We had the good fortune of connecting with Linda Gass and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Linda, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
With very few exceptions, my best experiences and most satisfying projects in life have come from risk-taking. Taking risks has enabled me to learn new skills, taught me to be more comfortable with the unknown and discomfort. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today if I hadn’t taken the risk of walking away from a successful career in the software industry where I was managing large projects alongside brilliant and wonderful colleagues. But I wasn’t doing what I love, and it was time to do what I love, to make art full time. I view risk taking as a necessary part of staying true to my vision for life and art. I go through plenty of ups and downs with those risks. The beginning is charged with the excitement of embarking on a new idea. Then the reality of not knowing how to do it sets in and that old emotion of fear of failure tries to take over. Risk taking definitely includes a lot of type-2 fun: miserable while it’s happening and fun to look back on. I’ve found the best way to deal with the fear is with what I’ve learned from long-distance backpacking: if you just keep taking one step at a time, you can travel more miles than you thought possible. I break large problems into smaller problems that are easier to solve. I do experiments and tests, almost as a methodical form of play. Sometimes I’m successful in solving the problems and other times I fail. I can be stubborn and the failures make me feel even more determined to find a solution. I’ve learned that failures are a form of success because it if you are willing to analyze your failures, it often leads to the solution.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m best known for my intricately stitched paintings about climate change, water and land use. Although now this is a popular theme for art, it wasn’t 25 years ago when I started. I’ve been making art ever since I was old enough to hold a crayon, but I didn’t study it in school. I was blessed to have parents who had worked hard to save money for my college education and that came with strings attached: they would pay for my education as long as I got a degree I could earn a living with. I ended up studying mathematics and computer science. After an amazing decade in the software industry, I decided it was time to start making art. The early days of my art career were challenging because I received a lot of rejections from shows I applied to. I was used to being rewarded for working hard and producing good work and the rejections were discouraging. Over time I have learned to not take rejections personally; a juror or curator might really like your work, but it just doesn’t fit their vision at that time. Just as in other aspects of life, I’ve learned to apply the mantra “it’s not about you” to rejections.
Growing up in Los Angeles during the drought in the late 1970s made me aware of the preciousness of water and that realization turned into a passion for incorporating water and land use issues and the impact of climate change into my art. I work in different mediums: textiles, land art installation, glass and public art. In my textile work, I blend painting with quilting and embroidery techniques to create highly textured aerial landscapes and maps showing the human marks that affect our water resources. I choose to work in textiles for their versatility and familiarity. Silk, an alluring and lustrous fabric, is my primary medium because I can paint it with vibrant dyes and sculpt it through stitching to convey terrain. In consideration of the environmental message in my artwork, I want it to be approachable, so I like the familiar and comforting feel of textiles that comes from the integral and basic role they play in our lives. The aesthetic of beauty is important in all of my work; it also helps make the serious and difficult nature of the subject matter I’m addressing more approachable.
One of the artworks I’m most proud of is a community-engaged land-art installation I created with the help of hundreds of volunteers at new open space park located in a racially and culturally diverse low-income city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Designed to mark the former shoreline of San Francisco Bay on the landfill peninsula of Cooley Landing Park, the installation is made from the native plant, Juncus patens. I partnered with a local restoration non-profit, Grassroots Ecology, local agencies, and the community to plant and maintain the Juncus to create “The Living Shoreline Project.” Over the past 5 years K-12 students, families and individuals have worked with me on the project and many come back to witness its growth. In fact, it has grown so well that it can now be seen from space, as observed on recent satellite images of the site!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Since my two favorite things are experiencing art and being outdoors, my week would be full of both. We might visit some of the big museums such as LACMA, the Broad and the Getty Center but I’d make sure to take my best friend to see some of my favorite smaller venues such as the Museum of Jurassic Technology. We’d spend a day in the Beverly Grove and West Hollywood area starting with a morning hike at Runyon Canyon Park, Errol Flynn’s old estate, followed by visits to the Craft in America Center, Craft Contemporary, and exploring shops and galleries near Melrose and Highland. We’d end our day with dinner in the outdoor courtyard at Café Amici in Beverly Hills. We’d spend a day in Santa Monica, visiting the galleries at Bergamot Station, spending some contemplative time in Tongva Park, taking a stroll along the sand of Will Rogers State Beach, and relaxing with a drink at SHOREbar at the end of the day. We might eat at Jonah’s Kitchen and Bar or Milo and Olive. On another day we’d venture outside of LA to Riverside to visit the new Cheech Center with lunch at Tio’s Tacos (making sure to leave extra time to admire their extensive garden of eclectic folk art), and a stop to cool down by the Santa Ana River at the Martha McLean – Anza Narrows Park. On other days we’d make sure to enjoy two of my favorite hikes: Inspiration Point in Will Rogers State Park, an easy 2 ¼ mile hike to a fantastic view of the coastline and downtown LA, and the hike to the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park. And finally, if my friend is visiting during the summer months then a kayak paddle on the LA River with LA River Expeditions is a must. I love LA River Expeditions because their pioneering 2008 expedition down the river’s 51 miles, from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean, was a key factor in changing Federal environmental policy in 2010 to grant Clean Water Act protections for the river and its watershed.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have had several important mentors along my path in life and it’s hard to pick out just one so I want to give a shoutout to several. There was the professor in college who saw my interest in computer graphics and my frustration of not being able to find ways to learn more and get experience in the field. Leo Guibas recommended me for a summer internship at Xerox PARC which changed the trajectory of my career in the software industry. There was the museum director, Dan Keegan, who reviewed my art portfolio early in my career when I was dabbling in several different styles. He recommended that I focus on just one body of work for 6 months to see how it would develop, reminding me that 6 months isn’t that long in course of one’s life. I tried his advice and I’ve never looked back – those 6 months turned into a decade. I do work in other styles and media now but it was critical for finding my voice as an artist then. I’m also part of several artist critique groups and those artists have been a tremendous source of support throughout my career. I’m so grateful to Judith Content, Robin Cowley, Alice Engelmore, Sylvian Min, Stephanie Metz, Connie Begg and Mary Ayling Willette for their encouragement and critiques. Most of all, my husband and the love of my life, Rob Steiner, deserves a huge shoutout. He’s my biggest fan and supporter and he has to put up with me when I’m in the miserable failure stage of the ambitious projects I take on. He knows just the right moment to give me an extra hug or when to get takeout for dinner. Metaphorically and in real life, he holds my hand when I’m feeling the fear of having to cross a slippery log over a rushing creek.
Jeff Rumans Don Tuttle Courtesy of the Artist