Published October 25th, 2023 by Pauline Moll
One of the artists in the studio arts building reflects on what it means to make art, particularly in the Seward community
I meet Laura Stack in her studio, a long, high-ceilinged room with working-height tables holding bottles of ink and works in progress, color swatches, and artworks on the walls. One window looks onto the outdoors, another to the hallway of the Ivy Building for the Arts.
The Ivy Arts Building, as it's commonly called, is located in Seward, a neighborhood Stack describes as “open to people of different lifestyles,” including the “alternative lifestyle” of being an artist — a lifestyle Stack has followed herself for decades. She says Minneapolis is more welcoming of her artist lifestyle than some small towns she’s called home previously. In places where the public has less access and exposure to art, the conversation about her work often defaults to questions of the business of selling art. Stack says, “They want to see the art as a product. How does it fit in the capitalistic system? People have a hard time understanding why you would do it unless you’re making money.” By contrast, Stack says, “For me, making art is about expressing what I experience; it's my visual diary.”
Stack views Artist as a personal identity, not a professional title. “Being an artist is” — Stack gestures to her lower belly — “the core of who I am.”
Reverence for life and the natural world motivates her art-making. "I was holding my father's hand when he died as he took his last breath," Stack tells me. "I felt his breathing and heartbeat, the pulse of life disappear, and a heightened perception of that pulse immediately enveloped me."” This pulse, Stack says, is the focus of her work, which is filled with organic shapes and bright colors. In the pictures of mushrooms she uses as references for her initial line drawings, Stack sees mycelium — a network of fungal threads — as an example of the interconnectedness of all things. Using photos of sea slugs, Stack shows me that the vivid hues and shapes that seem inorganic in her artworks are really based on natural creatures most people don’t know exist. We have much to learn from the mysteries of living things, and Stack’s reverence for human and non-human life shines through our conversation.
Studio views featuring Laura Stack's work.
While others expect her to speak about her art from an academic point of view, Stack says she prefers a conversational exchange with viewers. She invites viewers to share their experiences, not judgments. Stack is not the first artist to tell me she loves hearing feedback from children, who are unabashed and speak from their visceral responses rather than attempted critical analysis.
As we wind down, Stack re-emphasizes how much she likes her studio, especially the window of her studio that looks out into the hallway. She says that way, she can see other people walking around and meet them. It keeps the studio from being too lonely. I think of college dorm life, when you’d leave your door open so passersby would poke their heads in.
Stack’s community orientation is clear, and both Seward and the Ivy Arts Building itself seem to facilitate it. “I need to be around other artists in the community,” Stack says. “When you’re in a community like this and start getting to know the other artists, it validates your values system and what you do. We encourage each other in the arts."
Stack works on a painting.
Though Stack can clearly articulate the point of view of her art now, she couldn’t always. “I have been exploring [the pulse] for almost thirty years,” she says, “but it took me many years to articulate it. Other artists reflected it back to me first.” The ability to be a mirror for each other, to truly see each other’s work, is a large part of what is valuable about arts community to Stack.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, at the end of our interview, I find myself becoming part of Stack’s arts community. Stack asks me if I’d like to take a photo together for the article. I’m not usually featured on this side of the page, but I am admittedly a bit delighted. Stack recruits the help of her studio neighbor, a fashion designer who immediately recognizes the small independent label that made my dress. Laura and I pose in front of one of her artworks, our clothing in playful conversation with the art.
I leave with the sense that we’ll see each other again, perhaps at a local show or open studio—somewhere we don’t have to explain ourselves. ◼︎
The artist and the author.
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