Revealing Through Hand and Eye: Lisa Qualls Delivers Various Forms of Art for the City and Beyond
By Meghan Hendley-Lopez
Photo courtesy of Lisa Qualls
Noted in her bio section for living with her husband, three dogs and an evil monkey, artist Lisa Qualls balances her artistic life as a curator and a creator. Studying and portraying identity in unique ways, Qualls’ work consistently portrays layers of intrigue and intimacy. These themes carry out in her group work and curating, all contributing to the visual landscape here in Houston. Lisa Qualls was kind enough to answer some questions about her work in her various forms.
Tell me about your background and how you grew into being an artist? Was it something in particular that struck you, sparked inspiration?
I have drawn and constructed things since I was very small. I recently wrote a description for Joan Son’s Storyteller Project about drawing on the walls and lampshades in my grandmother’s house when I was about 3 or 4 years old. My mother and aunt were and are artists, painters, ceramicists and amazing seamstresses. Also, my grandmother was an incredible seamstress. I grew up in a house decorated with prints of traditional paintings. I remember looking at those prints when I was about 4 or 5 and thinking that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Being an artist seemed a lot simpler at four than it does now.
Speaking on identity, your upcoming series is titled “The Louisiana Portrait Project” that brings together the combination of intimate views with a larger scope. What elements are in this project and how will the project play out?
As an artist, my work continues to be about culture and identity. Most of my artwork has focused on that subject matter for the last decade or so. Sometimes I approach those ideas from a universal standpoint and sometimes from a very personal, intimate standpoint. I have concentrated on the latter recently but am getting ready to embark on a long term project: The Louisiana Portrait Project that combines the two. My plan is to interview and photograph people from Louisiana. I am starting with a few people here in Houston. Using their stories about growing up in Louisiana as a beginning, I will travel to those locations and take photographs of the landscapes and/or buildings in their stories, meet people in those towns and cities, record their stories and photograph them and keep doing so until I have made an artistic survey of the state.
The end result will be a large body of portraits and landscapes (drawn, painted and printed) and installation pieces that are visual and audio, which tells about the people and the land in Louisiana. I decided to do this last year when I was driving from Baton Rouge, where I grew up, to Monroe, LA to visit the Masur Museum. I was thinking about how much growing up in such an incredible place has shaped me both as an individual and an artist. Growing up in a place that was rich with a culture created by many different cultures and the environment and topography itself is a culture unifying the many people that settled there — Spanish, British, French, Italian, African, Vietnamese and many more. I want people to know that Louisiana is not just stereotypes, Mardi Gras and oil spills. Louisiana is what America is: an amazing mixture of family histories. Families who have suffered and survived and thrived in spite of economic, political and environmental hardships. Families and communities that have created a unique identity and bond. I feel a very strong identification with this place and every time I get to go back and see the lush landscape and hear the language and the accents (there are many different accents in different parts of Louisiana, not just one), I feel an ease and a comfortableness that I do not have anywhere else.
One of your main outlets also includes an art gallery: Gallery Jatad. What is the mission of the gallery and what type of shows do you all focus on when curating the space?
My husband, Matthew Scheiner, and I are co-owners of Gallery Jatad. Matt is the director and I curate some shows. We curate some collaboratively. Our main concept is to pair traditional African fine art with contemporary art. The African objects are antiques and made for tribal use. We have used tribal galleries in Europe as a model, but unlike those galleries we are emphasizing aesthetic and historical value of the objects and not the provenance or European ownership. We want to honor the makers of the pieces and their skill and the complex cultures that created them. We choose contemporary art that compliments the African art aesthetically and curate shows that may have themes around materials, color, pattern, spirituality, utility or simply similar sensibilities.
The upcoming exhibition that you curated, ‘Under the Milky Way’ is on view now through March 8th at Gallery Jatad. Seeing there’s a large array of creatures and subjects under the milky way, how did you choose the artists and what are some of the pieces they have brought to the show?
‘Under the Milky Way’ includes three contemporary artists and select African objects. The contemporary artists Michael Arcieri, David Humphreys and Gregory Page were chosen for their attention to detail and beautifully crafted work, as well as their interest in capturing nature: plants, animals and atmosphere. All three of these artists pay homage to traditional naturalists who documented the flora and fauna in the New World 300 to 100 years ago, but their interpretations are contemporary in concept and execution.