In the Studio with Laurie Hogin

Koplin Del Rio
May 9, 2020 12:02PM

You live in a rural and rather isolated area in Illinois. What originally drew your family there?

I moved to Chicago from New York in 1987, to start graduate school. After receiving my MFA in ’89, I began to exhibit, and remained a Chicago-based artist even after I started teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in ’97. I commuted for several years—the 132-mile trek through flat prairies and farm fields, under the expanse of sky unimpeded by topography or trees taught me things I never knew about color, weather, atmosphere, sun and moon, and starry skies in deep dark, plus A.M. radio and books on tape. It taught me a new way to think about minimalism. After our son was born in 2000, I spent a year at home in Chicago, on a year-long, unpaid leave from teaching (there was no real support for maternity at the time), focusing on my studio business for income. After that, I commuted with the baby, and although I still treasure the closeness I was able to develop with my child, toting him almost everywhere, camping on colleague’s couches, the commute became exhausting, so we moved to our current home in 2002.

We chose the rural location so we could have studios at home, and space was cheap and available here. We love the open landscape and the starry, dark skies. The schools were good, and the small-town ethos offered a lot of neighborly support. And I don’t like living in bubbles; it’s nice to escape the ivory tower, and to return to it as well.

What has changed for you in light of the self-isolation?

Honestly, not a lot! Our domicile was, from the start, conceived of as a sort of “studio homestead” with everything we need right here. Our son, now a large and hairy version of that amenable, talkative little guy I once toted everywhere, is home. We are enjoying our closeness, our conversations, our domestic labor together, possibly because we all have spaces in which we retreat and do our separate pursuits.

What are you working on in the studio?

I’m making a lot of works on paper—small paintings and mixed media drawings with painted elements, photocopies and ink jet prints of photographs I’ve taken over the years, cut up, collaged and painted into surrealist scenes that owe something to the photo montages of the anti-fascist artists of the late ‘30’s as well as something to punk artists of the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. There is something about a scavenging and DIY ethos that’s resonant now. I’ve also been making watercolors and wash drawings, sometimes using homemade pigments—rust, charcoal from the fire pit; onion-skin ink. I’m also using an accumulation of office supplies like ball point, correction fluid and fluorescent marker. These works are relatively quick, although I still revel in detail. They allow me to emphasize the part of my process that involves allowing my brain’s natural tendency toward sense-making to “read into” material phenomena of my media as I work, and then turn these “visions” into objects in a narrative image by applying detail. This resembles some of the activities the Surrealists believed would reveal the contents of the unconscious, as well as the game of finding recognizable shapes in the clouds. I think it reveals something of neurobiological truth, about the way we think, and recognize, and make sense of the chaos of sensory input, even unto the point of projecting sense onto nonsense, of sign onto accident, of image onto random phenomenon and narrative onto the raw experience of time. It reveals for me that I’m part of a storytelling species.

I’m continuing to make oil paintings—some of these new works are cinematically post-apocalyptic landscapes that traffic in the history of landscape as a cultural practice which frames the world—not unrelated to storytelling. This is an ongoing interest, of course, along with the animal portraits as cultural allegories, political cartoons and caricatures. Something new, or rather a previous interest revitalized and updated are the literal frames I’m making for the new works. These are made of wood, with elaborate decoration—carvings, gold leaf, glitter, rust, and text. They are intended to be beautiful but in a goofy, overwrought way; almost parodies of framing, intended to use humor and exaggeration to invoke what it means to frame something.

What do your days look like in this moment taking into account the many hats you wear (mother, professor, artist, runner, daughter, etc.)?

My child is grown, which seems so sudden! But he’s a competent, thoughtful and helpful young man who organizes his own life and doesn’t take a lot of maintenance anymore! I guess that’s normal, and certainly to be celebrated even though there are those wistful moments of wondering where all the time went!

I have an intellectually disabled brother, who lives in his community with the assistance of a wonderful organization, but he needs me to manage things for him, and to help him out with his frustrations, fears and feelings which have increased, naturally. He’s a complicated and very interesting person; he’s a wonderful artist, and a very creative, unique jokester—like the Dustin Hoffman character in “Rain Man”, but with a much better sense of humor and more interesting obsessions.

