Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Interview with Lacy Vitko

How did you learn about art therapy?

In my second year of undergrad, just after deciding to switch my major from psychology to art, I met a young woman in my two-dimensional design class who informed me of art therapy. I was instantly intrigued at the thought of combining my two favorite subject matters into a profession, and began to do some research on art therapy. Like many other art therapists I know, it felt like an instant fit. During my final years I developed an artist identity and began to wonder how I could combine my three passions into a graduate program that focused on, art, psychology, and spirituality. It just so happened that I had begun to read Ken Wilber’s work during this time, in which he speaks about his involvement with Naropa University in Colorado. Thus, my future was unfolding.

Where did you get your education?

I received my BA in studio art from The University of Akron in Akron, OH, and my MA in Transpersonal Counseling and Art Therapy from Naropa University in Bouulder, CO.

Who are your influences artistically?

When I first began painting I was most influenced by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, and many of the other Surrealist artists. I remember writing a paper on Kandinsky and reading, “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” during a bus trip to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburg. This seemed like a pivotal moment for me, the first time that I realized I was not alone in my intention for art making. I found the surrealist movement fascinating and was inspired by the nuance and somewhat revolutionary nature of the time. Their approach to the art process is what I found most interesting. Looking at dreams and using free association as an entry way into the imagination...there was something about their connection with art that seemed “other worldly.” I am most attracted to artists who create from a place of deep passion, where vision is sparked by an almost desperate need to speak from within, while also looking beyond the self.

Do you have a favorite piece within this portfolio?

Yes. “Insides.” This piece reflects a significant change in the way I approach my creative process. Using colored conte, the image was built from emotional expression rather than a planned idea.

How would you describe you style?

Hmmm. I guess I would say, organic expressionism? This is mostly true of my most recent drawings rather than my paintings. My paintings tend to be more representational in nature. The imagery I use is inherently organic; portraying both a visual description of certain internal movement, while simultaneously eliciting a strong emotional response from the use of particular color choices and play of parts. My ultimate intent is to ignite an emotion, or sensation inspired by the interaction of forms in my images. I guess I aim to represent inner movement through an expressionistic lens.

Would you say that becoming as art therapist has impacted your style?

Yes. Absolutely. Prior to my art therapy training my approach was much more analytical. A large part of my preparation was very intellectual, researching, writing, even going as far as creating concept maps to explore my ideas! It was more formulaic. As I began to study art therapy my work became more about listening to my emotional sensations as an entryway into an image. It was less about figuring it out before hand, and more about becoming witness to my current emotional experience, and moving with it. Therefore, the final product is much more expressionistic in essence.

Is there any difference between “art therapy” work and “art gallery” work? Do you do things any differently based on the audience?

Yes, for me there is a difference. I actually view it as being on a spectrum, with my artist identity on one end, and my art therapist identity on the other. Response art is an example of art therapy work, whereby the process of releasing an overwhelming feeling brought upon by a difficult session with a client takes precedence over the arrangement and attention to formal elements in piece of art. Or my painting of “Kali”, this represents a therapeutic engagement with an image. Sometimes the two can overlap, or influence one another for sure. It’s difficult to keep them completely separate once the two identities have been integrated. The main difference for me has to do with intentionality.

Has there ever been a time in your life when you had a hard time making art? If so, how did you get past it?

Absolutely. It become challenging during transitions, which could possibly seem contradictory. Shouldn’t I be drawn within much easier when I am feeling vulnerable? It depends on the intensity of the transition I suppose. When I first moved to Boulder for graduate school and my entire life was flipped on top of itself over night, I struggled for a great while to make art. I was resisting the changes such as, lack of my own studio, lack of desired supplies, and the “new” way I was required to think about art. It took over a year for me to loosen my grip on the person I thought I was as an artist. Eventually I began to let in new ideas and to make things again, things that I felt connected to. I had to push through the worst part, which was creating all of these things that felt empty and isolated to me, in order to get to the other side.

You are at a cocktail party and someone asks you, “What is art therapy?” How do you answer that question?

Ah. To put it simply, I would respond by saying that art therapy is using the creative process as a vehicle for inner growth, emotional release, healing, insight, and developing self-trust. The process can become a gateway for future self-discoveries, providing an entrance to previously blocked inner territory while offering a new language for communicating ones inner world.

In your description of “Becoming Kali,” you sought to “create a 'container' to hold our experiences while moving through an issue of our choice.” What about Kali made her seem like the right container for the issues you were addressing? Have you used that process since “Becoming Kali?”

At the time I created Kali, she seemed like the perfect “container”. I needed something powerful and omnipotent to hold my experience. Kali represented everything that I feared: darkness, destruction, pain, and death. Her fierce portrayal was one that had haunted me since I was a young girl. Having grown up studying eastern spirituality through the practices of Siddha Yoga, I had a longtime relationship with this goddess. The time had come to confront her, it was time to make peace with the fears I had been running from up until that point. On some level I feel as though she saved me. This image became a part of me, standing at eye-level, I was asked to look into the eyes of Kali on a daily basis. As I painted each of her symbols I was continuously reminded of a force stronger than myself. On many levels this piece stands alone from the rest of my work. It was the first conscious, personal experience I had of using art as therapy. After I presented this image, meditated on it for an entire semester, I put it away. It remains away. I have not since personally used the process in such depth.

I see the same combination of materials often come up in your work. What is it about the combination of ink, oil, acrylic, paste, and tissue paper that has been so appealing for you?

Materials are the greatest source of joy for me when working. I am not afraid to combine materials, to experiment with different combinations and see what happens. I love the process of building up layers, creating texture and depth, and these materials seemed to lend themselves to this outcome. I find translucency appealing. I like making something two-dimensional a bit misleading with areas of three-dimensionality. I like to play with materials and when I find something that feels or looks interesting, I will use it again and again, in different ways, until I have exhausted its every use.

Your work references the brain fairly often. What is it about investigating the brain as opposed to say, the heart, the body, or the soul, that kept you coming back to this subject matter?

This is a great question. Much of my earlier work is about exploring the brain, particularly the impact the brain has on our emotional and physical wellbeing. As I mentioned above, the piece “Insides” marked a transition into different territory. The center of the image references a large heart, with organ-like objects swimming around it. Having wrestled with my mental chatter, my inner critic, and all of the unnecessary negative thoughts that weigh me down, there was something freeing about dropping below this to create this piece. I had a very poignant dream over the summer. I was rummaging around my childhood closet where I found a large box, which contained a human brain on one side, and an empty, lifeless face on the other. I picked up the brain and spent what felt like hours wandering around empty buildings and open fields trying to find a place to put the brain. In the end I buried it deep in the ground. I was astounded by this dream. What could it mean? I felt it was a symbol for burying old mental patterns, for letting go of old neural pathways that were no longer serving me. My work has become softer, less rigid, lighter....seemingly from a less fearful place. More from my heart, and less from my head.

To see Lacy's complete portfolio, visit IATA's page on Bluecanvas.com.

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