leah piepgras

website: www.leahpiepgras.com
instagram: @leah_piepgras

About the artist.
My chief concern as an artist is to make work that addresses the mysteries of our existence and asks questions about our different states of consciousness.  For me making work is about touching and feeling- physically with materials, and mentally through space and memory.  It is about finding a way through an idea, in the hope of truly understanding. I research cognitive science, physics, cosmology and paradox and try to ask questions that do not have answers but, by being asked, posit truths and answer in feelings and intuitions.  Art allows for a sort of accurate misunderstanding and room to not know.  I believe it is in the state of “not knowing” that real understanding has space to occur. I think of my art as a tool to communicate; a tool that allows for new ways of seeing; a tool to disorient the perception of your physical self and surroundings and lead to new insights; a tool to really see.

Parker Palmer describes breathing as a paradox we all contend with every second of everyday.  It is the basis of not being an either/or kind of person. There is not only the breathing in, but also the breathing out- an endless loop of opposites that can show us a better way to understand the entropic world we are living in, while reveling in its beauty and wonder.  We have to make room for grey areas: misunderstanding as a way to understanding, not knowing as a way to leave room for a deeper knowledge.

Most recently I have been making work that deals with how subtle shifts in a conscious state affect the relationship with the seen and unseen environment.  

We are all made of stardust. We are as old as the stars. 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. The rest is composed of another five: potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium.  Under different heat and pressure we could have been rocks instead of people.

Consider that there are two timelines; the human timeline; one, which has humans in its center, and pushes everything else outside of consideration. The other is that of the universe; one of rocks and trees and sky and earth. I think of my work as representing  the second: a parallel universe, a separate experience that exists in tandem with our own, found through a search for personal phenomena.

Listening to the sky.detail.jpg
when the studio is full and I move to the livingroom.

when the studio is full and I move to the livingroom.

Who or what are your artistic influences and how have they impacted you or your work?
I find inspiration in many  different types of writing.  Right now I am rereading Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics* and giving a first read to his book The Order of Time.  His writing is like poetry and the ideas which he explains bend in my mind to become visual understandings.  I also draw a great deal of inspiration from the poetry of Louise Gluck.  I have included one poem, which I have been returning to for probably 20 years now.

List of visual influencers: Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ MANIFESTO FOR MAINTENANCE ART 1969!, Richard Serra’s Verb List, Kiki Smith, Ann Hamilton, Rebecca Horn, Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Peter Doig, Olafur Eliasson, Calder...  I grew up in San Antonio and I frequented the McNay Art Museum, which was right around the corner from my house through out my childhood and teenage years.  They had an extensive collection of art; Modigliani, Gauguin, Picasso, Mitchell, Calder, Smith, Hopper, O’Keefe, and on and on. I definitely was affected by seeing these same works year after year, from different vantage points as I grew up.

Do you have any “rituals” that you have to do before, after, or during your art making to keep you creating or put you in the mood to create work?
A) Wearing old, stained clothes! I hate to feel physically constrained with being neat in my making.  If I can get up in the morning and be wearing my old grubby jeans and feel like I can crawl around on my studio floor then I am good to go!  This makes it sound like I am messy--- I’m not.  The stains on my studio clothes are just incidental but I don’t like feeling like I have to be aware of anything but what I am doing and the clothes are a functional tool in my day (also to keep me warm as my studio is COLD).  

B) Index cards.  I love them.  I write notes or make little sketches of things that I am thinking about and then keep them in a box.  I like this method much better than a sketchbook because there is no order and different ideas can be reordered and connected by resorting the cards.  I have been doing this for many years and sometimes I circle back to ideas from a different point of view with different information and it just clicks.  Every once in a while I dump the box out and reevaluate my mind.

C) Also, everyday I walk my dog either to the beach or in the woods.  I am quiet in my mind just looking at the subtle shifts that have taken place over-night and I frequently bring sticks, rocks, or plants back to my studio to use as a direct reference or integration into work.  My studio is mostly in my basement where I have an area to work (paint, plaster, assemble), as well as a woodshop.  We (the rest of my family makes stuff also) have welders (mig, tig, oxy acetylene) in the garage.  I fantasize about having a studio that is a house instead of a house that is a studio, but I love living and working in the same space. It has allowed me to be the mom that I want to be while having maximum time to make my work.  Cooking, gardening, and laundry become tasks where I am busy but also free to think deeply about what I am working on.  I am inspired especially by cooking and feeding people dinner. I am bad about following recipes but here a favorite that I have altered to my taste:

Orange Cake

  • 2 oranges

  • 4 large eggs

  • ¾ cup honey

  • 2 cups blanched almond flour

  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  1. Wash the oranges and boil them whole (peel and all) for 1 ½ hours, or until soft

  2. Place whole oranges (peel and all) in a food processor and blend until smooth

  3. Process in eggs, honey, almond flour, salt and baking soda until well blended

  4. Pour batter into a greased 9-Inch round cake pan

  5. Bake at 375° for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean

  6. Cool in the pan for 2hours

Testing prayer wheel.

Testing prayer wheel.

How does your material or choice of medium impact your work?
My work is not bound by a particular medium, but by ideas. The work I produce is made with many processes (casting, welding, assemblage, carving, sewing, encrusting, painting…) and materials (graphite, cloth, rubber, steel, wood, plaster, wax, mirrors, coal slag, bronze, etc.). Art is a language that has the advantage of having no syntax. The viewer is able to take in many layers of meaning and information all at once.  Even if the visual information unfolds slowly, all emotion, sensation and experience is concurrently absorbed and available. There is the possibility understanding through the physical experience of looking. Using geometric and organic forms as my vocabulary, I communicate my findings.  

I feel like there are two different things happening in my studio right now: One, my larger personal quest for greater understanding of time, space and life on a grand/geologic scale through formal visual concerns and two, the more immediate day to day outrage I feel at our current political climate.  I think it is important for artists to make the work that they need to make. Even though politically inclined work is not my usual vocabulary I have been making some allegorical paintings based on the myths of Leda and the Swan and the Rape of Europa to work out my irritation.  

What would you like to see more out of the art world?
I love seeing the work of current artists and even though I have a love hate relationship with Instagram it has been a good way to see what people all over the place are making right now.  I wish I could see more work in person.  It makes me hopeful though to see so many people creating and communicating on a deeper level through the important work of making art.

A poem: Moonbeam

The mist rose with a little sound. Like a thud.

Which was the heart beating. And the sun rose, briefly diluted.

And after what seemed years, it sank again

and twilight washed over the shore and deepened there.

And from out of nowhere lovers came,

people who still had bodies and hearts. Who still had

arms, legs, mouths, although by day they might be

housewives and businessmen.

The same night also produced people like ourselves.

You are like me, whether or not you admit it.

Unsatisfied, meticulous. And your hunger is not for experience

but for understanding, as though it could be had in the abstract.

Then it's daylight again and the world goes back to normal.

The lovers smooth their hair; the moon resumes its hollow existence.

And the beach belongs again to mysterious birds

soon to appear on postage stamps.

But what of our memories, the memories of those who depend on images?

Do they count for nothing?

The mist rose, taking back proof of love.

Without which we have only the mirror, you and I.

By Louise Gluck

*“Here in the vanguard, beyond the borders of knowledge, science becomes even more beautiful. Incandescent in the forage of nascent ideas, of intuitions, of attempts, of roads taken then abandoned, of enthusiasms. And the effort to imagine what has not yet been imagined.”- Carlo Rovelli

Painting of my son, still life.

Painting of my son, still life.