Visual artist Mara Lonner is one of the dear friends I acquired when I met and married my husband Scott. Her art has been displayed in venues as varied as small art galleries and LAX International Airport. She teaches art to undergraduate students at University of California at Irvine. Here, in the final installment of the Inspiration Series, is her take on what inspires her:
People who shape language in order to tell stories and convey ideas excite the hell out of me. During my first reading J.D. Salinger’s Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenter and Seymour: An Introduction I put the book down many time to savor the word-colors, textures, and tastes rolling around my tongue and moving through my body. I will always be grateful for this experience of the transformative power of marvelous writing.
There have been times when music punches me right in the stomach. Have you heard John Coltrane’s version of My Favorite Things or his Love Supreme? At first listening I wanted to hold my breath so as to not interfere with their achingly dark beauty. Thelonious Monk’s music does this to me, too. He plays spaces as much as notes, which I love. When I am stuck with a problem in my art studio I often ask myself, “What would Monk do?”
A few years ago I traveled to Germany to visit museums and Kunsthalles, and a friend had suggested I see the Cologne Cathedral. Its construction began in 1248, to be completed to the original plan in 1880. It was close to where I was staying so I put it first on my list. “Holy Shit” doesn’t adequately describe my reaction when I entered the nave. Designed to direct eyes to the heavens and inspire worship, the vaulted ceilings were so tall they seemed to have their own atmosphere. I wouldn’t have been surprised if rain clouds formed inside. I felt so very small. I then understood that buildings have an effect upon our physical and emotional selves. I spent the rest of my two-month vacation in Europe wandering through churches.
Driving north on California’s interstate 5 a couple of years ago during a particularly brutal drought, stretches of the San Joaquin Valley orchards appeared as though they had been set on fire. Every mile or so I would see the body of a strange dog like animal, tan colored with huge ears. This went on for many miles. It didn’t make sense to me, this tragic accumulation of bodies. Heading home on the same road a few days later, I again saw many of the delicate, lovely, and most decidedly dead, creatures. At a rest stop I learned they were San Joaquin Kit Foxes, an endangered species. If you look them up maybe they’ll seem as adorable-looking to you as they do to me. To this day I haven’t been able to find out why there were so many dead.
These anecdotes are examples of the nutrition that motivates me to make artwork. My studio is a space where I can chew over these experiences and distill them into something that makes sense to me. I think in images, and make drawings, paintings and installations out of many different materials such as graphite, charcoal, joint compound, drywall, velvet, and paper. The solitude of this activity and the thrill of watching something develop apparently from nothing are what keep me coming back.