that kind of those, like, propaganda Western paintings, it really reminds me of learning about, like, Manifest Destiny and that one really popular painting of this very angelic woman kind of guiding all these people to the west.
Therese: It's very interesting. So I think that's a very interesting influence and kind of going along with influences, is there, like, a particular style that you really enjoy or maybe not doing yourself, but, like, seeing?
Lawrence: Well, I would say in my postmodern way, I like the style of Thomas Cole and the church and all those ones that you're mentioning. I do like that style. I think it's very beautiful. I don't like what they're saying.
Lawrence: So why not use that style to kind of critique what they're saying? And that's. Kind of where I'm at.
Therese: Yes, I understand that. I can completely understand that. And that kind of leads into my next question about the role that art plays in society or in today's culture and how it's kind of changed throughout time for different purposes.
Lawrence: Well, I think what's nice about art today is that it's not just about the market and about this kind of pyramids scheme of artists to gallery to museum to auction block. There's a lot of community stuff going on there's a lot of people have now, we're coming out of the pandemic. I really see this kind of need for connection and kind of willingness to have events that bring people together and issues that bring people together. So I see the community aspect of it as being the healthy it's been since I've been around. We have our fun too.
Therese: Of course. What is the saying? Like, you can't work without play or whatever?
Lawrence: Something like that. I don't know.
Therese: Make it fun. So how do you feel about the way art has changed over the years with the increase in technology and art?
Lawrence: Well, painting is funny. It's always used technology. And go to your David Hockney or whatever, but I think as soon as an artist could use a photograph, they used a photograph. I mean, Corbett, de Gau, they always used photographs. And so the intervention and the blending of the technology of photography with painting, which is technology, but not in that way, it's an organic thing from ground up dirt.
Lawrence: It's just different.
Lawrence: But them kind of blending together to create content, I think was one of the best things that happened. And now digital art made in a digital way. I have no problem with any of it in video and the whole business. Just let it all flow, as far as I'm concerned.
Therese: Just let it happen.
Lawrence: Yeah. I think there are more choices. If you say, I want to be a creative person or in the art world in some way, or be an artist. You got, like, just a big pallet of things to do.
Lawrence: Not like it was in 1800 where, okay, you're going to go draw plaster casts for a year and we'll see how you do.
Therese: Definitely changed since then. And kind of along that note with, like, technology. How do you feel about the kind of emergence of, like, AI generated art? Do you think that is art?
Lawrence: I think it's a way to make an image, and that's all that really matters. I have some students using it, and I think for them, it becomes like an almost Dadaist kind of chance device in a way. Let's take this image and see what this mysterious algorithm will do with it. Given certain prompts or however that's done, I think it has potential to be interesting. Is it the idea that AI would just make the art then?
Therese: Sort of like the fact that someone can just put in, like, woman standing or something into an AI generator and it'll make basically a painting or a digital painting?
Lawrence: I had artists putting I thought they were maybe that's what they were doing then. They were just kind of saying mountain with lots of colors or something. I don't know. Sounds a little cheating, maybe, and
Therese: Kind of, like with that. No. Do you feel like-
Lawrence: I thought they were kind of using it as an assist? Like they had an image?
Lawrence: Let me put that into this matrix or something.
Therese: No, they're just asking for it to happen. I think it might depend on the generator, but I know there's some where it'll literally make the whole thing for you and kind of
Lawrence: And then what do you do with it? You print it out,
Therese: I suppose.
Lawrence: I had students who were painting that.
Lawrence: Yeah. So they were making big paintings based on what their prompts made in AI. Okay. That's really interesting. I think that takes in another step, doesn't it? Definitely makes it more interesting.
Therese: Definitely. Yeah. And I was just, like, thinking, too, with what we're talking about and how you kind of mentioned well, maybe it's a little bit cheating if they're just putting it into an AI generator and kind of like printing that out. Do you feel like this AI and all that stuff that's really new is more of a setback for artists or more of a tool or both? Just depends on the circumstance.
Lawrence: I guess, like, all technology there's both sides to the sword. I think it will be a thing and a tool that's here for a while. Where it goes, there's often slingshot effects to people wanting things that are actual objects and that are actually handmade. So I don't ever think that I'm going to lose my market for that.
Lawrence: For me the envelope is wide. All this kind of stuff can just play around. NFTs no, that was not on your questionnaire.
