Each day we encounter an untold number of different images and ideas. Some we experience physically, other occur only inside our minds. Each experience is a new layer that is laid on top of all of our previous experience and is often measured by it. As time progresses, memories and encounters collide and become less distinct. When we look to our pasts, we recall them from a vantage point that differs from the one at which we experienced the event. When we observe the present, we view events from a vantage point defined by our past and continually reshaped by our memories that move fluidly within the present.
The difficult, but necessary, task of perceiving the interconnections between all things in our lives is reflected in the artworks of Lise Drost. Her mixed media prints are, in fact, playful analogies for the process we go through continuously to organize our experiences and make sense of what we see with our eyes and what we envision with our “mind’s eyes.” Through constant exposure to new things, challenging though the process might be, we are able to gain awareness of how beautifully all things in our lives can mesh.
Such direct experiences become entangled with all of Drost’s other experiences -- whether real, imagined, or artistic. Since we as viewers or makers cannot detach ourselves from all of our individual memories and knowledge, each new thing we encounter, such as a character or a place we read about in a book, is added to our individual visions of the world like a new element added to a collage of experience. Drost’s goal as an artist is to create complex imagery that serves as a starting pint for the viewer’s own thoughts. These artworks are intended to keep the viewer occupied and engaged over a long period of time, revealing different images as time progresses.
These works gain much of their complexity from Drost’s extraordinary ability to combine many printmaking and drawing techniques and materials. Most of these works begin with a foundation of a collograph (a relief method of printmaking), lithograph or silkscreen. But Drost is able to achieve dramatically different results in her work even when proceeding from the same foundation by completing each work with different layers of mark making.
For instance, Prydain and Prydain 2 are connected by the prints that delineate the brickwork and maps. This collographic and lithographic base in Prydain remains relatively intact, obscured only by a small amount of other printmaking processes. Though Prydain 2 began as an extra edition of Prydain, Drost has nearly covered the surface of the print with ink and oil crayons, so that the base peeks out only in a few areas. This transformation is startling. The red brickwork and map that dominate Prydain are transformed into the heavy surface of Prydain 2 that is defined by black linear element surrounding dark blue areas.
The intimacy of the layers of these prints extends even further. Appearing near the left edge of Prydain barely visible under additional ink, is the word “Ruckus?” This word is more clearly visible in roughly the same position in Three Kingdoms. The appearance of “Ruckus?”, as well as the appearance of words in other works, serve to accentuate Drost’s interest in dynamic surfaces by recalling the use of words in Braque’s Analytic Cubism and Picasso’s Synthetic Cubist collages. Using words in the same manner as her maps and other “real” objects, she infuses her prints with these motifs that emphasize the importance of collage in her work while hinting at a sense of playfulness. “Ruckus?” also recalls the work of Red Grooms and his “Ruckus Construction Company” that created wild, bright, three-dimensional landscapes during the 1970s. Like the work of Grooms, Drost’s work consists of equal parts of reality and fantasy. For Drost, however, the reality contained within her work is reflective more of her personal space than the public s[ace on which Grooms focuses.
While we find unexpected connections and interconnections, Drost confounds our search for any formula that could provide a simple solution tot he conceptual process of her visual constructions. In addition, she sometimes even eliminates connections that we might logically make. For example, unlike Prydain and Prydain 2, Conduit and Conduit 2 have no printing in common. The silkscreen of Conduit has been reworked with layers of oil crayons and screen ink. The different silkscreen of Conduit 2 has received only a light amount of reworking in the shadows. These works are unified instead through both the simple inclusion of a slender blue line representing an electrical conduit and their clean, orderly designs.
What is it that these works actually reveal? There are references to specific events or experiences in these prints. For instance, the series of four small artworks entitled Wagner was inspired by the studio complex at her graduate school. The prints that serve as the foundation for these artworks are based loosely on the architecture of the Wagner Complex at Southern Illinois University / Edwardsville, rather than the German composer who might be suggested. In a similar manner, the architectural elements included in Red Poles are based on her current studio complex at the University of Miami.
The maps that appear frequently in these artworks represent imaginary places that are settings for fantasy books. Prydain, A Great Country, Three Kingdoms and The University at Reeves are examples of such places.
The rigid squares and rectangles of the maps provide an initial sense of clarity beyond the swirling imagery that often dominates her artworks. After a few moments of study, however, the initial clarity is replaced by a sense of confusion, a result of our unfamiliarity with these detailed guides to the imaginary. A Great Country, for example, achieves irony through the inclusion of conceptual places. Its two land masses, the “Continent of Self-Denial: and the “Continent of Ardent Spirits”are themselves composed of contradictory areas, Whereas “Ardent Spirits” includes the states of “ruin”, “Gloom”, and “Distress”, “Self Denial” includes the states of “Enjoyment”, “Knowledge”, and “Improvement.” These unexpected conditions are illustrative of Drost’s ability to unify things that are seemingly unrelated if not contradictory: the bad within the joyful; the good with the sober.
Drost connects to these imaginary worlds by using her mixed media prints as both doorways and mental / visual storage areas. Think of a cluttered attic that possesses the ability to organize itself. Think of your own mind and its thoughts and memories. Objects and ideas -- some directly related, others not -- occur to Drost as she works. She responds by creating new layers on the surface of her artworks. Scattered objects such as a trash can, a row of palette knives, a passing train, or a bare light fixture (not to mention the omnipresent geckos) might occupy her immediate space; but working through these disconnected elements, she is able to penetrate through the surface, arriving at a deeper place.
Assistant Curator of Art
Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland, Florida
catalog essay by Todd Behrens