Interview With Artist Lorette Luzajic Creator of Idea Fountain

1 Apr

Toronto based artist Lorette Luzajic creates not only mixed media collages, but is also a photographer, printed author, writes poetry and recently started up Idea Fountain, by which 10% of the proceeds from her artwork sold is donated to advocates of free speech and expression. A fascinating and talented artist, Lorette’s story is an inspiration for the masses.

In this heartfelt exclusive interview, Lorette gives insight to her childhood, her artistic drawing talents and how they were squashed at a young age by another child, and how she rediscovered her path in adulthood. She explains why Michael Jackson would be the top person on the planet she’d love to spend the day with. Having always worshiped his creativity and intrigued by his eccentricity, Lorette has written two books in his honor since his passing.

Read on to learn more about her…

-When did you first discover you had a passion for the arts and writing?

I was sick a lot as a child and liked it that way, since any cough or tummy ache meant I could stay home from kindergarten and conjure up poems or short stories on my sister’s Fisher Price typewriter. Almost as good, I could lay in bed recuperating and read the encyclopedias. I didn’t know yet that lolling about reading the encyclopedia was nerdy and pretentious! I was interested in everything, but especially in human creativity.  I was visiting the art gallery in nearby Toronto before turning into a teenager. I still go regularly, and some of the paintings are like old friends I’ve had for decades. I was a bit of an outcast, let me tell you, but eventually you find like-minded people, or you become comfortable with interests of your own.

- When did you start collaging?

There was a decade or so after high school in which I didn’t make art after being shamed by a class mate for my lack of drawing skills. I was a very sensitive child- I’m bipolar, but didn’t know. That friend told me that the kids in the art club thought I was a loser because I couldn’t draw very well, and that he was kindly saving me from embarrassment by letting me know I shouldn’t show up to create with them. I was so upset and ashamed and I stopped going. It was the only group I felt I fit in with, and I was mortified. I promised myself I would look at art but not make it, and focus on writing.

Of course I didn’t have the insight to understand that this boy’s insecurity made him want to squash any spark of life around him. I forgive him, of course, he was a child, and things didn’t turn out very well for him with art or with anything else from what I hear. But at the time I stopped making art and never talked about it. Many years later as an adult I ran into one of the art kids and to my disbelief she said the circle had all been really concerned when I’d disappeared abruptly. Apparently, they had all loved my creative contributions! Not that it would have mattered even if they didn’t, is what you learn with age. But I saw how powerful shame is and what it can prevent you from. I didn’t start up then automatically, since there were too many things going on.

But about a decade ago, I decided to make my own tarot deck as a means of learning the symbolism and history. Since I couldn’t draw, I pulled out a pair of pink Fiscar scissors and some old books and mags and made 78 collages on the tarot themes. Some were really good. I had this revelation, that a billion people can draw and that’s amazing, it’s a talent I would like to have, just as I wish I could carry a tune because I love singing. But there are a million people who can draw perfect hands and only one person with my particular imagination. I vowed to use it any way I could and never squash my creativity again. It’s been an ongoing process to keep that epiphany alive. But those little pink scissors- I still use them. They are the scissors in my Idea Fountain logo.

-What are your influences when it comes to your design process?

Since the very nature of collage is to use the whole world as a palette, including all things that have already been created, and make something new, the only honest answer to this question is, everything and everyone.

-Please describe your creative process.

Curiousity, a sense of the poetic within ordinary, a sense of the sinister in the soft. A sense of the absurd. Passion for colour. Juxtaposing disparate elements to see what texture or what message might result. Taking familiar markers of culture and recontextualizing them.

It starts with a single seed, usually- that could be a magazine snipping, a theme I want to express somehow, a colour I can’t get out of my head, a word I heard, and sometimes something random I pull out of a hat just to get going and see what happens. I try to follow through quickly, because I start a lot more than I finish. I move on the next idea rapidly, so I try to keep what’s in process out until it’s done. Sometimes I finish things years later. Too often, I’m not sure something is done so I keep adding or changing and eventually ruin it. I’m trying to learn to hold back a little bit, until I’m sure, so that things don’t get too busy. Sometimes I do have a list of ideas and preconceived notion of what I want to make, and assemble a series of images and media together. But usually I start with just the germ, and where it will go, nobody knows until it’s done.

