The following interview was conducted by email in December 2005 between Lisa Gray and Ken DeRoux, Curator of Museum Services at the Alaska State Museum.

KDR: You come to this new work from a background in photography, and, in fact, are one of the few Alaska fine art photographers with outside gallery representation. How long have you worked in photography; where did you spend your formative years; and what brought you to Alaska?  Do you have an art background outside of photography?

LG: I believe most people do not enter the realm of serious art making as an intentional strategy or career move, but more likely didnít see it coming because they either stumbled over it or were nudged along by someone else. I have vague recollections of my first foray into art. All I remember is the feeling it was one of the few things that didnít eventually disappointment me in this life. My beginnings in photography span almost 30 years now. I came to Alaska in 1984 after growing up on a farm in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

KDR:  How do you see the relationship between your current digital collage work and your earlier photographic work, both in terms of content and also from a formal aspect?

LG: I came to the field of digital computer work from optical photography for a number of reasons. For over ten years, I had been creating 30x40 inch platinum photographs that required 30x40 inch negatives. The sheer strength it took to make those pieces was daunting and eventually it became physically impossible for me to continue the venture. I had also been wanting to investigate the use of color in my work, which up until recently was strictly black and white. I donít see the emotional content of my newer work as having changed dramatically from my previous photographic work. I believe there are a few changes that are at least to some degree driven by forces inherent in the field of digital imagery. My previous work was partial to the figure and itís relationship with nature while I feel the new work opens up more inquiries into social dilemmas and cultural pressures as they manifest themselves on and in the human form. The digital process has allowed me to integrate more divergent materials into the imagery. For example, I have integrated fashionable clothing into my female portraits, which has opened up a dialogue on identity politics and the Gaze (how we fit into our society according to the nonverbal signs of others). I am not a big fan of feminist theory, but guess what? Here I am. Content follows process and process follows content. I have learned to let my work grow and mature on its own and, as it develops, not to go looking for something specific, but simply go looking.


KDR: Where do you get your raw material? Do you work from scans? From the Internet?  Could you briefly describe your working process?

LG: Most of my raw material comes from books I scan directly into the computer. I scan pictures of sculpture, painting, and photographs of dolls, clothing, anatomy and nature just to name but a few. I photoshop the hell out of these scans. They are layered, blurred, rendered with lighting, erased, cloned; those marching ants are always on the job. Creating art in this manner isnít any different than sitting down and trying to rub two sticks together to start a fire - you know going into it that the chances of success are slim, but if you can just capture that spark...

KDR: What have you found to be the advantages and disadvantages of working with the digital print process?

LG: The biggest change in switching over to working digitally has been speed. Not just the speed of performing a technical task but the speed of the creative process. The computer does a much better job keeping up with the human brain than any other art medium. Normally, if you have an idea, it might take days to execute it; and in the meantime, how many thousands of other ideas and connections have been missed? With the computer you execute the idea quickly, which can trigger the next idea in the creative process, and on and on. Ironically, it's a much more organic process because you're working with a tool that's quick and flexible much like the human mind. The computer can keep up with your ideas as fast as you get them; the problem is not all my ideas are good ones.

KDR: Your approach, which I think you call digital collage, seems perhaps to be carving out a new medium. Itís not photography, although it involves aspects of photography. It most resembles painting from a distance, but it clearly isnít. It would seem to be a version of printmaking; (which is reinforced by the fact that the works are offered in editions of three). And of course thereís that lack of materiality; itís coming from a computer. Thereís no negative, no plate. Do you have any comments?

LG: Excellent question. I like to leave a little bit of the unattainable in my work, that illusionary quality. In todayís postmodern society weíve dissolved boundaries and borrowed ideas. Differences have become less distinct. Many critics today pontificate about our media-saturated society and how, because nothing is original anymore, the only clear choice left to us is a kind of image cannibalization of what already exists - a simulacrum (a copy for which there is no original). Itís no wonder my work looks like any number of different mediums and resembles several historical processes or movements. I canít escape the postmodern society, and I live learning how to ride this machine. I think the unattainable, the lack - what you donít see - is the crux of a good piece of art. How does one create aura in their work in a postmodern society? Ironically, I donít think the answer is a tangible one. Artists fight hard and long their entire lives to not leave a replicant painting, photograph or sculpture behind, but a lingering idea, timeless emotion or a critical theory about why and how life doesnít work.

KDR:  Many of the images in this exhibit have a vertical, portrait-like format, and are in rather elaborate frames. The effect is like a portrait gallery - but the images themselves go toward the grotesque. Is this a commentary on mortality; on the faÁades we present?

LG: I went into this show wanting to create a series of portraits with the semblance of a portrait gallery and I think Mark Daughhetee did a superb job of hanging and lighting the show in keeping with that atmosphere. I think that my work is descriptive of our finite time on earth; the pieces are reminders of the transient nature of our physical being. I have always intended for my figures to be humbled in the face of nature in the tradition of memento mori (archaic societyís appreciation of oneís ultimate demise as a transition). In this way I suppose they are about faÁades in the sense that they are intended to strip away our everyday faÁade and show the damage and fragility that lies beneath. This intentional unmasking of fragility is based on an intimate relationship with fragments, with what is crumbling and in ruin. This wreckage on wreckage comes into existence only when its normal structural use has been abandoned. I see my figures as the sensual under the severed fragments, rapturous and constricting, both broken and fixed.

KDR: Your work suggests an affinity with other artists who have explored ďgrotesquerie,í artists like Bosch, Goya and Francis Bacon. Does their work appeal to you? What kind of art, in general, do you most enjoy? What artists do you find inspiring?

LG: One of the reasons I think Bosch, Goya and Bacon remain fresh is because the work translates as timeless intelligence. These artists have created that aura or illusion that is so important in art. I recently came across a definition of the grotesque as the combination of man and animal interwoven with nature. It conjures up such a beautiful image of the cycle of nature. I do appreciate the work of the artists you've mentioned. I enjoy de Kooning's woman series, the still lifes of Soutine, and I think some of Ivan Albright's work is astonishing. My influences are probably more diverse as I find myself drawing on a wider variety of material to create my work. I'm most drawn to something that embodies an element of the tragic.

KDR:  I read that you had recently gotten a masterís degree in art history and comparative literature. What insights might that course of study have provided for your art?

 LG: I received a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography, but much of the academic study was in comparative literature (philosophy), art history and contemporary art criticism. I think that the study I did in art theory and art history was most helpful in enabling me to better orally defend my artwork and to put it in a literary context. When you understand art history and art movements then you find places for your art. You learn if it has modernist or postmodernist tendencies, if itís Freudian or Lacanian.*

KDR:  Anything else youíd like to add?

LG: Well this is a loaded question. Ultimately, to find purpose in art and life, it is necessary to descend and plunge into oneís self as terrestrial matter, to be unredeemed, a brutal element, but a physical body alone cannot have any sort of direction in this life. I find spirituality is a powerfully felt concept. It overcomes the physical infestations of man. It is this spiritual activity - the psychic-self which grasps and feels and permeates from all sides. Life itself can become the subject of sacrament. My intent toward art is to consecrate my life experiences, to shore my thoughts and transform by consciousness, curiosity, humility and purpose.

* A description of Jacques Lacan's philosophy can be read at:

link to article in Juneau Empire                                 link to article in Anchorage Daily News


State Museum Home  |  Online Exhibitions  |  Copyright Notice
Web posted January 2006
Contents copyright © 2006 Lisa Gray and Alaska State Museum