Today’s interview is with Liz LaManche.  Liz is a well known artist in fine art as well as our favorite…street art.  We first learned about her art after seeing it first hand in the Boston area.  Her art is a wonderful blend of vivid, vibrant imagery and colors and often conveys a special message and meaning.  We were fortunate enough to get her to answer a few questions.

Q. How did you get into street art?

Actually, through architecture. As an architecture major at Yale, my advisor and mentor was Kent Bloomer, an ornamentalist. Some of my favorite classes were about ornamentalism- the impact of well-chosen detail and the intersection of visual arts with the 3D environment. For a thesis project I designed a series of artistic interventions for the built environment, which included muraling and sculpture.

“I always get mental pictures and ideas of what else could be done with a space…”

I’ve always been attracted to street art, decoration, and the playfulness of guerrilla art in public places. I always get mental pictures and ideas of what else could be done with a space or a wall to create an experience that’s thought-provoking, or beautiful, or funny.

I got practice working on large pieces by being involved in a large camp at Burning Man. We had a 2-story building we’d make out of scaffolding skinned with fabric, and I got to decorate the interior with large colorful canvases and light that with color-changing LED light. The effect was an immersive environment of glowing, pulsating color and trippy shapes… it was great to be able to create and share an experience for so many people all at once, and I was hooked.

“I wound up doing a lot of thinking about “what do you want to do here and why”

I only took this into the real built environment in 2013 as one of the many diverse artists at Bartlett Yard in Roxbury, where I was approached to paint a freestanding building facing Washington Street. I wound up doing a lot of thinking about “what do you want to do here and why”… the side facing inward that would be mostly seen during music festivals was a different problem from the side facing the street and the Ethiopean Baptist Church directly across that street. My responsibility as someone not from that neighborhood making a contribution to that neighborhood, I felt was a meaningful issue to think about. I wound up painting outdoors near the street on and off for a couple weeks, and kept getting into conversations with passing locals who were really glad to have color and decoration on their street, where there had been demoralizing run-down buildings.

“It felt like one of the most meaningful things I’ve done”

Following that I felt empowered to make more of a statement, and that led to spearheading the Connected By Sea project at HarborArts in the Boston Shipyard, where we created a thousand-foot series of sailor tattoo themed designs on an industrial cement pier. It was in 2014 as the race discussion was heating up in Boston, and this was a way to create a more inclusive, multicultural history of Boston’s identity, using symbols of friendship and reconciliation from our many cultures (and collaborating with people of different backgrounds). It felt like one of the most meaningful things I’ve done, it was like inscribing a magic spell on the city itself.

Q. Why is street art important?

Street art is important in so many ways. I really believe that humanity is at a crossroads right now, where we can either level up or destroy ourselves. A lot of that, I feel, hinges on whether we can learn to set aside the petty tribalism that can divide us, and learn to get along– thinking and acting on a species-wide level, with compassion for each other as humans.

“If two people both see something that surprises, or uplifts, or amuses them- they have shared a moment of humanity”

The way street art fits into that is this: Art is a uniter, it can cause people to realize their shared emotions. If two people both see something that surprises, or uplifts, or amuses them- they have shared a moment of humanity. Whether it’s a transcendent image, or delightful splash of color, or something funny that gives them a giggle… it works the same way. It also takes people out of their daily grind for just a moment and gifts them with an experience of “surprise and delight”.

street art by Liz LaManche

Liz LaManche art work captured by our New England site Nothing But New England

“People need to be able to express themselves to each other, to be seen and heard”

That is particularly needed when more of us are living in cities. In places like the Northeastern US cities can be grey and impersonal, and people can spend much of their lives in a programmed rush from one task to another. To live in cities well, and sustainably, we need to personalize them. People need to be able to express themselves to each other, to be seen and heard. The surfaces we pass by and interact with every day should be pleasing to us, or thought-provoking, and human-scale. Every time I’ve seen people react to street art it’s been with delight, and with an opinion they can share with their neighbor. Street art can be a way we talk with each other and a vehicle for our diverse but shared culture.