- How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?

“The artist explores imagery, composition, texture, and the meaning of life.”

- Which is your favorite collage you have created? Why?

My favourite piece is Truck. The composition and absurdity of it really appeal to me.

- Is there a difference in how your work is perceived versus the message you try to convey?

Art belongs to the viewer, too. Once it is finished, it ceases to be exclusively what I made and becomes what others see. If I’m making a statement about the horrors of addiction but the viewer feels it reflects something along the lines of confinement in relationship, then so be it. If they choose that piece simply because the grey tones look great with their sofa, that too is fine. Some artists cannot make commissions or sell for decoration, but I accept the multidimensional aspects of art. I can’t have a monopoly on vision and shouldn’t want to limit my audience’s experience. I can’t expect everyone to see what I see, and I’m grateful when someone responds, when someone is touched or angered or laughs because of my work.

- Describe yourself in 5 words.

“The five words constantly change.”

- If you could spend the day with any artist living or deceased who would it be? What would hope to gain from the experience? /Your latest book Michael Jackson for the Soul…what prompted/ inspired you to write about the King of Pop?

Michael Jackson, hands down. Among the most creative people who ever lived. I worship his spectacular creativity and I’ve always been intrigued by eccentrics. To me, it’s about the creativity and passion, not about one particular art or craft. Music, fashion, photography, painting, poetry, it all comes from that fountain. And Michael said the best education was to study the masters, which he did, which is why you can see all those diverging parts of creativity in his work. The cinema, the circus, the choreography, the rhythm, the visual impact- he was recognizable instantly, even if you only saw a foot or hand or a silhouette.

Michael Jackson’s interests resonate with my own expanse of curiousities. I totally relate to his inability to “choose.” To make Thriller, he studied Tchaikovsky. Why? Because his music didn’t contain any filler: in Michael’s view, every song and the whole was perfect. Michael wanted an album that worked as a whole and also contained one after another perfectly crafted pop songs. He could see offbeat connections like that- use classical music as inspiration for the most successful album of all time. He was dialectical, holistic, he was about fusion. He marveled at creativity; he understood it to be the divine gift, the one that helps us survive the horrors of reality.

Michael’s divine spark has inspired me to overcome many obstacles in my life. When he died, I felt I wanted to make a small project in his honour. The two books are very different: Goodbye, Billie Jean: the Meaning of Michael Jackson is more controversial because it examines without censorship a variety of opinions and reactions to Jackson. I included conflicting perspectives in the anthology, which features 51 writers of extremely diverse backgrounds- drag queen, communist, black activist, monk, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, etc. Michael Jackson for the Soul was by and for his fans, a collection of stories by ordinary people about how Michael touched their lives.

I admire the genuine love he had for others and his action for it. He didn’t just talk about it, he did it. The public lynching of Michael Jackson was a very convenient excuse for our most barbaric instincts. We could all point and leer at someone who was “strange” which was a great distraction from the places where child abuse really takes place- our own homes and churches. For all the ink wasted on Jackson, by now we could have raised consciousness and solution not just for neglected, violated, abused children here in North America, but for child soldiers, children working in mines, child prostitutes, children harvested for organs, children sired by rape in post-war orphanages, girl children in Yemen and Afghanistan being married off at eight years old, 8000 little girls castrated every single day by barbaric tribal and religious traditions. 8000. Where’s the outrage?

All the while we were repeatedly flagellating an innocent man at the stake, he continued giving millions to children at risk, visiting them in hospitals and orphanages. And while he was keeping kids alive, he was inspiring millions of others to live their dreams, follow their talents, risk something and work toward it.  Note how the tides have turned- it has become overall “uncool” again to make fun of Michael Jackson. Truth endures in the end.

- Do you have any new books coming out or in the works?

Yes, Fascinating Writers: twenty-five unusual lives is almost ready. I expect it to be available by May or June at the latest. I am hoping that Fascinating Artists: twenty-five unusual lives will be released this year as well, since the duo was the first literary offering I wanted from the Idea Fountain, symbolic of what I do, and of my commitment to promoting art, literature, and complete freedom of expression.

-        Who is your favorite author?

