Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An Artist Unfolding: Interview with Randy Lagana, Part 1

If you've been reading this blog for awhile (or not), you've seen some of Randy Lagana's images (here, here & here, here, here & a lot more). I also linked to his website in my sidebar. So who is this guy?

About five years ago I was introduced to Randy's photography. A stack of his black and white pictures was passed around at a writer's group meeting by someone who was brainstorming a project involving Randy as the photographer. Poetry and nude photographs of the poets along with our reactions to the whole process. I say "our" because I submitted work and was accepted. There was a lot of deep thinking on my part, along with discussions with my husband and therapist at the time (both said "go for it").

That project unfortunately never came to fruition. But Randy's images stayed with me. I'd check his website every now and then to see what new work he'd posted. Then when I started this blog and started using images (because a blog without pictures is all too often a boring blog) I thought of Randy. But I didn't want to just use them, which is so easily done these days. So I emailed him and told him what I was doing and asked if he'd be interested in letting me use some of his images. I was so nervous - almost sure he'd say no.

But he said yes, and I've been thrilled to sometimes have the perfect image of his to go with what I'm writing. And a friendship was born. We've had lunch a few times and we just had him and his wife over for dinner. I've always enjoyed my conversations with him and eventually it occurred to me to do an interview with him for my blog. But I've NEVER interviewed anyone before. Let's just say - it's not easy! Trying to come up with questions that don't sound stupid and require more than just a yes/no answer.

This is a fairly long interview, so I'm breaking it into three parts - three days. So, without further ado (there's already been enough ado) , Randy Lagana.

Do you have a particular image in mind when you start to work? Or is it more vague? Even though I'm not a visual artist, I was raised by one (my mother) and both my daughters are, as well as my son though he'd dispute that. I tend to think of visual art in the same way as I think about poetry - there is usually a little spark, a word or phrase, maybe even a full line or two that gets the artist started, but the finished piece does not always end up quite as planned,if planned at all.

There are many ways an image comes into being for me. Sometimes I have a painting in mind, a specific scene, subject matter, or theme and I just need to get it out. And sometimes I'm just struck with an idea! I genuinely enjoy that method, the outside force infusing me with the creative spirit. Other times it's not so glorious. I see a color scheme I like and the painting grows from there. On occasion I get fascinated with something I see and can't wait to paint it, like a mango. I've painted those a few times. As you have said, I quite often head out in a certain direction with a specific destination in mind and end up miles away and in a different, but possibly better place. I really enjoy creating when I'm a spectator, appearing not to be in control, and the painting unfolds before me. That altered state of consciousness is a marvelous experience.

When I'm working in the photographic medium, my approach is similar. I have images in mind that float up from my subconscious, as I do for painting. Or I see things in the world that inspire me. I may see someone leaning against the counter in a store with one leg kicked back crossing over the other and think it a wonderful pose. I make a sketch of the pose (yes, I have done the cliché napkin sketch)and file it for future use. When I turn the sketch into a photographic image, I remove the clothes of course, much more interesting and more truthful, but nudity is a topic I could write a great deal about and is not appropriate to this question. However, when photographing people there is a source of creativity that is not available to me when painting. The people I photograph are part of the creative process. Let me relate a story to illustrate my point. In preparation for a shoot I went to a fabric shop and purchased various bolts of cloth. At one point during the shoot I brought out the box of fabric and placed it on the floor. My model, a lovely young woman, spotted this diaphanous piece of cloth, snatched it up, and held it to her breast. Fortunately for me I was ready and caught this beautiful moment, it is one of my very favorite shots. Ilove the collaborative aspect of this kind of work.

You have a number of pieces, paintings & photographs that are related, using the same basic image - thinking of Bound (left) and Bound Freedom (scroll down) & Love (below left) and Nicole's Love (below right). You said in your answer before "When I turn the sketch into a photographic image..." and I was wondering, do your ideas flow both ways? Sketch to photograph. Photograph to sketch or painting. In the examples I gave (feel free to provide others), which image came first in your mind?

Robin, the ideas definitely flow both ways. I have sketched for a painting in mind and then shot photos as reference to paint from. I have also made sketches of poses I wanted to photograph. I have a folder filled with hundreds of ideas sketched for photo sessions. Many times it is easier for me to show my model or models a sketch of what I want than it is for me to describe it in words. At the time of the photo shoot, the purpose of the sketch is to get the photographic image. When I am stuck for something to paint, I have mined these photos for inspiration. With only two exceptions: The Persistence of Magritte and Only By Moonlight, all the images you see in the Nude/Paintings category on my website are from photos I took.

