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Fluidity of Creativity: Artist Laura Poinsette

Have you ever wondered about the moment when someone realizes they want to become an artist? An answer to such a question would be necessary to really understand an artist and their work, right?

But imagine the dread artists must feel when faced with those routine questions. Sure, there are some artists who can explain the start, the stops and all the detours along their creative paths. But the beauty of creativity is that it does not always have a definitive impetus. Artists’ paths weave and flow; they change course and even backtrack.  The questions, however, remain the same.

I had to present the question to artist Laura Poinsette, regardless of how trite it seemed.  “Have you always wanted to be an artist?”

Laura answered, “Some kids got chemistry sets for Christmas, and I was the one who always got colored pencils.”

Laura’s off-hand response, just like her paintings, is wonderfully authentic and refreshing. Banished are the windy preambles; her life and her artwork are because . . . well, they just are.

Clearly, Laura loved her colored pencils and enjoyed the visual arts during her childhood⎯all the way up through high school. Publicly, her creative outlet in those pre-adult years was music. She grew up in the bay city of Tampa, Florida, surrounded by the verdure of a humid subtropical climate. Tampa also prides itself on a strong music scene⎯it's even known in underground circles as the “Death Metal Capitol of the World”.

Laura ventured wide of the well-worn Death Metal path. Instead, she and a friend changed course; they started experimenting with instruments and music, creating a sound they liked to call “ethereal dream pop.” Their refreshing music struck a chord with the Tampa music scene, and the band, Isobella, signed to a label and began touring. She loved painting, but Laura also enjoyed riding the current of her music career.

In 2006, the currents changed course again, and Laura decided to move to Livingston, Montana, to join her older brother and sister. Amidst the transition, she knew her creativity needed an outlet. This time her love for painting trumped the music.

“I guess this is how you know what your passion is.” says the 30-year-old artist, “After eight years of performing in our band, I still felt sick to my stomach before getting on stage. I always needed affirmation with music. I don’t need that with my art. I am happy with it, and that’s all that matters.”

Laura’s fervent paintings stand out against the more literal depictions found in the majority of Montana’s art world. Her abstract figures come from an intuitive and visceral place. There is an organic femininity that is a fresh breeze in the cowboy culture of the West.

And those figures develop naturally.

“Its kind of an arbitrary thought process,” explains Laura, “I usually don’t have a concept. I just start with something that inspires me.”

One of her greatest inspirations has been water, coming not only from her Gulf Coast roots, but also from the last three summers she spent working in Alaska.

“A lot of my work evolves all around water," says Laura. “I am inspired by the tentacles and tendril patterns that exist naturally underwater. Its so incredible – a completely different world.”

One can see this aquatic influence in her work – ranging from the more literal depictions of jellyfish to her abstract tidal figures. There is also an aspect of fantasy to Laura’s paintings. Each painting is like her own personal sci-fi narrative.

“I love sci-fi movies, especially the older black-and-white ones,” Laura says. “The concepts in those movies are more influential than anything. They are visually spectacular in a fantasy way but they are always dealing with a larger overarching issue. They are usually communicating a bigger meaning.”

When she said that, I saw the pieces Laura’s artistic inspiration puzzle pieces gathering together.  The process behind Laura’s work became more readily apparent and clearly connected to aspects of her work.

But wait. She also says her process is arbitrary and she usually doesn’t start with a definite concept. So I am faced with yet another knee-jerk question. “How do you know what to paint?”

Laura told me of how she turns to the simple wisdom of one her of her favorite artists, Francis Bacon.  “He [Francis Bacon] was once asked why there was a small farm house in one of his painting.  He responded by saying that the farm house, like everything in his paintings, was there just because it needed to be.”

With that nudge in the right direction, Mr. Bacon’s philosophy suddenly reveals itself in Laura’s creative works. She may have a specific idea, but as soon as she starts painting, it turns into something completely different.

“The painting just takes over," explains Laura. “I don’t paint on canvas anymore. I use old pieces of wood, doors, and other hard surfaces.” She says, “I let the surface play a role in the art. The bumps and imperfections guide me in a way and images come out of the existing surface texture.”

Photo of Laura Poinsette, artist.The artistic pieces come together. But not in the puzzle road-map kind of way most people want. It seems that the artistic process is a one-of-a-kind puzzle. This is a beautiful concept for the artist.

What about the people trying to understand, define and contain the artist’s creative process? Maybe we as viewers need to stop next time before we ask artists such trite questions. Maybe we should ask ourselves, What is the motivation behind those kind of questions? Is it really to better to fully understand an artist and their work?

The motivation behind our need to have textbook-ready explanations comes from the discomfort we feel when faced with the mutability of creativity. The fluid nature of an artist’s process does not fit into a neat, tidy box. Sometimes it is just there because it needed to be (thank you, Mr. Bacon). This is why Laura’s work is and always has been so unique. It does not become stagnant from expectation or over-explanation.

Laura's work is a beautiful visual reminder that art is a journey. And like most art, Laura’s paintings will continue to flow and change, much like the tides that inspire her. -BM

tart in the Emerson Galleria is hosting an opening for Laura' Poinsette's work this Friday night (8 April 2011).  Laura's newest paintings will be available for viewing through 11 May 2011. 

Photo of Sarah Kane Skoglund.

Sarah Skoglund loves all things art & design. She is an art consultant ( based out of Bozeman, Montana, where she specializes in curating private and corporate art collections.

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