Lana's multi-faceted art practice employs an astonishing range of materials and techniques: drawing and painting in a variety of media; cross-stich, embroidery, weaving, felting, and beading; woodwork; basket-making, and more. Her work is unconventional, exuberant, ornate, and often unapologetically frilly. Recurring motifs include hearts, dogs, gloves, and superstar Snoop Dogg. Lana is from Orange County, California.
Want to know more about Lana's work? Scroll down to read our interview.*
Photos by Christina Licata
What made you decide to become an artist, and how did you pursue that goal? Did you go to art school and/or learn your craft through other means?
My journey to becoming an artist wasn't an obvious decision. I was in sports as a kid and would make crafts but didn't really start loving art until my junior year in high school. I had the most amazing teacher, Ms. Fritz, who had us making paper, doing printmaking, drawing, painting, working with silver for jewelry, making clothes out of trash, creating collages in old textbooks, and basically doing everything you never knew you would love doing. I never connected with anything in school before, and all of a sudden art completely changed my life. I started taking art classes at Fullerton College while still in high school and realized that I was not yet sure what type of art I would make, but that art was what I had to pursue. I spent almost 5 years at Fullerton College taking every kind of art class and meeting the most amazing people who were the hardest working and smartest people. I studied under amazing artists who were so dedicated to their students and were able to present the reality of what being an artist is. It was there that I realized I could make this my life. After Fullerton College, I transferred to California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland, where I had another amazing couple of years developing and changing and learning. The two schools were incredibly different, but both were filled with instructors who pushed me and believed in me. The artists that I met in both places, who are also gratefully my friends for life, push and inspire me to keep at it!
How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it? In other words, please give us a very basic description of your work: what does it look like, what is it made of, what subject matter will we recognize, what shapes or colors are most noticeable, etc.
It's challenging to describe my art since I work in many different mediums, and the materials allow the work to come out very differently. Some of my work, such as soft sculptures and weavings, are generally installation-based. My focus with these is on creating an altered space in which to present them. Some of it is textile, including cross-stitching, embroidering, felting, sewing, and beading. Some is traditional drawings with markers, colored pencil, watercolor, or pastel. And some is collage. I always love experimentation; however, in my work you will see techniques I repeat constantly, like basket weaving. I generally gravitate to colors that are vibrant, lively, and almost celebratory. Much of the sculptural work is inspired by nature and can be very organic in shape -- almost clumsy in its construction.
How do you decide what type of piece to make and what materials you want to use? Do you start with a specific intent?
I generally start with an image that comes into my mind, and the material is already decided by what the piece is going to be. However, I am not an artist that does test runs or sketches things out. I really enjoy starting a piece and, mid-way through, having to resolve a problem in the structure or material or whatever comes up. Sometimes these "problems" cause me to reevaluate the piece and take it in a different direction than what was originally in my head.
I also like starting a piece and then letting it live in my room so I can see where to take it next. Last year, I worked on a bunch of cross-stitches that I became very involved in. The imagery felt like collages referencing art history and combining many images, words, names, or anything that was important to me. I had originally thought I would create a flat, collage-like quilt of all the cross-stitches, but that felt too overwhelming after laying them out together. I finally resolved the piece by sewing them onto fuzzy fur fabric, making pillows, and hanging them like a mobile from a gardening piece I got at Home Depot. This process of completing a sculpture is common in my practice. I find it interesting that I can sometimes draw something quickly and then end up working on it for months.
I also am constantly reacting to the way a piece is communicating with itself. That probably sounds crazy, but the different sections are in conversations on the color and textures and feelings that they are conveying to each other. It’s interesting since I work so much from the floor, sometimes I don’t see the whole piece hanging until it is up in a gallery. Since the work is on the floor, it becomes a part of me and my living space, and something my dog will lay on at times -- that’s how you know it’s a good piece!
Is there anything about art that you’ve learned either in school or in working as an artist that you think is useful to share with people who maybe don’t engage with the art world on a regular basis? Something I've learned over the years is that you don't have to love every piece of art you see. You don't have to understand it or even like it. You probably won't like a lot of art you see. Still, you should try to appreciate the fact that someone spent a large amount of time or dedicated a large part of their life to creating it. Not only that, but the work you are looking at might be a deeply personal, political, or laborious piece that the artist created over a specific time in their life. Whether it looks like you could have made it with your untrained hand or not, you didn't; and appreciating someone's dedication, craft, and connection to a piece -- or trying to understand them or their connection to the world -- is amazing. I think if you have less need to love every piece of art, you'll love art more. It’s the best!
You are a classically trained painter, but you also make purses, jewelry, and baskets, correct? Do you treat the utilitarian items as a separate part of your art practice? In other words, do you make a distinction between "fine art" and "arts & crafts?"
