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Rutland’s Lisa Barthelson Creates Art out of the Mundane

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


For Lisa Barthelson, an award-winning local artist of many mediums based in Worcester, a love and need for art runs in the family, and that means of creative expression has become a family activity in ways you may not expect.  

This experienced artist has gone beyond what we may consider "traditional" art and drifted into a world of unique experimentation, involving creative renderings of materials and objects we may consider mundane in everyday life.

"A 'materials junkie', I look at everything as a potential art medium: a material to be used and transformed. From traditional art making materials: paint, pencil, printmaking ink, paper,  wax and clay, to the debris we generate in the course of our daily lives and then throw out, it all excites me," she says in her Artist Statement.

This use of "debris" can be found noticeably in her "family debris" series, in which she uses her children's old toys and clothes, yard debris, "drawer and under the bed junk", caps and tops, consumer and paper ephemera and other items usually considered household "waste" to produce various pieces.

"I was inspired to begin what I now call the ‘family debris series’. The concept for the series formed in my mind after I’d been cleaning out, and purging boxes and bags of my children’s old toys and clothes," she explains. "The items were too worn, incomplete or fraught with memories to be passed on. But I couldn’t bear the thought of these personal bits heading for a long slow death buried in a land fill. I decided to capture the moment and give a new life to our old stuff."

This reinvigoration of the "old" takes a number of different forms such as 2d ephemera as prints/mixed media works and installations, 3-D detritus as sculpture and assemblage, and household materials as installation and environmental sculpture, but they are all centered around one singular purpose.

"The ‘family debris series’ tells the story of our family and how we live through what we consume; in essence a visual history of the choices we’ve made. And I love the never ending challenge of transforming and re-imagining our stuff!"

But this special and imaginative series is by no means her only foray into the expansive field of fine art. She also works within the mediums of painting, printmaking, ceramics and photography in addition to her challenging and creative inroad into mixed media and sculpture.

"Why so many mediums? I’m curious and like to learn new things. Over the years, I’ve continued to take classes and study different ways to make art and to express myself. I find that different mediums and methods can enhance and influence each other. I like to embrace the spontaneity and serendipity found in the confluence of the varied materials and processes, including the unexpected and new ideas that emerge from intuitively exploring multiple mediums," she says.

For Barthelson art, in any medium, is a necessity, a life-long passion that must continually be fed. She was brought up in an environment where art was the norm; both her father and mother were artists, and she began painting with oil and canvas at age 6. From then on, she always assumed she would be an artist and initially entered college to study it. But, like so many who dream of becoming artists of a sort, she had to struggle when forced to confront the cold realities of modern society and its relation to an artist's ambitions.

"When I realized that in order to go to college, I’d need to work my way through by waitressing and taking out student loans, reality hit. As the daughter of artists, unfortunately I had no illusions about how difficult it could be to support myself as an artist. So I changed majors to the design related ‘profession’ of Landscape Architecture hoping I would have real job prospects and the ability to repay my loans when I graduated."

But for so many art is a much needed expression of the soul, that overwhelms any need for money or financial security. Fortunately for Lisa, she was able to find work as a Landscape Architect in the Boston area, then a job in Worcester, where she moved in 1986, but her desire and need to express her natural creativity could not be overwhelmed. She continued to work as an artist throughout this process, opening up her own studio in Worcester in the Sprinkler Factory on Harlow Street where she works out of now.

She explains this need to create and its relation to happiness, an expression so many artists of different types can relate to. "I’ve always made art because I feel that I need to make art. Art is my passion: my means of working things out, exploring my inner life. The making is part joy and part pain. Frankly if I go a stretch without making art, I’m miserable, depressed and difficult to live with. For me making art is part of sanity and fundamentally who I am."

One cannot simply bury the artistic urge. It can come out at the most unexpected times in the most unexpected ways, accompanied by any number of different ideas and manifested by any number of different means.

Often her ideas come from simply taking a walk or running outside. "When moving outside on my own steam, fully experiencing the light, weather and nature around me, I’m totally alone with my own thoughts." But ultimately these ideas can come from anywhere.

"My ideas come from everywhere and are sparked by observations and occurrences throughout my day, could be anything at anytime."

Perhaps her understanding of the artistic mindset and both the internal and external struggles it comes with are what encourages her to expand beyond her own personal artistic aspirations and contribute to the greater Worcester art scene. She helps local artists publicize and continue their work. She has worked as the Director of ARTSWorcester, has been a volunteer in support of community arts, and co-founded and coordinated the stART on the Street Arts Festival during its first three years. She is also a member of the Blackstone Print Studio Cooperative.

Barthelson's Art has been featured in countless exhibitions and auctions in numerous studios in Worcester and the rest of Central Mass, Boston, New York City, Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Her art has also won a number of awards including the ARTSWorcester annual art award in 2003, the "Most Artistic" at the First Annual LEGO Contest in Brattleboro, VT and the Jurors' Choice Gold "water rings" at the 2010 Art in the Park Exhibtion, held at Elm Park in Worcester.

Recently, her "family debris" series and "O...out...obsessively" series has been featured at the Krikorian Gallery in the Worcester Center for Crafts and her "Working it Out" series was featured at the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. In addition to these solo outings, she also shows her art as part of many dual and group exhibitions.

No matter form her art takes, Barthelson hopes her viewers continue to get out of her art what most if not all artists hope for: an evocation of emotion and an expansion of their imaginational horizons.

"The response can be any spark of thought or emotion: recognition, humor, anger, delight, disgust, or even confusion and the desire to take the memory of the image with them to re-examine and re-consider over time... I believe that the more perspectives we experience and are exposed to, the broader our outlook and understanding."
The future looks promising for Lisa. She wishes to continue working on her enjoyable 2d and 3d "family debris" work. In addition, she will continue to look out for opportunities to make large-scale installations and public art. She hopes to expand her studio space as more materials and tools come into her possession.

At the beginning of 2013, she will start a month long artist's residency in Vermont,  "the realization of a lifelong dream", she says. Working among a community of hard-working artists, driven by the same innate passion that has ruled her life, Barthelson is enthusiastic about this wonderful upcoming experience, calling it "an extraordinary opportunity to intensely focus on the gestation and making of new art." She will relish the freedom to produce any art she chooses, as she has done her entire career.

For more information on Lisa Barthelson, including on future exhibitions, and to view her art, click here.


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