Conversation with Annie Lapin

© Julia Schwartz and
Annie Lapin was interviewed by Julia Schwartz, 2016-2017

Annie Lapin was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Los Angeles. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University in 2001; a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004; and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2007. One-person exhibitions of Lapin’s work have been presented at the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC (2013); Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara, CA (2012); Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, CA (2009); and Grand Arts, Kansas City, MO (2008). Her work has been included in group exhibitions such as Her Crowd: New Art by Women from Our Neighbors’ Private Collections, Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT (2016); Sincerely Yours, Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA (2015); The Go-Between, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy (2014); Chasm of the Supernova, Center for the Arts Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, CA (2012); La Californie, The Museum of Public Fiction, Los Angeles, CA (2011); Baker’s Dozen III, Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA (2011); Unfinished Paintings, LACE: Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA (2011); and NewNow, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS (2009). Lapin was the recipient of the Falk Visiting Artist Reward from the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, NC in 2013. She lives and works in Los Angeles. We spoke in person and by email over several weeks in 2016-2017.

Annie, I’ll start by asking what fuels your work? Do you do research, use photography? Can you talk about that aspect of your work?

Well, that seems to change, as have my paintings, over the years.  I think the one thing to which I always return is the idea of dissociation amidst the construction of meaning or illusion.  Landscape, myth and allegory populate the paintings because they are great constructs that totally intoxicate me while they can just as easily fall apart for me.

Lately, I do think of the works as landscapes, sometimes with figures and other times not.  I want each to perform as a credible space, while conveying conflicting information about how that space would be experienced once you got inside.  There’s a set of imagery that is endemic to the work, and appears in different paintings in different ways.  The style of one painting can vary greatly from the next, but when you look at them together, they could appear to simply be different windows into various views of a world.   I use photography and snapshots only recently, in different ways.  I take snapshots of the LA landscape and sky, but I also take a lot of studio shots.   Sometimes it’s the way a piece of trash hangs in front of the painting in a snap shot that gives me a composition idea.  Or it’s a material I buy and hang on a canvas that I want to replicate in paint.   It’s a challenge to create unity within a pictorial plane despite this sampling, just like it’s a challenge to create a unity of experience amidst endless information we grapple with now.  But I’m not just randomly sampling.  I do think of it as depicting a specific scene in the end.


Watchers and WinksAnnie Lapin, Watchers and Winks, 2016

Oil, acrylic, Cel-Vinyl and charcoal on linen, 72 x 96 inches
Photo by Elon Schoenholz, Image courtesy the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery

I remember some of these themes from the talk you gave at your show ‘Watchers and Winks’ at Honor Fraser (November 2016): you spoke about using accidents in the form of pours and then reactive moves – responses to the pours – so that there is a kind of call and response; the accidents acting as a way into the painting but then deliberate moves follow. I wonder if you can expand on this, and on the use of Photoshop, how and when that came to be an active studio tool.

When I began using charcoal — either mixed with water to produce pours, or just thrown onto a canvas — I felt that there was an intense sort of clarity to the images that flashed across my mind in response to those “accidents”.  I wanted to pursue those images on the canvas, but found that when I did so spontaneously without a source to work from, the moves did not perfectly elevate the accidental moments in the way I imagined.  I wanted the pours to lose their identity as pours, meandering rivulets remaining visible but altered by my mental projections that instilled a sense of purpose.   That’s why I began using Photoshop to map out various versions of my own intuitive flow of consciousness of visual possibilities that could overlay the accidents.   I usually add details slowly and then go back to the computer with each pass, because the image always develops differently than the computer version, and I modify as I go based on accidents that continue to occur as I apply paint.  I’m really enjoying the moments of photorealism and figuring out how to meld them with raw material.  Enjoyment and pleasure in painting is also driving my choices of what to paint now… which you can see in some of the spaces I’m depicting or homages to history.

Installation view  Annie LapinAnnie Lapin, I/M Possible Light, 2016

Installation view at Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Photo by Brian Forrest
Image courtesy the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery

I love how you are engaged in a kind of dialogue with the work in an open way, allowing for a free play of associations during the early phase and later in a different way while you scroll through Photoshop options. And yet you also make it clear that the final result is intentional, not simply a sum total of its accidents. That seems an important point.

There are 100s of versions of a work.  And it splits kind of like a tree.  The first opportunities to find forms in the accidents are few.  There isn’t a lot of information to respond to.  Not a ton of choices.  Once that layer is done, there is more information, so more choices are possible and more projections occur.  And other layer of work goes on based on a gut decision that allows the work to fulfill spatial potentials (sometimes contradictory) that interest me.  The image becomes complicated.  At times I really struggle with the next move.  And yes, it is intentional, but following a sort of logic that I don’t quite understand.  When the right move arises, it’s a little bit like I’ve uncovered a story that already existed in my mind.  So there are recurrent themes and iconography – I think because there are things that are just always interesting to me.

When you're here and thereAnnie Lapin, When You’re Here and There, 2016

Oil, acrylic, Cel-Vinyl, charcoal,mica, wool, synthetic hair, and gold leaf on linen, 72 x 96 inches
Photo by Elon Schoenholz, Image courtesy the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery

It actually sounds like an illustration of the free flow of ideas, something that happens unconsciously so much of the time, but you are making them solid and visible, even if they don’t all go forward into finished paintings, they are recorded in some form.

I also really love this line of yours: When the right move arises, it’s a little bit like I’ve uncovered a story that’s always existed in my mind.

