Stunning. Thought-provoking. Story-telling. There are not enough words to describe the artwork of Lola Ramona. In our exclusive interview with the Los Angeles artist who magically fuses graphite, acrylics, and gold leaf with pop culture, we find out more about her creative process.
[By Monica Harris]
When did you first fall in love with art?
I don’t remember a time when I was not in love with art. I spent my childhood learning to paint alongside my mother in her studio. Besides reading, it is the only thing I have ever consistently needed in my life and I consider it the best reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Are you currently Los Angeles-based?
Yes, for the past six years. I’ve moved around a lot — from Atlanta to New York to LA, with a few stops in between.
A lot of your art features animals, mostly giraffes and other four-legged creatures. Most of the time the animal is wearing human clothing. Are you intending to depict the connection or similarities between humans and beasts?
As far as connections go, I believe that we are animals, nothing more, and if there is anything at all that distinguishes us or sets us apart from the beasts it is our ability to empathize. That is really what I am trying to get across when I draw animals- I want to impart an emotional familiarity. People build empathetic connections that have no base in logic or reality, but that are strong and instinctive. When my animals wear clothes there is humor, but also recognition. You look at someone (or something) that is clearly uncomfortable and out of place and you recognize a kindred spirit. Most of us know exactly what it is like to feel uncomfortable and out of place.
Art is a nonverbal medium first and foremost, so we’re working in the most basic forms of communication; a reaction that hopefully leads to considered thought and opinion: Object becomes Subject becomes Idea. Animals have a vocabulary that is limited to gestures and body language, and I really love that. It is more complex than we could ever imagine. Did you know that the whitetail deer’s hind quarters are white specifically because when there is danger they lift their tails to warn their loved ones? I think that is truly amazing- that nature has hardwired these creatures with a way of looking out for one another. And although facts like these go unnoticed in my drawings, they are really the foundation of what I want to communicate. I research every animal I draw, so there is initially an aesthetic connection, but my beliefs and my politics and my opinions are all tangled up in the little details.
Please tell us about the “Cloud Seeding Circus of the Performative Object”?
That was so much fun! While in college I met several other artists who wanted to explore the idea of art outside of the gallery and in a completely different context. Thirteen of us worked together, building these gorgeous objects and interacting with them under the umbrella theme of ‘circus’. We liked to think that the objects were the performers rather than ourselves, hence the name “Performative Object.” The show was complex and sometimes a bit heavy on the conceptual ism- at college campuses the students cheered and at state fairs children sometimes cried- but all told, it was such a magical time. We toured the US and Canada hauling a giant trailer which collapsed into a stage. I was too shy to perform for most of the tours, so I was the Souvenir Salesgirl, or “Bundlebroad” and a few times I got to be one of the bear trainers. But remember, the bears were not real, they were art. Beautiful, beautiful art. My bear’s trick was that his face could fall off. Afterwards, I came back to New York completely broke, homeless, and super exhausted. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. How many people can actually say that they ran away with the circus?
Share with us your process of creating a piece from beginning to end, when you come up with a new idea. How long does it usually take to complete a project?
The complete process can take well over a year. I usually don’t jump right in to an idea as soon as I have it. I am terrible at sketching, so most of my sketchbooks and moleskins are filled with little notes and ideas- as soon as I have an idea, I write it down and I take my time with it, working out nuances and concepts. Once I know exactly what I want to do and why, I begin researching images to amalgamate. I look online, in books, I take photographs, hire models, read National Geographic. Visiting museums and looking at other people’s art is extremely inspiring. I build my canvas or cut my paper to size. I work directly against the wall and I run away a lot so that I can see what I am doing from a great distance. It usually takes between one and three months to complete one of my larger drawings, but it can take as long as six months to just do the physical work.
What do you feel is the best environment for you in which to create art?
I need a studio with white walls and no interruptions. I get distracted so easily. I need my wall of inspiration and all my little snippets and cut-outs of ideas and pictures. I have to be alone when I work, otherwise I can’t concentrate. I should probably not have my computer in my studio, as Facebook is a brutal distraction for me.
What music do you listen to while you’re creating?
If I feel lonely or unmotivated I’ll play re-runs of my favorite TV shows in the background, like X-Files or Arrested Development. Usually, though, I’ll play Pandora (I blew through an entire series of paintings this year listening to Fever Ray Radio every day) or I have a playlist of peppy 80’s music that nobody must ever hear because it’s too embarrassing.
How has your art affected your life?
I suppose it has become the primary source of my identity because even though I have made art every day of my life for more than a decade, I never truly considered myself an ‘artist’ until recently. I’m not sure I can explain why. I just had certain standards, I suppose, which were my own and I couldn’t articulate them to anybody else. People mostly thought I was self-deprecating. So, I always wanted to be an artist, whatever that means. It was a terrific feeling to finally realize that I am one.
Where can we currently find your work on display? Any upcoming shows?
My first official solo show just came down from Gallery 825 (825 La Cienega), which is a part of the Los Angeles Artist’s Association. They are a wonderful way for emerging artists to find community and support in a town where those things are not readily available. I am currently looking for representation and am in my studio every day grappling with two new bodies of work.
What advice would you give to art students who need inspiration?
If you keep your mind open and really enjoy life, inspiration will come sneaking up on you. And when you’re not inspired, which will be 98% of the time, just do what it takes to get into the studio and make work. Most of the work won’t be great, but the more work you make the easier it will be to know when you’ve made something truly exceptional. Allow yourself to have the “art star daydream” but don’t let it be a motivating factor. To truly make something wonderful takes time and patience. We are running a marathon, not a sprint.
For more on Lola Ramona’s art visit: LolaRamona.org