Originally published in the April-May 2014 East City Art Quarterly Guide to the Visual Arts. For more info go to: www.eastcityart.com/category/eca-guide/
While many of us spent the last dregs of winter curled up on the couch with Netflix, area artists have been working diligently in their studios for upcoming summer exhibitions. The annual Gateway Arts District Open Studio Tour on May 9th gives area visitors and residents a unique opportunity to step inside artists’ “offices” and experience contemporary art in a casual yet engaging environment. New to the Open Studio Tour this year will be White Point Studio in Mount Rainier, MD. Founded in 2014, White Point Studio is under the leadership of sculptor Laurel Lukaszewski, and I recently sat down with her to learn about her approach to sculpting and how the studio’s atmosphere is evolving.
Lukaszewski’s (pronounced Luka-CHEV-ski) studio space is a study in contrasts. Finished works in the studio seem to have a Zen-like, almost minimalist quality about them. Formed in inky, charcoal blacks and cool pearlescent whites, the works rest serenely on plinths or hang majestically from the walls or ceiling. On the other hand, areas of her studio devoted to creating new pieces are piled high with individual coils, blocks and other shapes in what seems to be a puzzle-master’s playground. It offers a fascinating perspective into how she approaches the design of each work.
That Zen-like quality is rather apt, as she views the creation of her work through a distinctive, Eastern lens. While a multitude of classroom courses and artist-in-residence experiences provide the basis for her artistic knowledge, her formal education includes a two year stint living in Japan and a Master’s degree in Asian Studies. Listening to her describe her experimentally-based, art making process, I can’t help but notice how these educational tracks work in tandem to create pieces that vacillate between exuberance and serenity.
Take for instance a work such as Past Midnight (2013), seen on this edition’s cover, which features black stoneware coils that undulate in a frenzy across the wall. What at first glance appears a tightly-formed mass is in reality a loose construction of individual units held together by friction and gravity. Lukaszewski sees these almost as three-dimensional doodles, or perhaps the inked script of a long-lost language. That impression is on target, as she notes the particular shade – jet black with an ash-like quality – brings to mind sumi ink, a medium indelibly linked to her studies of Japanese art and culture. This reference to sumi ink is a key reason that many of her works remain unglazed.
Creating these larger works is equal parts mathematics and serendipity. Lukaszewski uses an extruder-type device to create single coiled pieces of uniform width. These individual pieces are then fired in the kiln, transforming them into their hardened form. Then she just starts playing and seeing how these individual coils go together. “It’s almost like having a pile of bricks and then deciding what to build,” she tells me, noting that, “I can build a shack or a cathedral.” The scale of the finished work can be monumental or diminutive, and really depends on how she reacts to the space in which the piece is placed.
While her larger works certainly catch the eye, smaller pieces – particularly those composed of white porcelain – equally plumb our perception of depth and spatial awareness. Where black stoneware focuses the eyes on shape and line, works in white bring awareness to the lighting and shadows that move across the work. White Currents (2013), a smaller, tabletop piece perfectly highlights this interplay. Like Past Midnight, it features individual forms that when massed create cohesive units (in this case however the units are fired together and thus attached). But where pieces cast in black material draw our eye to singular lines within a larger form, these works in white draw our eye to the space around the form as gradations of shadow fall across the larger piece. Given that her pieces inhabit space without traditional, framed boundaries, lighting and shadow create a visual context that grounds the work within the space around it, and she notes, “balance out the chaos that the forms could take.”
This concept of balance – of calm existing amidst potential chaos – is an idea we revisit several times during our conversation. Lukaszewski encapsulates this idea within a phenomenon that sounds quintessentially Japanese: the tea ceremony. The structure of the tea ceremony conforms to the notion of ichi-go ichi-e which Lukaszewski describes as, “the idea of creating an environment that is memorable and perfect because it can never happen again.” It occurs to me that in this modern, digital age that the urge to document life’s moments (for Facebook et. al.) often supersedes the simple joy of experiencing the moment. Her work intuitively slows us down, almost mesmerizing the viewer as we focus on the flow of the lines or patterns of light and dark. She describes it as a call to carpe diem but mixed in with that European notion of grasping the moment is the equally important and distinctly Buddhist notion of contemplating the experience in front of you. Lukaszewski’s deft combination of Western art and Eastern thought is certainly unique within the DC region; her art is all the more engaging for it.
With all that contemplation going on, you’d think perhaps the she toils away in a quiet, solitary studio yet the opposite is true. Lukaszewski is just one of five artists all working together at White Point Studio in Mount Rainier, Maryland. Repeat visitors to the area might recognize the building by its former name of Flux Studios. The future of the space was uncertain in 2014 when Novi Trump, the founder of Flux Studios moved west. Lukaszewski has been based in Mount Rainer since 2003 and knew she wanted to stay in the community, “where I’ve grown into a professional artist,” she notes. Thus a bold decision was made to run the group studio herself, christening the space with a new name.
Lukaszewski now shares the space with four other professional artists working in a variety of media. Fellow sculptors Jeffery Herrity and Tamara Laird were part of Flux Studios and have stayed on through the transition. New to the space are Jo Ellen Walker and Kate Kretz. Lukaszewski describes the studio vibe as fairly independent, but says that her fellow artists are quick to chat and bounce ideas around. “Being able to know that if you’re stuck, you can easily walk down to another studio,” she notes is a great advantage to working amidst a community. So too is the fact she shares her space with artists working at a professional level; “Working around others who take their work seriously is a big motivator,” she tells me.
As we go to print Lukaszewski notes that enthusiasm for the Open Studios tour is steadily building. White Point Studios does not have regular visiting hours, so this is one of the few occasions that she has the chance to talk with visitors and fellow artists about her work. The shear variety of media is also a draw; visitors may come to see one particular artist or group studio and be further exposed to new ideas they weren’t expecting. Lukaszewski is also excited about getting feedback from viewers. For example, she’s recently added accents of color to her work and will be interested in how viewers react to this subtle shift in her aesthetic. This will be the first time White Point Studios will be participating in the Open Studios tour and she’s looking forward to meeting each and every one of you!
White Point Studio is located at 3708 Wells Avenue in Mount Rainier, MD. It is stop #10 on the Open Studio Tour Map. For more information about the 2015 Open Studio Tour which takes place Saturday, May 9, go to www.gatewayopenstudios.org