Meg Lipke is a third-generation artist based in New York. She identifies as a painter, but her recent work in a show at Freight and Volume challenges the idea of painting as a two-dimensional medium. She challenges structural limits of material by allowing soft objects and textiles to exist as sculpture. Her process of creation is representational of our personal relationship with our own bodies, by sewing, binding, bending, and squeezing.
New works by Meg Lipke are on display at Freight and Volume in New York, spanning from late 2014 to now. The exhibition is titled Pliable Channels, and reflects her history through material and painting. The title of the exhibition represents the channels in which her artistry was passed down from generations, beginning with her Grandmother, a self-taught artist who used textiles milled from her husband’s textile factory. Lipke has witnessed the art in her family act as a pre-feminist voice, creating a safe place for freedom of expression through celebrated creativity. The title also represents the physical nature of the works, as many are hand-sewn channels that are filled with polyfil stuffing to preserve shape and structure in soft material that is both sculptural and painterly. Both ideas of creative channels are important in Lipke’s current work as it continues to develop in material and design.
“Her richly layered abstract works project an uncannily bodily presence, evoking visual delight and a visceral response as they are continually labored over, woven and restored.”
An excerpt from the catalog accompanying Pliable Channels written by Julia Kunin.
When did your relationship with art begin?
Growing up, I had a lot of exposure to artists and art – my parents both taught art history at the University level and they threw parties for their students in which everyone played art history ‘charades”. Their friends were a circle of artists who had come from New York City to Vermont. For a while my father was the director of the University Museum, so my brother and I and the other kids ate all the food and ran around at openings. It was a lot of fun. My mother is an artist, and her dedication to her art practice increased with the emergence of feminism in the art world and as we, her kids, started to be more self-sufficient. She was a great role model because she taught and had a studio practice and two kids, and balanced it all, so I never felt that I would have to ‘choose’ between a career as an artist and having children. I was surrounded by role models who were just really, really way cooler than I ever thought I could be. I mean, there was this one friend of my parents who used to explode his public art works with fireworks. And my parents brought me to see Pat Olesko perform a feminist strip tease. I was probably a bit of a weirdo because of all this exposure, but it was a very privileged upbringing in that way and I’m very grateful for it.
Independently of this background, I had a personal experience when I was 15 that really confirmed art-making for me. I attended a summer art immersion program, on a college campus with all the other kids from around the state who were into art-making and poetry, dance and music. It was magical and I felt very deeply – very romantically – that I was connected to the world through my own work and to these other creative people. It sounds really cheeseball, but I know I’ve been trying to recreate that feeling over the last 31 years through the development of my work and the commitment I have to fellow artists.
How have you seen your relationship with art evolve over time and what has influenced these changes?
Continuing to make the work and following it where it goes is a big part of the evolution. It’s a commitment to putting the time in and being real about it.
What artists, movements or experiences have made the greatest impact on you and your visual narrative?
Like everyone, I’ve gone through phases of being infatuated. When I was a teenager I was really moved by the work of Katherine Porter (I still am) and John Walker. I wrote my MFA thesis on Turner and Freidrich, and went through a deep, soulful Bonnard and Vuillard year. And an Arthur Dove, Emily Carr, Marsden Hartley, Burchfield ride. There is so much to learn from looking. Recently, I have been re-thinking about seminal feminist artists of the 1970’s/1980’s, who are still making important work, and whose rigor and candor was really influential to me, although I didn’t realize it until recently. Harmony Hammond taught a figure drawing class that I tagged along with my mother to when I was a teen, and I’ve gone back to looking at her stuffed work from that time. Yayoi Kusama and Ana Mendieta and Sheila Pepe. And Laurie Anderson. And Richard Tuttle. I could go on and on…
Other sources of inspiration are closest art friends, good crits, good reads, music, the way my children make things, the garden, taking photographs, found objects, early visual memories, hopes and fears, the body etc.
What media would you say you identify with most and how is your relationship with it important in the dissemination of your work?
I still think of myself as a painter even though this branch of my work is getting more sculptural and further away from the two-dimensional rectangle. I try not to over-think things because I don’t want to second-guess myself. I make what I feel like making and I’ve really learned that there’s no point in continuing unless you absolutely trust your ideas and your ability to make sense of them as form.
How have you seen your painting practices evolve as your media evolves? Do you still add paint to these sculptures that you recently started creating?
I have been experimenting with the difference that comes from the painting/sculpture order. If I make the form first and stuff it, and then paint it, it feels more like I am decorating the sculpture with paint. If I start with the painting, then I make choices about where the stitching will go to create the segments that are stuffed. There’s a little more of the unknown in the second approach, so that is how most of the works are made. Also, almost all of these pieces involve a lot of hand-sewing, which is a different kind of labor-intensive activity. I used to despise sewing, but now I really enjoy it as part of the work and another way of making line and establishing volumetric boundaries.
How do you experiment with formal qualities in your work?
I’m always playing around with the work, but I really don’t stop and think about formalism anymore. It’s boring to make paintings that prove what you know for that end. I want to be excited by my own investigation. A game I play with myself is to see if at some point in the process of every work I am answering a “What if?”. This body of work really started from that studio game. A painting I was working on was an utter failure and after weeks of trying to make it work, I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut everything out except the best part. I felt really self-congratulatory at that point and then had a thought that it would be so great to turn the scrap back into a “painting” by stuffing it with something soft, but in the same profile on the side as a stretcher bar. It was like a dare and a private joke at the same time and opened up my thinking in a different way. Now I am considering what happens when the form bulges out more, like a limb or the trunk of a body, and what happens to the painting when it becomes volumetric.
Viewership in your work has evolved from two dimensional to three dimensional — what new expectations do you have for your three dimensional work in terms of experience?
I experience the new work as having a direct relationship to the body, in a way that the two-dimensional work does not. The work bulges out from the wall and undulates, it is beautiful and at times funny and a tiny bit disturbing in some places, where the forms are squeezed by hard plaster gauze (see Loop Hoop, 2016, below), or where bits of stuffing are visible. I really hope for the new work to be experienced as a hybrid of painting/sculpture and that’s why they are still placed on the wall and not in the round.
What do you hope for audiences to take away from viewing your work?
I want viewers to have the experience that I have when I am really into someone’s work.
I want to feel like my own power as a viewer is essential to the artwork’s decoding. I want to feel like I’m inside a familiar mystery that has something to teach me about what it means to be alive, and I don’t want it to be spelled out for me.
Last modified: March 21, 2016