Best of Phoenix 2015: Laura Spalding Best | Phoenix New Times

Best of Phoenix 2015: Laura Spalding Best's Landscape Paintings Feature Utility Poles and Traffic Signage

Spalding Best is a painter best-known for landscapes featuring utility poles and traffic signage. I've lived here 16 years, and I'm still overwhelmed by the desert sky and its sunsets. I love celebrating a rainstorm and the smells that come with it, and I find the people here to be...
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I've lived here 16 years, and I'm still overwhelmed by the desert sky and its sunsets. I love celebrating a rainstorm and the smells that come with it, and I find the people here to be overall friendlier and kinder than in Illinois, where I grew up.

I moved here to attend ASU, and now I can't imagine living surrounded by cornfields ever again. I had the opportunity to leave the desert about a year ago, and I ended up choosing to stay in Phoenix for a variety of reasons. There is a really important shift that happens when you choose a place rather than simply remain in that place. Choosing a place makes you see everything there in a new light. I feel more committed to this area than ever, more invested. And now I want to play a role that matters.

Life in the desert has steered my work toward an examination of place and connection, probably because the desert forces you to think about resources and survival on a daily basis. In my more recent work, I'm focused on water and playing with the confusing line between an oasis and a mirage in a developed desert city. 

My paintings bring attention to points where the urban and the desert intersect. Although I pursue a lot of universal themes in my work, it most often reflects my own environment and experience. So a series of my paintings may depict the vast desert sky with palo verde trees and rock formations while simultaneously chronicling my daily commute to work with all the utility poles I pass along the way.

I have to admit, it took me a few years of adjusting to see that the desert has its own beauty. I've painted murals that reflect how I feel about the urban desert, and I'm working on making my house in Garfield the perfect desert sanctuary.

I hope my work has affected the people here in the desert. People feel a strong connection and identity to their landscape, and they want to place themselves in it. I think there can be a lot of power in documenting a specific intersection or telephone pole, especially through painting. By isolating a subject and taking time to memorialize it, you are demanding attention for it. So something we may take for granted on a daily basis but are unconsciously exposed to all the time can suddenly resonate with us when we see it as art.

There are certainly mindsets and politics here which I oppose. At this time of year, everyone is looking forward to cooler weather, but I've had houses and studios that only had evaporative cooling so I'm grateful for my air conditioning and don't complain about the desert heat anymore. But how can I not love the desert? I met my husband here, at a First Friday in 2002. Since then I've seen, firsthand, so many physical changes and a wider sense of pride and participation in every part of Phoenix.— as told to Robrt L. Pela

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