Visual Arts

Lara Plecas on Documenting Personal History Through Art, Motherhood, and Her Love for Encaustic

What happens in the studio shouldn’t always stay in the studio. Studio Visit Q+A is a weekly series that profiles artists in their studios. We ask them questions, they provide answers, and then we have a nice discussion about their work. This week: Phoenix artist Lara Plecas.

Lara Plecas is an experimenter by nature. The self-taught artist primarily works in encaustic, but she has also produced installations and large-scale collages. What connects all of her work together is a desire to connect past and present, people and place. We visited her studio located in her Phoenix home to discuss her personal history and artistic processes.

In Plecas’ studio are large-scale collages from her solo show at monOrchid last year. The works from this exhibition were inspired by her own personal history and stories passed down by her ancestors. One piece combines early 20th century Sears catalogs with a story about her great-grandfather laying an oil line from Oklahoma to Illinois. Another tells a story about how she is related to Johnny Appleseed.

For Plecas, this body of work was dynamic because it documented stories that she grew up hearing. “I took all those old stories and I wanted to portray them in a symbolic way with these different materials,” Plecas says. With these works, Plecas forms an intersection between her various histories with maps that reference migration and patterns that reference her Lithuanian heritage on her father’s side.

Place is important to Plecas because of the energy of what occurred there. Residual Energy, an Eye Lounge installation that was re-exhibited at ARTELPHX earlier this year, directly connects the site of Phoenix with the people that inhabit it. The installation consists of life casts of various faces that Plecas got to know over the years here in Phoenix. All together, the casts function as a likeness of the city itself.

The idea of passing history on has become more important to Plecas now that she is a mother. Motherhood has certainly changed the way that she works, but it doesn’t stop her. Instead of spending hours in the studio, Plecas works more incrementally. “It’s a challenge being a mom and an artist, but it can be done,” Plecas says. “I don’t ever want to give up my love for painting. I’m never going to give that up because I’m a mom.”

These works move away from the painterly qualities that drew Plecas into encaustic in the first place, but she’s excited to see how the collage work and other new materials will influence her painting. With her experimental spirit in mind, there’s no doubt that the result will be surprising and fresh.

Tell us about your work in haiku format.
listen to the land
there is a story to tell
yesterday, tomorrow, now

What artist(s) are you really into right now?
Betsy Eby, Kim Bernard, and Tony Scherman

What are you reading?
Patti Smith, Woolgathering
Kim Gordon, Girl in a Band

What's the last TV show, film, or video you watched?
Jack and the Cuckoo-clock Heart. It is a french animated film released in 2013. It is based on the illustrated novel La Mécanique du coeur written by Mathias Malzien, the lead singer of a French rock band called Dionysos who created a concept album and the soundtrack for the movie. 

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
I have always thought it would be pretty cool to create artwork for one of designer Kelly Wearstler's projects, i.e. hotels.

What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it?
The last exhibit that I went to see was a friend's. Melissa Martinez designed "The Forest Floor" at the Scottsdale Library. It is wonderful, it is like walking through pages of a fairy tale...large mushrooms, poisonous flowers, a little cottage in which to create potions. There were even hidden unicorns... It is such a great interactive environment for children to explore. 

Jeff Koons or Marina Abramovic and why?
I recently watched Marina Abramovic's documentary The Artist is Present. It was really interesting and impressive to see the level of dedication she has for her work. Her work is very powerful and thought provoking. I wish that I would have went to her exhibit at the MoMA and could have experienced it for myself. 

What's the best advice you've ever received?
"There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules, ignore the rules. That is what invention is all about." - Helen Frankenthaler

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a few commissions and a piece for a benefit for suicide prevention "The Light Inside the Dark" that will be at the Crescent Ballroom on August 22. I will also be teaching a four week encaustic workshop this September at the Shemer Art Center.

What's your most valued tool as an artist?
My studio space. It is a sacred place in which to be alone and in which to work; this space is essential for any working artist. My favorite actual "tool" is an old dental tool that works the best when carving into encaustic. 
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Mikey Estes
Contact: Mikey Estes