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Laurie Hassold: Interview With a Sculptural Vampire

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Lady in Waiting (detail)

Laurie Hassold is a sculptor who creates what appear to be dark, brooding forms, part ominous 3-D Joel-Peter Witkin totems and part early 1970s YES album covers, but they reward the viewer by slowly revealing themselves as intricate set pieces of universes all their own. Her Post-Extinction Fossil Grotto was the hit of this summer's Laguna Art Museum's Art Shack exhibit where the name mavens of LowBrow were invited to create their versions of beach lore "surf shacks" in the museum. I have been a fan too long to ignore this opportunity to introduce you all to a great artist. Her work is terrifying beauty made manifest for you to either be pulled in by or repulsed away from (and some people do run, but many more are entranced). In conversation she possesses a fierce intellect and an insatiable curiosity, as revealed in her sculptural explorations in organic possibility.

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Laurie Hassold Post-Extinction Fossil Grotto.

Mat Gleason: Is your inspiration organic, from the natural world, based on the forms you create, or is it synthetic, which is how I look at the materials you use especially compared to most sculpture out there... yours is in the middle of so many other artists concerns, sort of an intersection of many layers.

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Laurie Hassold Fertile Mort (detail)

Laurie Hassold: I am definitely inspired by the natural world, as well as science fiction. It seems to me that most alien life forms imagined by human minds in literature and cinema are not really invented, so much as derived from the endless variety and mind boggling permutations found in plants, animals and insects already existing on our planet. The Alien monster obviously relies on the strange anatomy and reproductive processes of insects. The stunning beauty and horror that co-exists in even the smallest of non-human creatures, as well as the elaborate mechanisms and rituals they use for attracting prey and mates, fascinates me. We humans are utterly boring by comparison. I guess at my core I'm a romantic nihilist -- I enjoy pondering a future where the fate of all human achievement is reduced to a dirty pink layer of sediment in the vast geological clock. On one level, my work is about a post-human extinction earth, and the sort of life that gets to thrive at the top of the food chain after we bow out.

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Laurie Hassold Fertile Mort

MG: You lost me for a minute when you started putting little critters on your pieces, but then I saw it as expanding the possibilities of your work from being objects to being universes all their own. Do I have a clue here at all or are you operating on some other level?

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Laurie Hassold Green Frost (detail)

LH: There have always been little "surprises" in my work that beckon the viewer to come closer with a promise of recognition or discovery. If left to my own devices, I could scratch around in some very dark and haunted spaces, so these critters help me swing the pendulum into the light and laugh at myself a little. I like the push and pull of presenting an alien, slightly frightening object, that on closer inspection gives way to the more familiar and even humorous fragments embedded in its bone-like structures and tentacles. On one level, the large "parent/host" form is a fossilized dwelling whose nutrients were long ago ingested by the tiny "offspring" it supports.

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Laurie Hassold Green Frost

Dinosaur skeletons show up a lot, as well as monkeys and bears. The dinosaurs are a reminder that no species gets to reign at the top of the food chain forever, and the monkeys are a nod to Darwinian evolution and the resilience and adaptability of life. Bears are a recent and very personal addition, representing my relationship with my husband, and our home with three feline "children." Some works are more like stages for frozen tableau, as in Green Frost. This piece deals with issues of mortality and shows a tiny maiden perching at the mouth of a green ovarian cave. She tries to reason with the death head inside the cave, but the message she receives is that Death does not engage in dialogue.

MG: Where do you see your work in the contemporary dialogue? I could see curating your work into a show of acolytes of HR Geiger or Eve Hesse... you have been in lots of shows with "LowBrow" themes, how did you break out of that circuit?

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Laurie Hassold Nana Heart

LH: I feel more kinship with Lee Bontecou, Eduardo Paolozzi and Germaine Richier. Except for a couple of LowBrow themed shows, I don't think I've ever really fit in that genre completely. My work is a little too abstract and open-ended to coincide with the representational narratives you find in LowBrow or Pop Surrealism. I do share an affinity with Surrealism, however, in that I'm interested in how the subconscious mind stores vast amounts of information, constantly editing what the conscious mind gets access to. Art is the best way I've found to access the subconscious. It is the one venture where you continuously learn something new about yourself.

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Laurie Hassold Nana Heart (detail)

I did have a great experience in the LowBrow themed Art Shack show at Laguna Art Museum this year. Caves began showing up in my work about a year ago, and after reading about mammoth bone dwellings made by humans during the last ice age, I knew I wanted to make a post human-extinction cave out of bones. I wasn't sure the curator, Greg Escalante, would go for the idea, because it wasn't a true fit for the theme, and was thrilled when he said "yes."

Laurie's solo show is up now at Bert Green Fine Art in Downtown's Gallery Row and runs through December 24. She is in the group show 39Now at den contemporary gallery at the Pacific Design Center that is up until December 17. The Laguna Museum has coverage from its Art Shack up on its site.

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Artist Laurie Hassold at the opening reception of her solo show at Bert Green Fine Art, November 2010. Photo: Harley.

All artwork reproduced is Mixed Media (Wire, tape, glue, resin, clay, found objects, paint) 2010. All art images are courtesy of the artist and Bert Green Fine Art.