We had the good fortune of connecting with Margaret Lazzari and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Margaret, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
There are internal and external reasons that influence my decision to keep on making some work and not other. I think this also applies to decisions about one’s whole career, whether to keep going or give up. Success is a strong external factor in a decision to press on with a project or a career. If I have an exhibition scheduled for a group of paintings, I will keep on making them. If I have a good feedback in a studio visit, I will continue making whatever kind of work was on the wall. If a collector wants some pieces, I am encouraged to make more in that vein. There have been times that I continued with a series longer than I should have, when I had success and positive feedback. In my mind, the final works in a series are often not the best. However, afterwards, I don’t regret that I made or showed them. I know that artistic practice consists of both 1) internal periods of private experimentation; and 2) externally, the public reception of the work. The public is always coming to my work from a different place that I am as I make the work. If the message continues to resonate with them, then it was worthwhile to do those paintings. During periods of private experimentation, I am in an unresolved mental state and working without external feedback. I do not know if a work is bad or good. It just is. Plus, my evaluation is affected by my mood, which fluctuates due to so many things besides the artwork—the studio’s temperature, a recent difficult phone call, exposure to the news, my cat getting sick. Regarding the artwork, I need to check my feelings over long spans of time. Also, since periods of private experimentation can be lonely or depressing, at some point I invite in some friends and the public to see the work. The decision about keeping going or giving up — whether for your whole career or for a body of work — is never a decision to make in isolation. Painting is such a weird combination of immediate activity and of long-term unfolding. Despite being a painter for 45 years, I am still figuring out aspects of my practice. I have abandoned works only to return to them years later. Sometimes, I have discovered that a few works I thought were “stand alone” fit in well with other paintings, once distance let me see those connections. Some years have been good, some other were pretty bleak, in terms of external reception. But since making art is important to me, in bleak times I found ways to make work that I could sustain space-wise, time-wise, and financially. In conclusion, at one instance in time I do not decide to continue with a series or to drop it, or continue with a career or drop it. I am doing what I do today, and time will show me what I return to tomorrow, next month, or next year.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Your first priority as an artist is making work that is important to you. That means setting aside time regularly to do your work and to keep that time safe so that you can develop bodies of work. Your second priority is developing a network of friends and supporters who will help you work toward your goals. Don’t go it alone. Find your community among artists and ordinary people you know. The above words are from my book, The Practical Handbook for the Emerging Artist (3rd edition, Thames and Hudson, 2021). The book contains all the advice I know. I wrote it both to help others and also to make sure I don’t forget what I have learned along the way. I am a painter and my work was figurative for many years, but in the past 20 years I have found abstraction is the best way for me to suggest sublime, transcendent states that start as riffs off of ordinary patterns found in everyday life (water ripples, erosion patterns, arteries and veins, light, reflection, shadows).
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love the hiking trails of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, the beaches, kayak trips out onto the water, native plant botanical gardens and art museums. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My former students at USC My mentors and friends at USC, especially Ruth Weisberg, Ann Page, Ron Rizk, Amelia Jones, Jay Willis, Haven Lin-Kirk. Fellow artists and friends, especially Lauren Evans, Nancy Kay Turner, my art groups, and many more. I don’t want to forget anyone, because I have had a lot of help along the way.
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All images courtesy of Margaret Lazzari