When making purses in comparison to sculptures, it is the exact same process. I am reacting to the colors, making intuitive decisions about texture and shape, and constantly reacting to how they interact or contrast in a way that is appealing to me. I often learn from something I try or a problem I come across, and then that ends up either in the purse or in my art. From this, I see the purses as sculptures. There really is no division for me.
The art world can sometimes focus on what is "fine art." It's tricky to think that something could be written off just for the materials used or the technique or the fact that it can be utilized in a functional manner. I feel really grateful because my childhood love of craft has resurfaced in my art, and my classical training also plays a part. That's sometimes the beauty of art, that we are all unique people who grow up differently, learning a skill from a grandparent, friend, or parent; or dealing with subject matter that can surface in our work later on. Trying to break down what is fine art and what is craft seems like trying to separate two roads that are ornately intertwined for me, and I like riding on both.
Some of your techniques are quite intricate and, I imagine, time consuming. How long do you typically spend creating each piece?
Honestly, it's very challenging to put a specific hour spent on much of the work I make. I've learned in my studio time that because some of the work can take months (I think the longest I've spent on a piece is just over 2 years), I have to balance it out with smaller pieces like drawings or collages that I can complete in 3 hours to a week. I generally am working on a few pieces at a time. I sometimes will get very focused on one piece and work on it a bunch, then get tired of it or stuck, not knowing what direction to take it, so I put it aside and work on a different one. Or sometimes I just jump around from one to the next and go back and forth, and then work on a drawing in the middle. These breaks allow me to sleep on the different pieces and come at them with something I've learned from a different piece, or from something I saw in a movie or a photo, or just with a fresh mind. This has been the best way of working for me, and a way to balance out the pieces that take much longer without getting burned out.
Some of the recurring themes in your work include gloves, Snoop Dogg, plants, and animals (especially dogs). Do these motifs have special meaning?
That is incredibly true. I tend to start using an image and then become obsessed with it and it starts transforming and changing. They definitely do have personal meanings and sometimes their meanings change over the years. Some of the underlying meanings are very basic. For example, I love dogs so much, especially my dog, so why wouldn't he end up in my art? A couple of years ago, I started making my mom post-it note cartoons that feature little Atticus, my dog, doing all kinds of activities or funny things like roller skating or working in a restaurant, and pretty much anything. After that, he started entering into many of my larger pieces.
Nature has always been a huge part of my life. Growing up, my mom was always the one our neighbors would call over if a bird was found, a tarantula was in their garage, a possum was on the road injured. We would find owl pellets and look through them with sticks, and bask in watching a coyote running through our street. I love bugs and birds and all the creatures and all their unique traits that make them adapt perfectly for their lifestyle. Not only are they amazing, but their fur patterns, metallic bodies with transparent wings, and all the different textures and patterns and colors are perfect and so inspiring.
The gloves started about 5 years ago with a sculpture I made using one of my old vintage gloves that I loved. I couldn't wear it anymore since I had lost one of them, so as the spare lay around my studio it finally ended up in a piece. It has turned into a beautiful, almost social practice as people send me images of gloves from all over the world. It is such a strange and beautiful idea how a glove can tell so much about a person. You can get clues on their job, outfit, the size of their hand, how they store them, what they use their hands for and so much. I see the gloves as portraits of an unknown person you may or may not have met, or of yourself or someone like you.
While living in Oakland, I connected certain performers and musicians with my time in the Bay Area. After moving back to Southern California, there were different performers here that characterized my lifelong connection to this area and why I always ended back here, unlike my sister who has been on the East Coast since high school. Snoop Dogg almost became a mascot of Southern California to me -- not to mention he affiliates himself and his image with a dog, and dogs are the best! I find the process of recreating Snoop Dogg's image to be fascinating because his personality changes and is altered in each piece, much like all of us have different sides to us that we present in different settings. It's interesting creating a character of someone I don't know personally, yet I feel he represents the Southern California charisma.
Another symbol I love is the strawberry; I was inspired by the fruit in Hieronymus Bosch's work. To me the strawberry has become the female figure: strong, beautiful; some are long and skinnier; some are full and round; some are red and some are cream colored. They have a beautiful pattern from their seeds, and they are delicious. Also, my 8-year-old neighbor told me that if you put them in saltwater, bugs come out of them -- which I don't want to see, but I do love the idea that bugs are just living in our strawberries like a house.
Many people feel that women artists have, historically, not been taken seriously. Do you worry that your use of materials and motifs typically associated with women or with "shallowness" -- fuzzy fabrics, sequins, puffy paint, heart shapes, the color pink, etc. -- might cause viewers to dismiss your work as unimportant?
My transition to working in "historically women" material, palettes, textures, and techniques came very organically. I didn't start thinking about it until a female instructor advised me to "try to make my work less obviously made by a woman." That stuck with me for a little, but I realized this critique felt more directed to something she was grappling with in her own studio, or maybe something someone critiqued of her and she felt a need to pass it on to me. Either way, it didn't change the way I worked.
