Sky Girl

Laura Spalding, 26, ditched her digs in Illinois to paint in the desert. Now, she's a member of five15 gallery in downtown Phoenix and the preparator at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. For the past two years, Spalding's life as a painter has been looking up — literally. She focuses on the beautiful patterns she sees in Phoenix's infrastructure, painting telephone wires and treetops on found objects. Recently, she's turned focus to her friends, painting their portraits. She chooses an intimate and intricate style on license plates, metal dishes, and other small items. Spalding spends hours in a backyard studio about the size of a child's fort, painting on her junky treasures and entertaining the neighborhood cat, Friendly.

Low-maintenance gal. My needs are so simple. I mean, I'm painting on a lot of smaller objects right now and pretty much forsaking canvas for the time being. So, I really just need a palette, paints, and turpentine. So [my studio] is just so perfect. I feel so cozy in here.

Ugly beautiful. Every different kind of telephone pole — all of these different, weird structures that I used to not even notice on a daily basis — I think that there's actually a really beautiful quality to them. It's something that is usually looked on as blight to the landscape, but it's not necessarily. I like to point them out. I think that there's a lot of aesthetic quality to them that gets a bad rap.

For every action . . . I love painting people because I love getting completely different reactions. Some people are like, "I can't believe it! It looks exactly like me!" And then other people are almost offended by the way I've represented them. To me, it's always interesting because I wouldn't let a portrait be finished if I didn't think this was the most accurate representation, as I see it. I always think, "Oh, what are they going to think? I gave them a second chin." And they have a second chin, but I can't glorify it.

Shiny, happy people. I would go and draw a vase that was on the table for my mom, and she'd be so happy. She'd like it so much that that's really what hooked me into doing [art]. It was probably being so young and, on really innocent levels, I was making my mom happy. That's just a really positive way to start out with something. I don't think you should underestimate how powerful it is — to make you stick with something — to bring other people happiness.

Stay positive. I'm not trying to show you how black my heart is on the canvas or something. And that's not something I've ever been about. I mean, maybe if my fiancé leaves me for another woman, I'll go through a black period, but I doubt it.

Gumming up the works. I feel that once I document my work, I need to have it move on. When you have a small house and a small studio, if any of your work stays with you, it makes you feel like you can't make new work. And I hate that feeling so much. Especially when I used to paint on canvas — with canvases piling up on the wall. Ugh. Sick. I do not want my own art collection of my own art.

The horror. Someone might buy these paintings and put them in their bathroom. No problem. I haven't seen anything too bad beyond that. I mean, I think it would probably be pretty disturbing if one of my pieces was hung behind the bar at Fat Tuesday or Margarita Rocks or something. That is probably the thing that would disturb me the most.

What a burn. I went through this huge purging process and threw out all this stuff that I was never going to use. I ripped all my old canvases off the stretcher bars and made a big bonfire. It was a horrible idea because they're laminated and glued together — that's how they're made. And they're cured with linseed oil, so it smelled so bad.

The joy of junk. There's this awesome, awesome junk shop in North Carolina, where my dad lives. And they have this huge backfield of toilet tanks — just the top parts. Hundreds of them in rows in all different pastel colors. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi