Photos by Asia Morris.
Lori LaMont is a Long Beach keepsake, so to speak. Why this artist hasn’t been picked up by a Los Angeles or New York gallery is any wonder, but we’re more than happy to keep her as one of the city's most talented painters, a self-taught, meticulous worker whose strictly watercolor paintings of flora, fauna and people behold the boldest and brightest colors, yet evoke an unsettling undercurrent of a darker theme, specifically of society’s insatiable hunger for fashion, entertainment and sport.
LaMont’s latest and largest work is now on display at the Long Beach Museum of Art’s (LBMA) exhibition entitled Lori LaMont: Under the Influence. It’s a staggering two-piece painting, displayed in its own gallery, alongside two other ongoing exhibitions featuring local female artists. It’s a work of art that is just as interesting with your nose grazing the glass as it is astounding when viewed from a distance.
It’s a herd of deer running toward you, heated and competitive, their coats plastered with the logos and insignias of companies such as BMW, Twitter, Gucci, Burger King, Chanel and Coach. LaMont says the overwhelming branding was inspired by the Tour de France, which she watches with her husband every year. The 21-stage grueling test of endurance with its 22 teams and their hundreds of combined sponsors, spurred a contemplation of logos, social life and society at large.
“[The race is] so perilous, it’s like a herd of elk,” she mused. “[The cyclists] are totally splashed and every time I watch it I’m inspired in a way that I can’t understand. When it came out in this painting I thought, ‘This is it, this is what it was egging me on to do.’”
The two paintings took her four years to complete and are inundated with questions for the viewer. LaMont wonders with her paintbrush, are humans totally innocent? Are we seduced into what we do? We’re competitive with each other, but also part of a herd (hence the deer) that has to work together. Have the deer been placed in this race against their will or are they in it to win it?
"It’s that total seduction of corruption to me, which I find fascinating because I’ve always felt incorruptible," said LaMont. "I think of myself as really a goody two-shoes, so I feel like I’ve always looked [at] corruption from the other side of the window. I’m totally fascinated by what people do, why they do it and how they do it. That’s what I thought about when I did this one."
Not only is her work on display, but she’s also the LBMA’s current Artist in Residence. It’s a rare opportunity to see an established artist’s studio, albeit a temporary one, and their works-in-progress, particularly an artist who most often works in isolation, who thrives in the meditative productivity allowed by solitude and a noiseless space. While LaMont was uncomfortable at first, often surprised and a little skittish at the thought of a museum-going stranger or group of people entering the room, she’s taken the experience in full stride.
“I’m used to being all by myself,” she said. “My old studio is tiny; I mean it’s so little I can barely squeeze anything in, so I love having this space. [The museum] brings groups of kids and other tours through, which I actually really like. It’s super fun, I just have to remember that I’m painting something and to not just walk away while they’re visiting. But I’m so solitary, so this is… it’s different.”
If you stop by the Ralston Family Learning Center at the museum, you can see two of the artist’s current works and several of her finished pieces adorning the walls. LaMont’s linework is certainly something to be appreciated both before and after she’s finished a painting. You realize that oftentimes there’s just as much beauty in the unfinished stages of a piece as there is in all its completed and colorful glory.
One of these works in progress, entitled Couched in Red, is the artist’s tribute to the Freud family, most notably Bella Freud, the daughter of the late artist Lucian Freud and great granddaughter of the well known founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Inspired by a sketch Lucian drew of his whippet, Pluto, which Bella worked into her collection of cashmere jumpers and overall branding, LaMont took liberties with the family’s love for canines, especially those of the greyhound variety.
“Her dad had painted a super famous painting of her on a red couch. And just recently there was this really small curated group of famous paintings of people on red couches, so I titled this Couched in Red because that’s total, total Bella,” said LaMont. “[...]with her designs, her dogs, but just with her [great] grandpa’s [sense of] innuendo and with her dad having painted her portrait. So this one I’m so excited about, I want to get this one done as fast as I can.”
Chatting with the artist in her newly inhabited studio at the museum is easy going. She’s open about her thoughts and invites you into the conversation with the understanding that her pieces are just as much her conception as the viewer’s once they’re finished. She lets us in on some of the fears she’s overcome as a painter since she sold her first piece 25 years ago, including her own shyness.
“People who are interested in art for the most part, they’re curious about it, but they’re sort of intimidated to ask the questions, and then the artist is sort of intimidated to talk about it and it’s this weird situation,” said LaMont. “But when people would ask me about my art I would feel like, ‘What’s the right answer?’ I realized I could talk about [my work] like a normal person just as if I were having a conversation. That was a hurdle for me.”
While her fear of attempting to explain her aesthetic may have inhibited her social interactions in the past, it could be argued that such shyness came from her comfort in solitude, which, in turn, allowed her to develop such a unique and nontraditional style. LaMont has never once wondered or very much cared whether or not so-and-so might like her work.
“I’ve always painted for myself so I get super excited with what I’m doing, so I don’t feel that worry that people aren’t going to like it.”
Lori LaMont can be visited during museum hours at the Ralston Family Learning Center through February 21. For more information about the LBMA’s Artist in Residence program, click here. For a day-by-day look into the life of the artist, follow LaMont on Instagram @lorilamont1.
The LBMA is located at 2300 East Ocean Boulevard.