Creative Play

The Arts of Liz Weibler



Write on the Sky by Liz Weibler

Mastery comes from practice; practice comes from playful, compulsive experimentation and from a sense of wonder. Not only is practice necessary to art; it is art. In practice,work is play, intrinsically rewarding.”
~ Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art

Liz Weibler’s imagery begins as open, loose, free play on her chosen surface. She might lay her canvas or panel down on the floor in order to joyfully drip, drop, brush or splash paint as the first color-filled layer for her masterful abstractions. This playful, improvisational approach infuses her work with an energy and a dynamic tension between opposing forces. Spontaneity and control partner in her captivating canvases.

How did you get started on the visual arts path?

I identified myself as an artist from the time I was 5 or 6 years old, according to my family members. I grew up in a creatively supportive environment. My dad was an avid photographer and my older brother, Jim, still draws photo-realistic portraits. Jim used to give me tips as I was drawing at the kitchen table. I would watch The Magic of Oil Painting with Bill Alexander on PBS, mesmerized by how fast an image can change. As kids, my siblings and I used to dig up clay in the backyard and make odd sculptures with it. There was no shortage of creativity in our household.

Did you pursue visual arts at school?

I kept making art throughout elementary and middle school. In high school at one point, I saw an article about a fine arts high school in Chicago. I begged my parents to enroll me, but instead, they found The Early College Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which offers college level classes on evenings and weekends. I attended classes there during my junior and senior years of high school.

After high school, did you go directly to the Art Institute of Chicago?

I did some course work at a community college and then a year of classes at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but the school was very expensive so I didn’t pursue an undergraduate degree there, and instead began to travel.

How did you end up in Tucson from Chicago?

I left Chicago in 1996 and spent three years travelling, working and living in a variety of places before landing in Tucson. Initially, I went to Austin, Texas. From there, I aimed at driving to Alaska with a boyfriend, a camper and two dogs. I ended up in Oregon for a year and a half and then Northern California for a while.

Were you making art throughout those years?

I always drew and painted but making art as not my primary focus in those years. In 1999, I moved to Tucson to support a friend who had recently had a baby boy.

Did your art-making re-emerge at that time?

Once here, I did reconnect with my painting practice but I wasn’t particularly happy with what I was doing. I had been supporting myself working in the service industry but was ready to do something else for a living. I enrolled at Pima CC to study Fashion Design and to learn “draping”. This decision shifted the course of my life.

How so?

Essentially, I entered the world of freelance costume making. Once I started working as a draper/tailor, I was hired by a variety of theater companies around the country. I worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and then at Julliard in the same capacity. Later, I worked with a Santa Cruz Shakespeare Company in California. In 2008 I met the owner of Miami Art Works and decided to move to the tiny old mining town of Miami, Arizona. I was a resident in an emerging Artist’s Collective located in a former boarding house for miners. I commuted down to Tucson for freelance costume work in those days.

Here in Tucson, I have worked for the Arizona Theater Company for years during their theater seasons. In the summertime, for 10 years, I travelled to the Midwest, where I worked with the American Players Theater in Spring Green, Wisconsin, which is full of its own magic, and the home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin.

Has your work with Arizona Theater Company been focused on costumes exclusively?

Actually, I have worked as a scenic painter and as a props artisan in addition to costume work. I learned so much about paint techniques while working with the scenic crew. Much of my own studio approach currently has roots in the tools and techniques I explored as a scenic painter.

Can you talk about gifts and challenges you face doing such highly creative work for a living while still maintaining your personal studio practice?

Thankfully, draping for costumes is very different than creating my own paintings. Pattern drafting is much more of a left-lobe activity than painting. Also, at the theater, I am executing someone else’s vision, which is totally different than the myriad of decisions one makes while engaged in creating one’s own work.

What’s the balance like in your time between studio practice and work with the theater?

It varies year to year really. This fall, for example, I committed to participating in the Open Studio Tour and to showing work at the Tucson Museum of Art’s Holiday Artisans Market. These commitments meant I was available to work part-time for the theater while devoting more time to painting.

Can you talk a bit about your current body of work and approach in the studio?

I have been working in abstraction since the time I lived in Miami, Arizona. That experience was such a pivotal time in my creative life. I was able to really spread my wings and work very experimentally. My current work begins with gesture. I choose a palette of colors and work very spontaneously and loosely as a first layer. Next, I begin to build the image through a series of subconscious grids. Around 2013, I began to add some recognizable elements occasionally— usually flowers. 

Years ago I made the conscious decision to focus on creating beauty and for my work to bring good feelings to others. Perhaps my favorite part of painting—other than at the beginning when the canvas is fresh—is when I “fall in love” with the work, and that’s usually when I know the piece is almost done.

Ah, the perfect lead-in for my last two questions: First, how does your creative practice serve you as a healing tool?

Studio practice is a place where I can feel totally in charge of my decision-making process without concern for judgement. In the studio, I can get lost in my own world. Painting is an immersion in a sense of total freedom. Also, I keep a chart of colors as they relate to the Hindu chakra system up in my studio so I can consciously work with color as a healing tool for myself and the viewers.

And last, how do you feel your imagery serves community?

Most of us are so used to seeing recognizable imagery. When people encounter my work, which is gestural and expressive, they often feel challenged at first. I find it infinitely surprising to listen as viewers respond to work that is outside their usual frame of reference. Everyone sees and feels something unique and different as we all bring our own experiences and inner responses. Most often, people give me feedback that my work inspires them to open up and to connect with feeling.

Connect with the artist at SeventhFish.com.

Carolyn King, M.A. in Arts & Consciousness, is a local practicing artist who has worked with communities as a teaching-artist for over 30 years, both in the U.S. and Mexico. Earlier this year, she founded Heart to Hand Studio, where she offers visual arts experiences for Tucson residents and beyond. Connect at CKing72@cox.net.

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