We had the good fortune of connecting with Liz Richter and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Liz, what is the most important factor behind your success?
I always first react to questions like this with a wave of imposter syndrome, as though I have no right to talk about success at all. I consider myself an “emerging artist,” though that phrase makes me think of a prehistoric salamandar clawing its way on to the shore. But I chose this question because its one that I get often from students or apprentices interested in how I am able to land big mural projects, and my story is not one of luck or glamour. It’s just someone really wanting something and sacrificing a lot to make it happen. My short answer is: crazy hard work and not being afraid to fail.
After undergrad and teaching elementary art classes for a few years, I entered the art scene with an Bachelor’s in Science, Art Ed. I had always done small commissions and illustrations on the side, but at some point I just got so burned out creatively, being in the classroom everyday that I decided to take the financial risk of working freelance. I loved teaching, but the sad salary I was making made it fairly easy, since I did the math and realized that I could probably wait tables and make the same amount, if I failed at being an artist.
My first break came when a local contemporary art museum hired me to be one of their freelance teaching artists. I cold emailed the wrong person about an assistant gig at an art summer camp, but my portfolio photos and resume was enough to get me an interview for their teaching artist program. I was the youngest artist they were working with at the time, but the only one with a teaching degree. I was willing and eager to do the hardest and messiest jobs, like hauling clay projects in and out of the school or planning a mural in the hallway for 400 students to paint in a week. The teaching gigs were unstructured enough that I could use the opportunity to stretch myself creatively, and I took advantage of that. I found myself requesting to do installation projects with the students and spending hours outside of my paid time there perfecting the designs (while still maintaining the students’ touch). Those murals sent me on a deep dive into studying street art, where I became obsessed with the idea of creating large scale exterior murals. Each teaching gig I got, I designed for the maximum space available, and spent 10x the amount of time I was expected to. I wasn’t as intentional as I wish I would’ve been in hind sight, but I was slowly creating a portfolio for myself and building industry connections. Volunteering with a traveling installation group at Forecastle, the large annual music festival in town was also a great portfolio builder for me. I worked long hours creating big, collaborative signage and installations, always asking for more work. With each one, the crew gave me more independence and flexibility to “do my own thing”. Through those experiences, I met the gallery owner that first showed my work, and still does today.
After many collaborative projects on school and community center walls, I was still intimidated by the idea of doing a large mural outdoors. I knew nothing about projection, exterior painting conditions or rental equipment. In 2015, an Los Angeles artist named Lydia Emily came to Louisville to do a mural for the MS Society, and I happened to see a news article about her plans. I googled her, found her website and emailed her to see if I could apprentice for her while she was here. She kindly said yes, and let me assist for the entire project. As we painted, she gave me candid advice on how to get around the difficulties of being a female in a male dominated field. I immediately applied for a large budget exterior mural and got it. My first independent mural, The History of Hikes Point is still one of the largest in Louisville. I designed and completed it through a terrible pregnancy and many sleepless nights with my colic-y newborn son. My husband brought my son to me to breastfeed from the scissor lift. The largest project I had ever worked on came at the literal worst timing of my personal life, but I had newfound confidence that I could do it, and something to prove. I’ve always just wanted a shot. Whatever scraps fell from the Louisville art table, paid or unpaid, I gobbled it up. I’ve always felt like as a small town girl without a BFA, I had to earn my place more than anyone else.
These days, I’m trying to be more selective, and not play into what can be an abusive system that younger artists in Louisville are sometimes subject to. Paying for childcare just to have hours to create was a wake up call that ended the days where I can work for pennies or promotion. But motherhood has forced me to recognize and demand value for my time, and treat my work as a business instead of just a passion. I’m now actively choosing to refine my projects to pay the bills while still aligning with my aesthetic and purpose as an artist and muralist. The business manager in me recognizes the desire for the creative to go “crazy”, but I now understand that that my creative energy is not limitless, and is to be protected. A client pushing for a tacky design once told me “Don’t be so precious with your art,” but I have taken the exact opposite advice. True creativity IS precious. Work ethic is precious. Both are resources, and there are times to go all in, and times to save. These days, I try to stay aligned with my values as an artist and entrepreneur by choosing projects that light the fire in me, or simply spark “the joy factor,” while also paying the bills. I gave up a rewarding teaching career to give myself the ultimate gift of freedom and creative expression and at this point, I won’t compromise. I’m so grateful to do what I love, but if I’m not doing it, there’s always waiting tables.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I use bright hues and patterns to connect to the everyday viewer. Unpretentious, healing moments can happen in unexpected places on the streets, through brief interactions with color and shape. Second glances allow narrative, symbolism and context to provide deeper notes. At their core, my work is about connection to place. Street art introduces me to concepts or ideas bigger than myself, while allowing me to take up public space and command attention, unapologetically female. When I walk away from a wall, it belongs to a community and takes on a life of its own.
Murals grew from my painting and drawing practice, which is mostly self-taught. I began as an educator doing paintings and illustration on the side. Street art allows me to combine my love for bold, illustrative imagery with community and gives me the platform to experiment with scale, not only literally, but in the project’s depth and exposer to a larger audience. I use symbolism to interweave context and narrative through historical and cultural references, while retaining self-expression and personal identity through bold color, line and shapes. Personal narratives include contemplations on the feminine experience, the divine and the relationship between humans and the space we occupy. I am one of only a handful of women in the Louisville area participating in the street art movement. Because others gave me the opportunity, I am dedicated to mentorship of younger artists and apprentices.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Louisville is a hidden gem. I love introducing friends to my neighborhood, Clifton, one of the oldest in the city with more amazing places to eat then one could get to in a week. We might walk along Frankfort Avenue, a pre-colonial buffalo trail and historic state highway lined with historic homes. I’d show them the 1830’s tollhouse and early 1800’s homes still standing, and the spot that I am planning a new large scale public art installation in collaboration with a local blind performing artist and the School for the Blind. In the spring (my favorite time to be in Louisville) the trees and bushes bloom white, pink and yellow. I might take a friend on a walk up the Ave to Please and Thank You for coffee, or my weekly hang out at El Mundo for dinner on the patio. If the horses are racing, I love taking out-of-towners to Churchill Downs, to see the horse racing track. We could hop in the car for a mural tour to see my pieces around town, stopping at nearby spots in Smoketown, like Logan Street Market or the Highlands, where I have a piece on the side of a Lucky Cat Cafe. The nightlife in Nulu and Butchertown are great, with lots of lovely spots for dinner along Market Street, like Wiltshire on Market or Royals Chicken. I love thrifting and vintage shopping, so a visit to the Flea Off Market, Fleur de Flea or my BFF’s shop Dainty Dames are always fun. We might stop in Revelry Boutique and Gallery or Quappi Project to check out some local art, or head to KMAC Museum or the Speed Art Museum. The Speed’s current exhibit “Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” dedicated to Breonna Taylor contains deeply moving works by some of my favorite contemporary artists, including Nick Cave and Amy Sherald.
Our favorite family outings are walking across the Big Four railroad bridge to Indiana for ice cream. We might eat at the food trucks by the river, during Waterfront Wednesday, Louisville’s free summer concert event. We also love to drive out to Bernheim forest to explore in nature and view the art installations. I always encourage friends to get outside of the city and see the Kentucky countryside, so maybe a bourbon tour, antiquing in Bardstown KY, or visiting the Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort, with a sunset dinner at Barn 8.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to dedicate this to Revelry Boutique and Gallery, who has been a continual supporter of my scrappy emergence on the art scene and is hosting my first solo show in August 2022. To my fellow homeschooled artist buds, Maya and Bri, who constantly inspire me to never stop learning. To my husband, who has supported my crazy journey from the beginning and my son, who has inherited my manic energy.
Leslie Rodriguez Photography Shaelyne Meadows Photography Ryan Noltemeyer