Last week I had the pleasure of visiting artist Lily Stockman in her New York City studio, located in an old building on NYU’s campus the East Village. It was a grey, overcast day, but I found myself comfortably ensconced in her beautifully lit space with Ethiopian piano music playing, a cup of hot tea in my hands, and so much beauty to look at. I couldn’t have asked for a more lovely way to start the day than spending it there, talking to her about art, Joshua Tree, India, blogging and more. I absolutely love talking to artists – there is something so fascinating about the way their minds work, and the stories behind their work. There is always so much more than meets the eye. Take a peek inside Lily’s studio below, with snippets of our conversation mixed in.
I learned that Lily’s studio is located in one of the only true north-facing buildings in the city – providing her with a breathtaking view that includes the Chrysler building and a gorgeous rooftop garden adjacent to her windows.
The studio space is minimal, with white walls on which her work hangs, plenty of desk space, and what caught my eyes almost immediately – this gorgeous purple Sari hanging in one corner. It came from India, and she told me she loves the color so much it serves as endless inspiration, a color she is always trying to encapsulate in her work.
Did you always know you wanted to be a painter?
“I always wanted to, it was just a matter of making it work and making a living. I was living in Joshua Tree and I got a little studio in town and started painting, and from there I found another gallery in northern California that started showing my work, and then I started blogging. I was pretty isolated, but the isolation was a fantastic incubator for starting to make art. But I started to make these friends on the internet which sounds so lame but it’s such a powerful thing. And then people started to see my work online, and buying it… It’s been such an incredible and unexpected sisterhood, for the most part. After that I applied for some grants and got a residency in the south of India for a month and a half, and then lived in the north in Rajasthan for a year.”
“I really relished the solitude of living in the desert in Joshua Tree. We lived about a mile from the entrance of the national park in this old homestead up in the boulders. Abstract expressionist Ed Moses bought a bunch of homesteads back in the 60s and 70s and turned them into artist studios. You could tell a painter designed the house because of the way the windows were placed, and the way the light would shift throughout the year… it’s the most incredible light.”
Did that have a big influence on your artwork?
“Hugely. This palette is all desert palette. I think with these paintings especially, these are purely abstract. I’ve taken all the storytelling information out of the paintings and it’s really just about the surface of the paint, the application of the paint, the brush and the color. There’s some sort of synthesis that’s happening between the Joshua tree landscape and that extreme light, the Mojave desert, and also the Thar desert in Rajasthan. All of the colors, and the stitching – these reference a lot of embroidery and quilting.”
You’ve lived in some amazing places, is there one that you loved most?
“We absolutely loved India, I’m actually going back in January, my sister and I are starting a textile company there with hand block printers. I brought one of our scarves, it’s an organic silk cotton blend and we only use vegetable dies and natural dies. So I’ll always have a love affair with India, but Joshua Tree is where my heart still is. I really love the desert.”
“These are the first paintings I’ve worked on that I don’t have any idea what it will look like when it starts. The method of arriving to the painting surface is so predictable, and then I have these beautiful clean white surfaces, which is a really exciting possibility. Then I’ll mix up the palettes and put down a base layer, and go from there.”
Who are some of your favorite painters?
Agnes Martin is one of my absolute favorites. She was just transcendent in her approach to painting, almost dogmatic. Her paintings are these big grids. I think they’re all 72 x 72 to 75 x 75, they’re always squares, and they’re just grids but the colors are so luminous. One of the problems for me sometimes with minimalism is its coolness that leaves sort of an emotional void but I find her paintings incredibly spiritual and beautiful…you can probably imagine when you’re in a room with something like this it really is a pretty transcendent experience. So she’s someone I go and look at at least twice a year.
As she is showing me one book, it opens to reveal a cluster of leaves.
Do you find yourself doing that a lot? Do you pick things up and keep them as reference?
All the time. These are from a gingko tree this summer, the color is so gorgeous.
“The challenge in such quiet minimal paintings, is you think you can just buzz by them, but then there’s something that asks you to look again.”
Photos by Julia.