Laura Buss and Modern Eden’s Kimberly Larson
Painter and tattoo artist Laura Buss (known as “Tex” in the tattoo realm) recently opened her show “Bundles” at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco in conjunction with the group show “Woodland.” Part artistic endeavour and part archaeological investigation, “Bundles” peels back layers of time and earth to discover the remains of humans and cultures that have come before. Artifacts lie alongside animals and bodies, mystery entwines with the stark reality of death, and beauty is delicately drawn from the harrowing effects of decay. Hi-Fructose inquired further about Buss’ fascination with burial sites, archeology, and cultures from the distant past in the interview below. “Bundles” and “Woodland” will be on display until January 16th, 2012. – Marisa Ware
Your work for “Bundles” was inspired by archeology. How did this fascination come about? Are there certain cultures you were mainly inspired by?
I focused for a time on anthropology/archaeology in school, and have retained an interest. Burial sites are the jackpot on an archaeological dig because they give up so much treasure and amazing information, while at the same time creating new mysteries. They are time capsules as well as caches of art. And mummies themselves seem like messengers sent from another time, often complete with fingerprints, hair, scars, clothing…yet speechless. So as a painter I want to dig into that (excuse the pun) and borrow the mute expressiveness of the mummy. I like that their stories are not fully formed, but puzzles with lots of room for interpretation, and you have to do the work of discovery. Archaeology never reveals easy answers. Instead it’s all about discovery and interpretation.
As far as specific cultures go, although I admire methodical embalming processes, I have a special fascination for accidental mummies. Like the ritual bundles on mountaintops, bogs, or deep in frozen ground that have been preserved for hundreds or even thousands of years. They were never expected to last as long, and it’s a quirk of their environment that creates a window back in time.
Your work has an almost magical appeal to it, calling back to times where ritual, nature, cycles, and the rawness of life and death were all a much bigger part of the daily human experience. Do you feel like your work allows you access and intimacy with these components of life that are mostly lacking in our modern society?
I do feel that, in the same way that any great experience with a moving piece of artwork can allow you to feel a deeper penetration into the magic of an inner life we think we have lost. I think for everyone this is a slightly different magic, but for me nature is key, with death and decay crucial components. Anyone who has spent a lot of time in the wilderness–inspecting the forest floor and climbing on trees–is familiar with decay and the amazing regenerative richness it brings. Death is a huge part of that. It is an experience we will all universally share, but also a mystery which none of us can really know. And while dying itself can be tragic or sad, the shell we leave behind is just that; how human culture adorns and lays it to rest is another magic in and of itself.
A few of the pieces seemed to mix the beautiful with the potentially disturbing (I’m thinking specifically of the painting of the decaying infant). What are you trying to convey with a image like that? Is it your intent to make some people slightly uncomfortable, or is that not part of your motivation at all? Do you perceive it as morbid, or as something else?
Beautiful and disturbing is life. As for morbid…while I of course understand that many people will see them differently, I don’t see these Bundles that way at all. They are delicate beauties, rare finds in an archaeological dig. The specific circumstances of their deaths are long past and irrelevant, but their fragile, adorned bodies are works of art handed down from the people who buried them.
It is definitely not my intention create uncomfortable reactions, but neither would I want to pretend to control how people will feel. I seem to come back to those archetypal corporeal forms that evoke an animal, visceral response, and the animal self is intimate and familiar (if uncomfortably so) to everyone on some level. Whatever the polarity of the reaction, people will hopefully feel something…that is the intention.
How does your work as a tattoo artist inspire and influence your work as a fine artist, if at all?
For sure any art you do–almost any thing you do–affects you as an artist. The concrete ways it influences me is that I look at my painting format not as a flat, 2D plane, but rather as a living breathing canvas. My style of creating composition has evolved on human bodies and skin, which are never flat and tidy; this is why I make the cut-out boards. They are complicated and near-sculptural…like skin. Also it helps me imagine the elements of a painting as a self-contained composition which can stand elegantly on its own, or with background, but only as it benefits the piece and not because I just need to fill the space.