You may notice that Divine Proportions (above top) and Grace (above bottom) are the same figure, one is flipped the other way round. When I was painting Grace, my wife looked at the reference photo and said, "Nice ass! Whose is it?" I gave her a look of disbelief and said, "yours!" (I just made a rather interesting freudian slip, I had typed "ours," then corrected it, but now that I think about it "ours" might be more appropriate.) Then it was her turn to have the look of disbelief. I guess we don't really get to have a good view of our backside. Bound Freedom, Marked Woman, and Once in a Blue Moon are creations that incorporate photos from my various shoots. I took the actual photos, manipulated them in Photoshop, and adhered them into a paintings. Nicole's Love was first a photographic image that later served as reference for the painting Love.

When you start working on something, do you just want to keep working till it's done or are you able to quit and walk away and do something else (with ease)? (I'm asking this one because I have a hard time quitting when I'm really going and I can get pretty cranky - ala last night when I had to quit to fix dinner - arggghhhh!)

When I'm working and it's all going well, I don't want to stop because it doesn't always go that way. Sometimes a painting just doesn't seem to be working or more accurately I am not able to produce the effect I'm looking for and that is when it is good to be able to walk away. When I try to force my way through, it never seems to make a positive change. I need to get away from the painting, think about something else, and come back later with a fresh viewpoint.

You've done book covers. Talk about how that came about and what that's like.

Years ago I was a police officer and I was following in my father's footsteps because after I discharged from the Marine Corps, I really did not know what I wanted to do for work. When I was a teenager I had thought about art as a career, but my parents were both children of the Great Depression and somehow I received a message about security. So artists do not have security. At the end of every job they have to look for a new job. However, I could never stop painting. While I was a police officer in Ridgefield, CT, I met an artist, Harry Bennett, who saw my work and convinced me that I could have a whole new career in art as a bookcover artist. He had painted romance bookcovers for more than twenty years and made a very nice living. So I began to pursue a career painting covers for Science Fiction and Fantasy books. I did this and some advertising art for a short period and during that time I quickly realized that the crushing deadlines were unacceptable. The deadlines and a personal situation helped me decide to pursue a different art career. But having said all that, let me say that it is very gratifying to read someone else's words, select a scene, and paint it for the cover of a book. I used to attend a number of SF/Fantasy conventions and still attend LunaCon every year. I have had people approach me at these conventions to sign a copy of their book that has my painting on the cover. That experience is quite a head trip. I had the opportunity to use my wife, Jen, as a model for one bookcover, a frontispiece actually, and as a bonus the book was written by one of Jen's favorite authors, Anne McCaffrey. At LunaCon Jen was asked for her autograph and she was quite stunned! Even on a very small scale it is a tremendous rush to be asked for your autograph.

Part 2 of this interview with Randy Lagana will run tomorrow.


Donna said...

What a treat for the eyes and the mind! I know how hard it is to be the interviewer, Robin, and you've done a great job of asking some very provocative questions to go along with the work of a wonderfully provocative artist. It's fascinating to have a look inside the creative process and hear about the earlier part of Randy's career. I'm looking forward to more!

Erobintica said...

Thanks Donna! I'm looking forward to more too.

Scarlett Greyson said...

Wow, well done, Robin! What great questions, and great answers :)

Looking forward to parts 2 and 3 ;)

Erobintica said...

Thanks Scarlett!

Craig Sorensen said...

Excellent, probing interview.

I can relate to so much, having a number of talented visual artists in my family. Randy's approach, taking inspiration where he can find it, sometimes more compositional, sometimes collaborating with the model speaks to the power of following the muse.

I can also relate to his comments about being raised by depression era parents, and this influencing how was to me personally in my career choices early on. I wanted to be writing poetry and fiction, but this was no way to make a living.

Long story short, I ended up in programming, a safe (at least as safe as one can expect in our current economy) job. Now I pursue my creative muse in the shadow of that career, but my creative endeavors are my true passions.

My hat is off to Randy for his fine work and his pursuit of it as a career.

Scarlett Greyson said...

I have to echo Craig on the career front. All through high school I was very involved in artistic ventures. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to be an artist or a writer, I loved both so much. I, too, was "urged" to choose a more "sensible career".

Kudos to Randy for sure!

Erobintica said...

Craig & Scarlett - Sometimes I wonder how many people were talked out of a creative career. I know that had a direct effect on my life.

With a few exceptions most people with "creative careers" also have day jobs - including Randy. And even folks that claim to make their living as writers (am thinking of a lot of poets I've met) also teach, and it's that job that pays the bills, not book sales. We can all dream though.

Emerald said...

Hey Robin,

I am just getting around to reading this now (ugh), and I really enjoyed it. I look forward to reading the other two parts. So interesting to read about an artist's process! Thanks!


"Sometimes I wonder how many people were talked out of a creative career."

It's interesting...when I read this I thought of my younger sister. She is a musician, a clarinetist primarily but also proficient in piano and voice. Interestingly, she was not discouraged (by others) to pursue an artistic career. Rather, she simply felt she didn't know how to go about pursuing one. It seems there aren't many ways to really have a career in classical music, you know? That may be part of it too — there seems an odd cultural dearth of opportunity for art to really be turned effectively into making a living.

Thanks again!