Therese: No, but I'm glad you brought it up.
Lawrence: I don't really want to talk about them that much. I just think that artists are tough enough on the environment as it is with all our shipping and our art fairs and all this and I don't think we need to add it to it with NFTs. But that's just my opinion.
Therese: No, that's definitely a growing concern. I know with the NFTs. I'm not into stocks or
whatever, so I saw that on Twitter when it came out.
Lawrence: You don't get paid in Bitcoin?
Therese: I know, shock, shocker
Lawrence: You can at the Circle K.
Therese: It's a new wave, it's a new currency. So kind of switching gears. What made you decide to teach and why the University of Arizona?
Lawrence: Well, I taught a little while I was a graduate student just as a Ta and I went right into teaching at the High School of the Arts, which was next to State La and East La. And I really enjoyed that. I did that for a few semesters, but then the painting started to take off and I needed to keep my head in the studio. And I just periodically would go out and do kind of adjunct work. And then in the late nineties I moved to Santa Barbara and approached the university there and was able to get a couple of classes and that kind of bloomed after seven or eight years into a guest lecture ship or I don't know, something like the highest thing you can be you without getting really hired, had health care and all that. I love teaching the students and it seemed like a great kind of thing to fill in when, if I was doing some paintings that didn't do so well or whatever I put into the closet or the muse-to-garage. It's good to have a little salary there.
Therese: Right, of course.
Lawrence: So I appreciate it. And what happened and I was having a mid-career retrospective at ASU in 2006 and some professors from down here went up to see it and they're kind of thinking, well, we're needing a new painter because they just had a retirement or something.
Lawrence: So kind of the pieces came together on it. I entered into The Matrix or whatever,
but I was semi invited, to kind of check it out, check out this thing if you could do
Therese: New opportunities.
Lawrence: And in 2006, I just moved to Tucson and just, you know, I've been going back and forth to LA in between, but right.
Therese: Okay. This is like, not something that I had written down, but how have you enjoyed, like, living in Tucson and the art community here?
Lawrence: When I first got here, a friend of mine was like, what's Tucson like? And I go back then, we were on our laptops looking at Google Earth, and I said, all right, go hit Speedway. He put himself at the 110 and speedway, and he started scanning up the road, and he says, this looks like the set of a nuclear disaster.
Therese: Oh no.
Lawrence: Well, you've got to admit, there's not much between the ten, right?
Therese: Just dirt desert.
Lawrence: Yeah. For a while, it really was about the faculty and about the people and friends and good karaoke bars and things that I needed at the time. I was busy doing other things. I got a wonderful studio for many years here and in the beginning, but I kind of kept going back to the West Coast, and in summers, I kind of learned maybe I should find myself back on the West Coast for those, because it was a little of a shock. But now I think it's come a long way in 16 years or so, and I think it still has. They used to say, Keep Tucson Shitty. That was kind of a movement when I got here, they were really worried. I think it was like, Keep Austin weird or whatever, right?
Therese: Yeah. It's called the Dirty T.
Lawrence: So, I mean yeah, so I think I don't think we're in any danger of really, like, going against that status too much. But there's nice places in Tucson now. There's good there's a lot of good restaurants and places to hang in. I think it's a very chill place. I do like it for that. I like to walk in the mountains. I like the nature. And then when I'm back in LA. I like that too.
Therese: That's kind of like two different worlds, almost.
Lawrence: Yeah. That's really awesome.
Therese: And going back to teaching. How different is teaching art from doing it yourself?
Lawrence: Well, it's completely different. What I like about teaching, especially one of the things on the elemental level, like a lower division class, is that it takes me back to when I didn't know how to paint every time, like, okay, how would I teach? I don't know anything. I have to pretend I don't or anything. How to put the paint on the brush, how to put the brush on the canvas, what I want, how to take the paint away, how to put it on. So you just kind of go through this process with the students again, and you kind of relive that in a very condensed kind of way. And I think it's kind of fun. And teaching upper level is, it's about observation and just letting the student find their voice and not crowding them too much.
Lawrence: Between demos and nuisance with slides and stuff like that.
Therese: So would you view art as kind of entirely subjective, or do you think there's objective parts to it? Because obviously when you go have to get grades,
Lawrence: What do you think? I'm going to make an assumption here, turn the mic around and ask you that question?
