“Fear makes us feel our humanity.”
~ Benjamin Disraeli
t feels like almost a contradiction to look at Laura Krifka‘s work and call her “courageous.” These are women, children in distress. Vulnerable to the elements and to the danger that lurks just beyond, they are terrified, and deservedly so. And yet, as singer-songwriter and poet, Jim Morrison so aptly expressed, “We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.” Is then the terror we see reflected in the faces of Krifka’s paintings more than merely a warning for the viewer to watch her step? Might the artist be inviting us to go deeper still ~ to slip down into the dark, chilly waters where true fear resides ~ within our own mind and memory?
INTERVIEW WITH PAINTER, LAURA KRIFKA
Ventura, California ~
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: There is an aspect of foreboding throughout your work, Laura. Innocents alert to a very real and encroaching danger.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: I am reminded of Aron Wiesenfeld‘s illustrations [interviewed earlier in Combustus]. That eerie atmosphere that suggests your characters are about to succumb to something extraordinary.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: But also that sense of everyday violation, that what we’re witnessing cuts a bit too close to home. I am curious to hear what were the cautionary tales you heard as a child. Do the scenarios you paint harken back to warnings passed on to you in your youth? Or to societal dilemmas you have become sensitive to as an adult?
Laura Krifka: That is a very insightful question. And I like that phrase you use, “an everyday violation,” to describe the work. I was aware from a very early age that there was danger in the world and that I needed to be hyperalert at all times, particularly as a female. I was raised just outside of Compton, California, but my childhood didn’t seem particularly threatening. I was taught to be extremely cautious, and I think with good reason. [quote]Events of our youth become the framework of our lives; they become our mythologies. [/quote]I recall when I was in the second grade, one of the mothers of my classmates was abducted from the parking lot of my school and raped in the middle of the day. A person just like anyone else made a decision and a justification to do that to someone. People are horrible, but they can also be wonderful. This duality has always fascinated and horrified me.
Laura Krifka: When I was eleven, my family moved north to Newbury Park, California, a major suburban Christian environment. Believe it or not, we actually moved onto the grounds of a retirement center. I also worked there during the summers. I went through puberty while my friends and neighbors literally went senile and deteriorated. I felt so much guilt for just being sixteen, for wanting to be hopeful and having those hopes smothered by their loneliness.
As a child I was surrounded by love, truly surrounded by it, but life is complicated. There was a lot of horror and tangible cruelty from the outside world, but also great compassion and understanding within my own family. I think this dichotomy of human nature was the biggest and most difficult lesson of my youth.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: There is also that undeniable tie-in with sexuality throughout your body of work, both in a hedonistic way, and in a discomforting awareness that your subjects are being preyed upon. One is reminded of the cautionary tales we all grew-up with, from Peter and the Wolf to Little Red Riding Hood. Is there a warning you are sending out? And if so, to whom?
Laura Krifka: [quote]Ultimately, I think the paintings are about the push and pull of predator and prey, and the way we encompass those roles within ourselves. This relates to sex, but also religion and history. The ways we justify or cannot justify our own agendas to the world and to ourselves.[/quote] I know this is a common fear, but my grandma never liked to get near the edge of any great height because she was afraid she might jump. Sometimes I think of the paintings like that: we run the risk of becoming the victims of our own impulses. We can set ourselves free or destroy what we love most. The power of that clash is intoxicating. If there is any warning in the paintings, I think it would be to keep your eyes open, if you are going to jump, you should know where you are going. No justifications, no doctrines, just what you want and why. It is a hard thing to do.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What would be the ultimate compliment you could ever receive?
Laura Krifka: “Your work makes me feel less alone?” That is either too depressing or too honest of an answer.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Do you yourself have a favorite of all of your works? One that delighted you either in the envisioning of it or its execution?
Laura Krifka: “The Lost One” and “Pink Predator” are my favorites at the moment. They both made me the most uncomfortable in terms of subject matter and made me really push my boundaries in different ways. They also were very complex in terms of creating light and atmosphere, I enjoy them spatially.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Can you share with me a bit about your process? How does an idea come to you and how quickly does it reveal itself on your canvas?
Laura Krifka: Sometimes a line in a song catches my attention, or a tree branch in the light, and then I free-associate with that as a jumping off point. Then I do a bunch of sketches and research and eventually build a diorama. It can take months before I am ready to put paint on the canvas. And then painting! That is a whole other dance.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What other living contemporary painter today captures your imagination? Whom would you love to sit down and have a conversation with that you haven’t already?
Laura Krifka: Kyle Staver…
Laura Krifka: Ellen Altfest…
Laura Krifka: If I could sit down with anyone it would be Kara Walker.
Laura Krifka: Her work scares the crap out of me.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Would you say that there is a distinctive feel to art being produced by women today? Are you pleased with what is being created by women of your generation? Or are there stories still not being told?
Laura Krifka: I find the work being produced by women to be extremely varied. I see no distinctive feel or direction.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Greatest advice you’ve ever received?
Laura Krifka: If you are comfortable, you are doing it wrong.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Advice for those now coming up trying to find their own voice?
Laura Krifka: [quote]Once you have gone through the filter of art school and learned how to make things look cool, try and forget all of that and instead find the dork you were pretending not to be before all this started. That person is inherently stranger, more original and deeply more interesting than anything you could try to emulate. Keep your eyes open, keep paying attention to what is out there, but don’t be afraid of yourself.[/quote]
To view more of her artwork, please visit her website. http://laurakrifka.com/