For me, it's an honor to present work that women have done for years and been overlooked for. I also had an amazing instructor, Franklin Williams, who told me a story of a former student painter who hung her work "unacceptably" low on the wall. She was barely 5 feet tall and presenting her work at a height that was perfect for her viewing. This was essential to her. In preparing her for the critique, he insisted that if anyone judged her way of hanging the work, she had to repeat, “Because I wanted it like that!” He had her practice saying it the night before, until she was yelling it at the top of her lungs. Franklin would always tell his students individual stories that were specifically for us, and this was definitely a lesson for me. He was teaching me to have confidence in the decisions I made with my art, and not to be deterred by critics who might dismiss my work. I think if most artists were overly concerned about what others thought of their work, they might never make anything.
It's interesting being an artist, you spend about 99% of your time alone, working on these amazing things that bring you joy in your studio, and about 1% of time showing your work in a critique environment. Also, when you are not in a school setting, people are a lot less likely to tell you how they really feel about your art, which for me is liberating. Maybe it's naive, but most of the time we are our biggest critics and have a better idea of what direction we want to take our work. I remember doing a studio visit with Joan Greenbaum, an amazing painter in New York, and she said, (not in these specific words) "Why would I want someone to come into my studio and tell me how to finish my painting? That is not coming from me; that is the way they would finish it." I think I'm getting a little off topic, but as an artist, you have to do what is right for you. If you don't, it will eat you away inside. You really have to love what you make.
Has the Covid-19 physical distancing situation affected your work? Are you currently making art? If so, what are you working on?
Covid-19 gave me more time to work on my art. In the beginning, before I went back to work, I was getting 8- 12-hour days in the studio. It was amazing! I started out working in wood on a few different pieces with the new jigsaw. I made a cutout stand of my dog and a few other wood pieces I'm not sure how to use yet. Then I got very focused on some sharpie t-shirts and small coin purses I started making. Then I missed working on a long-term project, so I started two rug pieces that I had been curious to learn how to do. Currently I'm working on a drawing, a hook rug, and a latch rug (I think that’s what they’re called); I’m finishing a coin purse; and I am revisiting another glove collage piece I started months ago. A little bit of everything right now.
What other contemporary or historical artists or art movements inspire you or influence your work?
I pretty much love something about every art history movement. I'm forever in love with the Renaissance painters and sculptors who made marble figures look like real people. The Impressionist paintings are something I can see a million times and get lost in all the colors and active strokes on the canvas. I like the old tempera paintings that were a little awkward, strange, intricate, and amazing. Also, the Dada art that changed what many people consider art. In every art movement, there is something fascinating, and I love how they often contrast the previous movement. Even the Pollock, Judd, and de Kooning time, which were a little male dominant, gave us the amazing Eva Hesse. Not to mention, they made spectacular work as well, and viewing a Judd in a setting like Dia Beacon or in Marfa, which is still a bucket list place for me, is incomparable. Art is amazing and tracks our history. I get chills looking at a fresco painting in a church in Europe and thinking about how the artist hundreds of years ago made that particular painting where I am standing now. That is an amazing feeling.
What are some of your inspirations outside of the “Fine Art World?”
There are so many -- nature; flowers; comedy; fruit; my family; dogs; how people across the world use clothing and ornate, decorative jewelry differently; tattoos; my fiancé; my friends; how unique we all are; our hidden pasts that make us amazing; podcasts; movies, especially documentaries; random people I see in the streets; the way things move in nature; gloves; and Snoop Dogg -- to name a few.
I’m interested in talking to more artists who are doing exciting or relevant work right now, and I think a good way to do that is to ask artists about their friends. Whose work do you love? Who else do you think we should interview, and why? [Instagram handles added when possible.] Austyn de Lugo [@austynshambles], Matthan Cowart [@matthancowart], Megan Reed [@megan_e_reed], Bruna Massadas [@brunamassadas], Britny Gledhill [@britny_veronica], Alex Brown [@nighttrain], Francine Banda [@pizza666], Elizabeth Munzon [@emunzon], Maryam Yousif [@yyyyammyyyy], Ben Quinn [ben_quinn], Marisa de la Peña [@marisa.de.la.pena], Sam Branden [@sam_branden], Rebekah Goldstein [@rebekahgoldstein], Tosha Stimage, Saif Azzuz [@like_a_safe]. There are truly so many amazing artists making work right now. I am missing so many people, but these artists make spectacular and personal work. They put incredible hours into it as well as being supportive to our community. You have such a huge pool of amazing people to interview and this question is always so hard because I want to include a dictionary list of people! Also my mom, Christina Licata, is an amazing photographer. She took all of my photos and is a huge influence to me!
Lana Licata's website is lanalicata.com. You can also follow her on Instagram: @lanalicata.
*All the photos on this page are by Christina Licata, and are property of the artist.