A very tiny list of some of my favourite fiction writers: Donna Tartt, Margaret Mitchell, Isabel Allende, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Oscar Wilde, Margaret Atwood, E. Annie Proulx, Jeffrey Eugenides, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Katherine Paterson.

- You are very passionate about human rights, free speech and freedom of expression. What was the turning point in your life, or experience that affected you, that caused you to sit up take notice and start Idea Fountain?

A recurring theme these past few years for me has been the search for a meaningful contribution while still remaining committed to fulfilling my potential as an artist. I wanted to be a spokesperson for something important- maybe mood disorders, addiction, families with mental illness, child abuse, AIDS, any number of things that have played important or intimate roles in my life. But I felt it would be cowardly of me to take on saving the world if it meant betraying my true calling.

At some point while looking for ways to be all that I can be, it occurred to me show lucky I was to live in an era and country where I am not burned at the stake for expressing those taboo subjects. Try to wrap your head around the fact that people were imprisoned, tortured, and executed for talking about God, sex, or the government.

It was something of a shocker as I learned how common the problem still is. Two officials were assassinated just this year in Pakistan- they both expressed their views that the death penalty for blasphemy was a little harsh. Big mistake. The Cuban prisons are full of poets, locked up and forgotten, for offending Castro decades ago.

My generation was handed free expression and all of its inherent gifts of progress, diversity, science, religious reformation, civility, fact-sorting, human rights etc on a silver platter. It’s just kind of been there, we never had to think much about it except for the odd obscenity argument, so we take it for granted. It’s fantastic that we get to bitch and moan about the evil government- because we don’t end up in jail for doing so!  I was free to dabble in goddess circles, in “exploring” sexuality, in reforming my church, in voting, in reading about science, without a second thought. In history and today, such freedom is rare.

The main thing about freedom of expression, even more important than freedom is to an individual being tortured or awaiting death, is what it censors. Think about how society suffers from what is not said, from what is never heard. Every little thing. How long did people with mental illness, or regular illness for that matter, suffer the diagnosis of “demon possession” before we finally learned a bit about the brain, about germs? How long were earlier insights on these things suppressed?  People are still being killed today for these superstitions in some countries or communities.

The more I thought about it, the more I saw that freedom of expression really is the most fundamental of human rights, the foundation of all other human rights. The rights to reform, observe, expose, inform. The right against tyranny, stagnation, ignorance.

In addition to the central importance of this right to each and every human being, this is incredibly vital to me as an artist and writer. As they say, don’t shoot the messenger.

There can be no dissent without a free, self-critical press. There can be no evolution without the freedom of artists or songwriters or activists to share impressions or facts. There can be no progress in science if doctors with new ideas are put in prison or burned alive for insulting God. Fascism and dictatorial power depend on groupthink and the outlawing of all individual liberty. I have to stand up for the rights of people to say something I might not like. It’s important not just for their own freedom, but for us to know how others think, for the exchange of information, for truth. The facts will sort out the lies.

Not only is championing freedom of expression an appropriate cause for me as an artist and writer, but it promotes directly and indirectly every other cause. And when wondering what exactly I would do to benefit the cause, I thought of the ancient Jewish tradition of tithing, which is giving ten percent of one’s wages to the poor. That’s how I decided to pledge ten percent of my art and book proceeds to the cause. There would be no danger of committing something I didn’t have, and everything I worked on would have extra benefit and meaning.

This whole thing is an experiment, and I expect it to evolve as I go. I am pretty sure I’ll get into writing heavier pieces based on the topics of censorship and human rights violations. But right now I’m working on some abstracts and the Fascinating Artists book. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing that even while I’m just playing with paint in my studio, that when and if someone buys whatever I’m making, a small token ripple will go out there in the world, a ripple for freedom.

- How has Idea Fountain been received by the artistic community in Toronto?

The Idea Fountain is brand new. I haven’t even had an official launch yet since I want the launch party to go with the Fascinating Writers book. But I’ve raised $700 dollars in a little art fundraiser for Article 19, an advocacy group. I’m really looking forward to everything ahead.

-        Any words of wisdom for our readers?

“It’s not selling out. It’s selling.”

Visit Lorette’s Behance portfolio where you can find her mixed media collages or on her website Idea Fountain and her blog The Girl Can Write. Her is a link to a touching poem Lorette has written titled “The Meaning of Zoe”.

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