We had the good fortune of connecting with Laura Hapka and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Laura, what are you inspired by?
I absolutely love biographies—reading them, listening to them, watching documentaries. I especially like bios of accomplished artists, even if I don’t agree with their viewpoint. The way these artists think and the reasons why they created what they created often have a deep impact on how I perceive art. That has changed quite a bit over the decades, along with my goals as an artist. I guess I’m most interested in artists that didn’t play it safe and went against conventional norms on what art is and should be. Their stories have made me more confident of mine and have strengthened my drive to take my own path and be my own artist, even if it’s not what’s ‘in’ at the moment. I’m also deeply inspired by nature. And yes, I know, who isn’t? But whenever I need to think or come up with ideas or sort out a problem, the best place for me to do that is on long walks. These days I’ve been walking in the redwoods away from the sounds of the city. The stillness of a redwood grove makes me feel awake and creative.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I create abstract paintings through the manipulation and layering of acrylic paint. I try to produce work that stretches the definition of painting using a novel construction, deconstruction and reconstruction process. You could say it gets dangerously close to sculpture. I compose my work out of acrylic that I hand-paint and remove from an encaustic surface. I then layer the acrylic onto the final surface to add dimensionality and intrigue. And that’s not an auto-correct. Intrigue is the word I want. I am fascinated by the surfaces, textures and colors of paint in abstract forms. The paintings in my most recent work, called ‘Process’ series, are multifaceted, but minimal, seizing on the initial phase of my artistic process—hand making pure sheets of acrylic paint. Arresting this process at this early stage, I reveal a beauty intrinsic to the materials used, a beauty that does not require manipulation. My goal is to eliminate unnecessary noise and distraction while still creating an experience for the viewer. These pieces make me feel vulnerable as I consciously expose, and share, the history of my work. The paintings are raw, honest and signify openness, to me and my art. To make these ‘Process’ paintings, I wrap wood panels with linen. Then I melt beeswax and encaustic together and pour it onto the linen panel, leveling it with heat. After it cures, I spread opaque, bold, acrylic onto the raw textured linen and transparent, ethereal, encaustic. I mix my own colors so that they talk to each other either with a harmony of hues or with some tension. The end product is a sensorial, tactile, experience because of the play of material textures and colors. My work has evolved through experimentation, trial and error, and, correspondingly, my ‘Process’ series is not about individual paintings but about how I arrived at the body of work. I am a self-taught artist, with undergraduate degrees in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design and a Masters of Business Administration. I believe everyone is and can be an artist but it has been difficult to be perceived as a serious fine artist without academic credentials. After 7 years of higher education and having to support myself financially, graduate school in art is not an option for me. So, I will continue to fight this stigma, and learn what I can from books, documentaries, museums and institutions. And from practice. Another challenge I’ve been working on recently is honing in on a signature style with my artwork in order to build a more recognizable brand. I have a lot of ideas, and just as many means and methods. In the past this has sometimes confused collectors and fans. Just as I have begun to build a following with a particular body of work, I have tended to move on to something maybe not completely different, but different enough to stall that brand’s momentum. Now, however, I feel like my vision is clearer and more honest.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I think the author Mary Gabriel deserves a shoutout for her book, ‘Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art’. As a female abstract artist, I am fascinated by the history of contemporary art movements and strongly support gender equality. The recent history of contemporary art has mostly focused on the men of the abstract expressionist movement in the United States but, with the help of this book, we discover that the women of the movement were equally hard working, innovative and experimental, although under-celebrated. These 5 women artists deserve their due in art history and this book is one of the publications that helped cement that view.