I read (or heard) that you had an interest early on in archeology, but was that something you studied or was art the thing you went to school for from the beginning?

I went to college intending to study archaeology.  I’m kind of annoyed at myself about it sometimes, because I was really monomaniacal about it through most of my adolescence.  Enjoyed making art, but didn’t think it was serious.  I thought archaeology was serious, and had an elaborate theory as a 17 year old about how it was the only humanity subject that was based on intense analysis of physical evidence, and therefore the only one dealing in “objective” truths.  After one year of study I realized how crazy that was.  Anyway, I was probably just over intellectualizing my personal fetish of very old things lying in the dirt.  I’m still enchanted by the mark a person makes on material, and the older that material is, more separated from myself, the more I’m titillated by it.  Other loves related to my early obsession with archaeology: ritual objects and places; thinking of everything, particularly contemporary banal items, through an anthropological lens; eroded stone sculptures; abstracted and sometimes poor attempts at representation.  Don’t know why.

What were your earliest experiences of making art? What about art school?

I was interested in the art that I saw and was exposed to.  I lived in a small town in Kentucky outside of Louisville at the time when I could have gotten into more contemporary art world stuff, but I never really did.  I just glommed onto the first things I saw and lived in that world, in particular Goya, El Greco, and then Pre-Columbian art, and middle eastern ancient art.  Was also fascinated by religious art.  It all dovetailed with my interest in history and trying to understand the social environment I found myself in… I was a nerdy and academically focused, and pretty miserably socially disconnected for much of that time.  Also I moved to Tokyo when I was in high school, and became interested in Japanese visual culture too.

Can you describe your first projects/ exhibitions?

Right after graduate school I lived in a space for a month trying to bring the fluctuating nature of space in my paintings into three dimensions.  It was at Grand Arts in Kansas City.  It was a performance piece, totally outside of my comfort zone, but hugely important for me.

Impossible LightAnnie Lapin, I/M Possible Light, 2016

Oil, acrylic, Cel-Vinyl and charcoal on linen, 96 x 72 inches
Photo by Elon Schoenholz, Image courtesy the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery

Who were some of your mentors, inspirations, influences? What about current influences- who do you look at now or listen to?

People who keep doing something despite failure are an inspiration to me.  Highly idiosyncratic visions of the world intrigue me, as do most belief systems.  I’m very pre-occupied by the dissonance in the way different people see the world, and the way we ourselves change our viewpoint from one second to the next.  I think in painting I’m always after some magical image that shifts as you’re viewing it from one crisp thought to another.  The natural world, it’s vulnerability and power.  Broader views of the universe give me a fluttery sometimes tear jerking but enjoyable mini-panic attack.   The irregular geometries of Moroccan tribal rugs, Jim Henson, Joan Jonas, Paula Rego, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Homo Erectus hand-axes, Hilma af Klint, the huge sculpture of the goddess Coatlique in Mexico City Museum.

What is it like in your studio – how do you like to work? Do you start work with a concept or does the idea come later? Can you talk about your choice of materials: what draws you to them, are you consistent with this or do you switch it around?

I’ve been designing the process lately to allow for a very intuitive approach.  There’s a lot of criticality that goes on as an image arises, but usually it’s a dialog that’s as simple as, that looks right – but now it looks too right.  How can I make it look wrong, but still right?  Meaning, a clear structure, or a narrative will occur to me midway through a work, and sometimes subsequent choices service whatever that idea is.

What would you say is the impact of your personal life on your work? What about other external influences? place, politics, family, etc.

My personal life does impact my work.  I used to think being alone and working 7 days a week all day and all night and kind of kamikazeing myself into the practice was the only way and the best way to make art.  I’m finding that things that complicate my personal life outside of the studio, for instance having had a daughter two years ago, help me be more intense about pushing my work, asking myself what do I really want to do, what is absolutely necessary and how to achieve it in the most efficient way?  That doesn’t mean that I don’t long for solitude too — it would be amazing to have no responsibilities other than painting.  But I do think that the distraction of motherhood forces me to organize myself in a way that I wasn’t before, to find strategies to cut to the core of what my paintings are about in an urgent way.

Annie lapin

What are the dominant themes in your current body of work and how did your practice evolve to focus on these concerns?

Questions I have:  How do we understand the world?  What is the mind doing when it’s looking at a painting or when we ascribe meaning?  I’m interested in the pleasure to be had by holding conflicting ideas in mind at the same time, but also the scary side of that, as seen in dissociative fugues.  I want illusions to emerge with a sort of clarity while simultaneously totally falling apart.  This has led to a lot of play with space, mismatched references, and then there’s also an attempt to create an allegory about all of this in the narrative (that maybe only I see) in each work.

I feel like the presence of space and figure/ground is so apparent in your work. And I would love to see where you go on the subject of fugues.

Since we started this interview you had a solo show at Honor Fraser and were in an interesting exhibition at LACE in Los Angeles as well. Do you have anything coming up on the horizon?

My next exhibition is a group show at Miles McEnery’s gallery in New York that goes up on February 17th, to mark the opening of his new space.  Also, I’ll be doing a solo show there in October of this year.

© Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Annie Lapin,  Julia Schwartz and Figure/Ground with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Suggested citation:

Schwartz, Julia (2018). “Conversation with Annie Lapin,”, January, 2018.

Conversation with Annie Lapin

Questions? Contact Laureano Ralon at



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