This past Friday, June 19th, I was lucky enough to visit Magnolia Laurie’s studio to talk to her about her work and her ideas. Magnolia is a Sondheim Artscape Prize Finalist this year, and her work can be seen in the upcoming finalists exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, on view June 24th through August 9th, 2015. Speaking with Magnolia and seeing her workspace, I got a great sense of how she fits in with this year’s group of Sondheim Prize Finalists, an amazingly talented and diverse group of artists. To see more photos of her studio, her current projects, and to learn more about Magnolia, click through to read my thoughts on our brief interview.
Arriving at Magnolia’s bright, spacious studio in the Woodberry area, located inside a converted warehouse, I was enthralled by all of the work surrounding me. Although many of her paintings were still in progress, it is clear that she is a prolific artist and very diligent in the research that informs her work.
Looking through her current projects, we first chatted about some of the main themes and ideas behind her body of work. Magnolia is interested in history, civilization, and issues of permanence versus transience. There are no figures in her paintings, although a human presence is implied through the existence of both ancient, crumbling structures as well as contemporary architecture and objects. Her paintings are simultaneously quiet – through their small scale and limited palette, but also monumental in their portrayal of expansive spaces, which are strangely ubiquitous.
Magnolia Laurie moved to Puerto Rico at age 8, and has traveled extensively as an adult. She enjoys taking in and contemplating the many histories of cities around the world, which directly informs her work. She is interested in looking at architecture, both old and new, and thinking about people have interacted with spaces over time.
I think many of Magnolia’s ideas are particularly relevant to a Baltimore audience because of the recent events of this spring – including the uprising and protests, and the increasingly tense relationships between different demographic groups throughout the inner city and the greater Baltimore area. In Baltimore, we are currently in a dark place, the aftermath of destruction, with many institutions that we assumed were sound and fair being brought into question. However, this also means we are currently in a time of a great potential – we are faced with the opportunity to re-think, re-form, and re-build, working towards real change. Magnolia’s paintings portray a world that could be set in the past or the future – the transparent, frail, brushy quality of some motifs in contrast with the hyper-modern feeling of flat, carefully rendered shapes brings about that confusion. She paints spaces that remind us that the things people create, such as divisions, whether physical or institutional, all crumble with time, through cycles of history. Looking at her work gives ones a sense of urgency to move forward and progress beyond these never-ending cycles, towards something better. In her words, “We are climbing towards the mountaintop – a utopian version of society where everything is good and fair. I wonder if we’ll ever actually get there.” I think her ponderings are pertinent to a lot of the current issues in Baltimore.
Art can be a wonderful gateway to creating discussion and building community – I think Magnolia’s work is an example of artwork that does this in an understated, beautiful way.
I had a wonderful time visiting Magnolia’s studio and talking to her about her work. I could write a 10-page article about all of the various topics we discussed – but this is a blog post, so I’ll keep it short and sweet! I am really looking forward to seeing hers and the other Sondheim Finalists’ work in the upcoming exhibition at the BMA. If you have the chance, definitely make the trip to the BMA to look at some truly amazing artwork, and support this group of outstanding artists.
To learn more about Magnolia Laurie and to see more images of her work, please visit her homepage: http://www.magnolialaurie.com/
For more information about the Sondheim Prize and it’s selection process, please visit the Sondheim Artscape Prize webpage: http://www.artscape.org/visual-arts/visual-arts-detail/16
The Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize Finalists Exhibition will be on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art from June 24th to August 9th, 2015. For more information about the upcoming Sondheim Prize Finalists Exhibition at the BMA, please visit the BMA homepage: https://artbma.org/exhibitions/sondheim-2015