Q. What is your favorite piece & why?

Hard to choose just one. Of other people’s art, one all-time fave is the classic giant face by Jef Aérosol in Paris

Classic Giant Face Mural by Jef Aérosol in Paris

Not sure of the meaning, but it has both humor and the possibility of a subtle political message- it’s fun, surprising, and makes you ponder what it may be about.

Some are full of meaning, some are humor for its own sake injecting a human-scale bit of enjoyment into the street, some are artistically transcendent and beautiful. Ones that stick with me today are this pointed piece by Curiot in Mexico

street art by Curiot

the vivid work of Farid Rueda

street art

and this lovely wall by Joshua Mays (@joshuamaysart) in Oakland

street art by Joshua Mays

That kind of transcendent weirdness is something we need, it can take people out of their shoe-gazing daily grind and wake up our imaginations, our sense of possibility.

This one by TomBob in New York still cracks me up

street art by TomBob

The great thing about small-scale work is it can give the average person a sense of agency. It’s good for people to realize that it’s possible to comment on life, our surroundings, what’s going on, it’s possible to be seen and listened to and make an impact. That’s huge right now.

Of things I’ve done, my favorite is still “Connected By Sea”

street art in Boston by Liz LaManche

“Connected by Sea” – It’s a giant-scale 1000-foot connected sequence of international tattoo designs stained into the surface of an industrial pier at East Boston Shipyard. Like a tattoo “sleeve” on the city of Boston. It was designed with collaboration from several artists of different backgrounds, and gives recognition to Boston’s multicultural and multiracial roots, the designs woven through with symbolism of friendship, reconciliation, and safe travel over water. To me it was an important way of doing a magic spell of healing on the city just as our discussion about race was starting to heat up (2013). It’s still there today and can be visited as part of HarborArts, 256 Marginal Street. This spring, the Boston ICA is going to take over the warehouse building next door and bring our art presence in that little area to a new level, I’m excited to be a part of that. The online guide I made for Connected By Sea also is organized as a virtual companion so if you’re interested, you can read about the meaning of each piece and decode the symbols as you walk it.

Q. Who is your favorite street artist & why?

Again, hard to pin down just one. There are so many people doing so much wonderful art, it’s alternately inspiring and intimidating.  Up-and-comer Joshua Mays in Oakland makes beautiful Mucha-inspired Afro-futurism which I love and envy tremendously. Up-and-comer @kinmx (Kathrina Rupit, Mexico/Dublin) does outrageously beautiful things with ornamentation and the human form.

street art by Kathrina Rupit

I LOVE Swoon’s work: complex, intricate, meaningful wheatpaste work based in Brooklyn.

street art by Swoon

The gigantic weird animals of ROA are always a surprise and a delight.

See art from ROA in this article!

The playful site-specific characters of TomBob, liven up the street on a charming small scale and always give people a giggle.

Kobra’s heroic yet sensitive portraits set off by geometric hot colors are always a beautiful show-stopper.

The cute weirdo characters of Os Gemeos that give homage to normal people, Brazilian street kids, with a delightful twist of humor.

And I’m also aware that these lists (most lists) contain mostly dudes. Is there a systemic thing going on, where somehow guys wind up with more opportunities to work large? The path of growth from graffiti, where people are rewarded for taking risks, is one element- but that’s like saying “women don’t apply for management jobs”… I think there’s also a systemic gender issue going on here that we should take a look at.

Q. Where is your favorite place in the world for street art?

There are so many places that I haven’t been to yet, or haven’t been to in years, where amazing things are happening, or where there is a culture that allows everyone who’s motivated to play with expression in public. Lately I’ve been following Parisian street art on Instagram, they’ve got so much going on both for artistry and for visual humor. Also Valencia, Barcelona, Montreal, Iceland, Sao Paolo. Of the places I’ve been to recently, San Francisco (Bay area) and London have great scenes and surprising wonderful bits of art in many locations big and small. The artistry going on in Montreal and Iceland prove to us in Boston that we can’t use weather as an excuse for not painting great things outdoors, and for that I am grateful.

See why our sister site loves Montreal’s street art scene.

Find Out More From Liz

Be sure to go to Liz LaManche’s website, to see more of her work and keep updated on all her upcoming projects.

*All photos and videos provided by Liz LaManche unless noted otherwise *

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Street Artist Spotlight - Liz LaManche