Therese: Well, I would definitely say it's very subjective because I know there's some forms of art that people really, really love, some forms of art people really, really don't love. But it's like to each their own and.
Lawrence: Well, it gets tricky, I guess, if you think about it. Let's think about it in terms of music. There is a certain level of technical expertise that one needs to play a certain whatever, jazz or whatever.
Lawrence: In the art world, it's a little more, like slippery. You can't really use technical chops as your only kind of metric for something. And so, like, when we admit students, we try to think about what they're painting, what they're drawing about, who they might be as people, how they might add to the community. We're not thinking they would be a great Cello for the Dvorak.
Lawrence: It's a completely different kind of metric that we use, I think, and it's. The art world. I don't know. When I was growing up, I used to think we're just like a big old sandbox full of misfits or something. Come on in. Yeah. Play with my castle. But I think that's okay. I still have that little bit of thought that there has to be a place for crazy ideas to go.
Therese: Definitely. And with art being, as we're discussing, a bit subjective, how do you find it is to grade art and to determine, like, a student's grade, for example, over a piece that they've created? Because there is that more human aspect. It's not objective.
Lawrence: Everyone gets C. I wish I could give C Minus. Yeah. I grade by how hard students work. You can always get a curve because there's always a few. Come on, get here in class. Get it on. But for the most part, I'd say 90% of my classes, everybody's just got their nose to the canvas, and it's hard to grade them lower than a B sometimes because everybody's in there and they're punching, and they're doing the best they can.
Lawrence: That's all you can ask, right?
Therese: Okay. That's very interesting. And how do you feel your class is important to the education of artists or young artists here at the university?
Lawrence: My personal class? In our program, we kind of revolve around all the classes, so I don't own any class. So I would hope that the way we're all teaching them is kind of we all have our different curriculum and personalities. I mean, I think one of the nice things about being an art major in our building over there is is that you're going to get all these different points of view as you kind of work your way through the disciplines.
Lawrence: I think we're each giving a different education in a certain way.
Therese: Right. How do you feel?
Lawrence: It’s diplomatic.
Therese: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
Lawrence: Go ahead.
Therese: No, don't worry. You're the guest. You're the one that's supposed to be talking. Did you have something that you wanted to say?
Therese: Okay, no worries. So how do you feel that you've impacted the community yet? Like U of A? Or is it like you were describing kind of like all the people that are teaching art? It's kind of like a group effort.
Lawrence: Yeah, it's a group effort. I do a couple of things. I like to put alumni and, increasingly, more faculty into shows. And so I like showing my support that way. And it's easy because they're all good artists, and so it's not an effort to do that.
Therese: Awesome. I like it. Yes. And how do you feel that you've learned maybe from your students or from people that you've taught?
Lawrence: Oh, my gosh. When I learn from my students well, first you learn humility, just in general.
Lawrence: And then you learn, I think, more. It's kind of like you take in each different generation and you see what's important to them and what they're into. So I learn about society that's younger than I am from them. And that's a good education.
Therese: Yes, definitely. And do you think that, like, students have maybe taught you more about, like, current trends, kind of like what you're describing, but things on maybe like social media and how that might impact something that they're creating?
Lawrence: Well, I would say that I certainly follow a lot of them and I see their production there and that's a nice way to do it. I mean, I just can think, I think about my high school art teacher or some of my teachers in college when I left to come to LA in the mid eighties, I mean, there was no, like, following anybody right now. You didn’t know what I was going to do, unless you got a postcard in the mail.
Therese: There was no influencers
Lawrence: Where I think there is a bit of a glut, like maybe too much junk in the world on social media, but still we all choose our targets and who we want to follow. And when I follow my students, I am generally kind of proud of what they do out there.
Therese: That's great. That's awesome. And to kind of conclude this interview, what would be your pieces of advice or your general advice to any young artists that want to pursue art in college or in their life or their career?
Lawrence: Okay, yeah, I already said one. If you're just tuning in now, I said earlier that 50% of success is showing up. People have openings, people put together events. You need to get involved in that. I think the day of the lonely artist in their garret moldering upstairs, it's over. We're all on a social, in the we're all in the big courtyard here and we've got to participate.
Therese: Definitely. Okay, well, thank you so much for being a part of this series.
Lawrence: Thanks for having me.
Therese: Yes, it was awesome. It was great to meet you. Thank you so much for listening. This is KAMP Student Radio, the Interview series, and I hope you have a great night.
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