Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Interview: Lavanna Martin of "I Stare At People"

So a few months back, I put out the search warrant for Austin bloggers. As it turns out this city is crazy blog-savvy, and that post helped me discover all kinds of creative Austinites. One of those bloggers was Lavanna Martin, guerrilla coffee shop artist at "I Stare At People." Check out this blog's concept: Lavanna visits coffee shops here in Austin, where she then paints portraits of people - in secret. The subjects do not know they're being painted. Then, she posts them on her blog.

Who knows: Maybe you've been painted?

A few weeks back, Lavanna and I sat down at Pacha, where she recently rendered the barista above.

1. What is "I Stare at People?" Where did you get this idea?

“I Stare at People” is the title of my painting blog on Wordpress.com. The idea of painting strangers unposed in public grew out of the frustration of studio work. Most artists that are painting the figure or the portrait are painting from either photographs or a live model. They control the lighting and the pose. Both the model and the drawing have a tendency towards rigor mortis at its finish. I realized that I was sort of fed up with the entire studio thing, with all of the controls to keep the artist from free-falling into spontaneous work.

It was at this time of rethinking what and how I wanted to paint that I read Alain Botton’s book, The Art of Travel. His book influenced me to move the obstacles from immediacy out of the way – get rid of photography, stop working in stages, and to document the moment as it is occurs. Working in this fashion is difficult, and I have a huge failure rate. It is not for the faint of heart – you have to be kind of crazy.

If I weren’t doing work that lent itself so beautifully to the medium of the blog, I wouldn’t be doing it now. The entire effort of going to coffee houses to paint and journal what I see was so purposeful that I didn’t have to ask myself, “what do I want to blog about?” The painting and the blogging are such a nice union of creativity for me.

2. Where do you paint?

I go to coffee houses all over town. So far, I have painted at Epoch Coffee, Spider House, Halcyon, Little City, La Tasca Fresca, Café Medici, JPsJava, and Café Caffeine. Of this list, Epoch Coffee is probably the coffee house where I have done my best work. I cannot explain why, because it is not an environment that I find particularly conducive to creativity.

I am about to venture out to paint in places other than the coffee house, as was my original intention. I will be painting Spike Gillespie as she performs at the Blue Theatre later this month. I’m also in contact with the band “WeirdWeeds”, and hope to paint them as they perform. I would really like to paint an experimental classical string and wind ensemble, so if anyone in the Blogosphere could make that happen, I would love to do it!

3. Have you ever gotten "caught?" How have people reacted to your portraits?

Yes, I get caught sometimes. People love it. This was a great relief to me because I am a timid person. If they come over to see what I am up to, they are surprised to see that I am actually painting what I see. They usually want to sit and chat, but when I’m working, I can be a bit obsessed with continuing my work. I need to remember to bring cards with my blog address on them, so that they can talk to me at my blog – I always forget!

4. How long does a portrait take you?

I keep forgetting to time myself. I’m fast. If they are making a counter order, I can capture them in less than a minute. Seated, I can get them in five minutes or less. Since I never know when they are going to leave, I have to be fast. My best work is either done in less than a minute, or at fifteen minutes and up. Sometimes, I can catch someone that is sitting for half to ¾ of an hour, and that is good.

5. What does your kit consist of?

Since my original intent was to get to location by bicycle, I made sure that my supplies would fit inside a milk crate. Inside of a greengrocer’s tote, I carry these items: paper palette, brush kit, bamboo brush mat (for dirty brushes), a small square box of oil paints, a small box of oil and rags, collapsible mahl stick, 9x12 canvas sheet pads, and a table-mount easel. That’s it! (If you wish to see a picture of my “pochade”, please leave a comment for Tolly at the end of this post).

6. Any exhibit plans for your portraits?

I do have some upcoming shows of studio work in Dallas and at AMSET. I haven’t approached anyone about showing my coffee house paintings that I show on my blog. I believe that being noticed will occur through what I like to call “organic growth”. I truly believe that if a person’s work is solid enough, is purposeful enough, that person won’t have to ask for an invitation. I am finally doing what I think that I am best at, and feel optimistic that it’s value will not go unnoticed.

(Editor's note: Wouldn't this be an ah-mazing art exhibit? If you are a coffee shop, art gallery, or any other creative space owner and would like information on displaying Lavanna's coffee shop paintings, simply leave a comment or email.)


youdontneedadiamond.com said...

I love Lavanna's work. It's amazing that she can paint with such accuracy and detail in such a short amount of time.

Thanks for getting insight on how she does what she does.

Sherry said...

Lavanna's technique and concept is so unique! She is truly artistic and the best part of her work is to watch her do it! I've known her for a long time and have seen her amazing skills first hand. If you look for her at Spider House, or Epoch you'll see.....

Steve Odom said...

I would love to see Lavanna's work in a curated show. Her pieces deserve it.

Lizard said...

I love the work and the concept! I'll be going to Ephoch and Spider House and trying to looking interesting...

Lani Rosales said...

I'm a HUUUGE Lavanna fan, great interview. I didn't know that you could paint so quickly, Lavanna, I'm in awe!

Adeline Rem said...

I didn’t know about your blog before this interview about my friend, Lavanna.
Thank you so much for writing about her work. I am a glass artist,
and really appreciate your efforts to interview people that are doing interesting things.
Keep it up!

That Austin Girl said...

It's awesome to see so many fans here of Lavanna's work! I agree, Steve - these need to be in a curated show.

Sherry, how awesome that you've gotten to see Lavanna in action! Even I haven't had the honor yet!

Adeline, thanks so much. It was wonderful to sit down with Lavanna, your friend, and get to know her and her work. I hope to keep on interviewing Austinites doing cool and creative projects like this. Do you have a website where you display your glass art?

Lani, Lizard, and youdontneedadiamond - make sure to check out lavanna.com to see more of her work, which you probably do already! Thanks for stopping by and sharing the love here at That Austin Girl!

Luther said...

Lavanna is a great person as well as a talented and dedicated painter. I have known her to be so dedicated to painting that she would paint until her hands and arms could literally not paint anymore! She would give them just enough time to rest and then she would be back at it once again. I hope more people get the chance to experience her art.

That Austin Girl said...

WOW! Luther, she didn't even tell me that!! Painting 'til her arms couldn't move? That is dedication.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope more people get the chance to experience Lavanna's art too!

Samantha said...

There is something very romantic about her connection with these complete strangers. She is able to capture so much in such a short amount of time.

I enjoy your interview pieces and I think its a great direction for your blog. Then again I also love it as is. Anyways, thanks for introducing me to such an amazing local artist. I spent the last hour reading her entire artblog.

संदीप said...

Just checked Lavanna's blog & I'm impressed with guerrilla style painting....
thanks for sharing it...