I also manage my 94-year-old Mom, who is in memory care in a local facility. That we are currently unable to visit her is difficult, though the facility promises to set up Zoom for its memory care patients. That will help, I hope.

The major change in my life, however, is my campus job. I’m an associate director for the School of Art & Design, and I also teach. My administrative workload has tripled with the closure of campus. Teaching online is also approximately triple the time and effort. I’m extremely lucky, though—my husband is a filmmaker and an instructional media producer, and he’s turned my lectures into works of cinema for my students—they have color, effects, slides, clips, music; I’m actually quite proud of them, and very, very grateful for his help. He could not wash another dish ‘til death do us part, and I’d still be grateful.

You ask about running—I also bike—and our rural location is already “socially distant”, so I have the freedom to do that without worry. Sometimes I go for a run or a ride on the county roads, or to the wooded moraines of a nearby forest preserve, and I see not a soul. This is a wonderful antidote to the stresses of Zoom meetings, where colleagues are under stress, anxious, and sometimes combative, unable to read physical cues that smooth communication. I am absolutely, rigidly committed to daily exercise. The culture calls exercise a leisure activity. The cultural history of this taxonomy is clear, but it is a shame because it’s a medical activity; perhaps more people would feel entitled to prioritize it in their lives if they viewed it this way, and societies would find ways to make opportunities more available to folks. In any case, I cannot be healthy without it, and I am truly lucky to have access.

Acknowledging the connections in our current cultural context with subject matter central to your work, how is this moment, if at all, informing the way that you think about and make work? Are you optimistic as to how we come out of this?

This is a time of uncertainty, of course. Some of our conditions are new—the evolution of culture, society, technology, the environment, everything—obviously make each historical moment unique. But there are consistencies in human responses to stresses such as this, and in the politics generated by human emotion. So as to optimism, I think we can only look to history where we see responses to stress and crisis that engender the blossoming of what is best about us—political revolutions toward more humane, supportive, and diverse societies where freedom is understood as a shared condition of mutual protection, rather than the prerogative of the powerful to dominate.

But we also see the rise of authoritarianism across the globe, which has also been intensified in times of crisis. I am an optimistic person by nature, but I also have a very strong “prepper” tendency—I don’t mean stockpiling canned goods and ammo, but rather that I “hope for the best but prepare for the worst”. Well, maybe not the worst, but I like to plan for contingencies! So, my efforts as an artist and a teacher are to advocate the ways in which art can promote the best in us; the ways in which it provides topics and experiences that connect us. Its very existence advocates for creativity, tolerance for newness, weirdness, diversity, all of which inform and motivate towards a politics of liberation, openness, and inclusion.

Habitat Diorama with Pyromaniac Species, 2019, Oil on canvas, 48" x 77"

Any books or recommended reading for these times?

The only reading I’ve had time for these days is re-reading what I assign my students! Still, this is good stuff (of course I think so!) and includes thinkers like Elizabeth Grosz, Judith/Jack Halberstam, Elizabeth Barrett, Barbara Bolt, Nicolas Lampert, Lucy Lippard, and the common thinkers in our field whom I want students to approach very, very critically—Freud, Kristava, Bauldrillard, Deleuze; all the so-called “critical theorists”.

I also assign daily reading of online art journals, especially Hyperallergic. And I love The New York Review of Books, especially when I don’t have time to read books! But among the genres I’ll return to when I am able are history, politics, current events, law, neuroscience and the environment.

Though I do have a recommendation—in moments of respite, or in the evenings as sleep time nears, I’ve been reading about foraging. When I was about 11 years old, I read Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus. The idea of living closer to the land has renewed appeal, so I’ve been enjoying Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest and Nature’s Garden and look forward to putting the knowledge therein to use as the sun warms up our patch of prairie.

Studio dogs Left: Xena, a Boxer/Poodle mix Right: Reggie, a bizarre and wonderful guy who's a Bichon Frise/Standard Greyhound/Pit Bull mix

Koplin Del Rio