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This Month's Star : Lindsy Halleckson

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Following is the full interview we did with artist Lindsy Halleckson. Part of it ran in our monthly email, United Update, which is sent to subscribers around the 26th of each month. To join the mailing list, enter your email address in the field near the bottom of each page of our website.

We met artist Lindsy Halleckson years ago while visiting her studio during Art-A-Whirl. After interviewing her here, we learned that she's just as fascinating as her paintings! 

Hey, Lindsy! Tell us about you.
I grew up just south of the Twin Cities. As early as I can remember I always needed to be making things. I was constantly drawing, painting, writing, and illustrating stories. There was continuous music in my house growing up: My mom played piano, and I played a couple different kinds of musical instruments (or at least tried to). In junior high and high school I loved to take art and music classes. I was good at drawing, and I loved color theory. But, I also excelled at science and math.

Figure skating was a significant part of my teen years, so that was a major creative outlet for me as well. For several years I woke up early to drive into the Cities to fit in training hours before school. Then again after school I returned to the rink for more. On the weekends, we would run through our programs like a simulated competition, and we would have other off-ice training—including some lessons in philosophy to help us with the mental aspects of the sport. I first heard of Buddhism and meditation in these talks, and I continue to live by many of the themes I first learned about in those discussions. I value the challenge of simplicity, and I think about how choices we make in life don’t feel like sacrifices when we love what we do.

In looking for colleges during high school, I’d been offered a full-ride scholarship to a leading art school, but I didn’t consider it seriously since the school didn’t offer classes in science and math. I only applied to one school, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. My backup plan if I didn’t get accepted was to tour with Disney On Ice. My skating career was winding down, and I no longer had much of an interest in competition. I wanted to study music composition and write scores for movies in Hollywood. I didn't actually consider visual art seriously as a career until I went on a trip to New York for a couple weeks during my senior year in college. Spending time there made me realize that making a life as an artist is possible.

Sometime during college, I realized that art, math, and science are all ways that we learn about and connect with the world around us. Being an artist didn't mean I needed to abandon my interest in science or music, but could be a way for me to explore ideas and concepts. Learning through making, like a scientist learns from experiments. That realization seemed to be what most excited me about being an artist.

After college, I missed the intensity of skating, both the physical exercise and the social aspects of it. My skating friends had been like family to me, and I spent way more time with them than my actual family. Roller derby somehow found me, and I skated with the Minnesota RollerGirls for five years. At the same time, I was trying to figure out how to have a career as an artist while still being able to afford groceries and pay my rent. I made a lot of mistakes trying to figure this out during my 20s, but learned some valuable lessons about how to manage my money and my time in the process.

I currently live in Robbinsdale with my partner Denny, and I’ve had a studio in the Northrup King Building for almost 15 years. Yikes! Time flies. I enjoy hiking, camping, and gardening. And I love watching science fiction and reading.

When did you start painting, and how did you get started?
I first really remember painting in seventh grade. My art teachers in junior high and high school, Glen Weber and Pam Teorey, respectively, were most influential. Teorey was a painter herself, and she created opportunities for her students outside of the school day and the classroom. She arranged studio nights, where we could come to the school and use the studios and darkroom. Because of her, I entered paintings into the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and took Advanced Placement Studio Art. So, I was fortunate to have several opportunities early on to get more deeply involved in making art. My mom always encouraged me. She even let me paint on my bedroom walls. At St. Olaf, I majored in both Studio Art and Art History, and I’ve been painting ever since.

When did you start painting as your career?
I’d say that I’ve renewed—and reevaluated—my art practice a handful of times in the past 15 years. I’ve maintained a studio space and painting practice since college. But, most significantly, in 2014 I refined the way that I saw my career, took every opportunity I could find to learn from other artists, and made major changes in my life so I could spend more time in the studio and achieve goals I wanted for myself. I read several books, took online courses from Creative Capital, had career consultations with Springboard for the Arts, and went on a residency to spend time planning and setting goals. Two galleries, CIRCA Gallery in Minneapolis and Wally Workman Gallery in Austin, Texas, started representing my work in 2016, so I very much still feel like I’m in the beginning stages of this part of my career.

Can you describe the type of painting that you do?
I paint using brushes on canvas and linen with dozens of thin layers of acrylic paint. Each layer builds up more of a richness of color while still showing some of the breadth of color underneath. This technique of layering creates subtle, glowing gradients and expressive color fields. The process is meditative and physical for me. It feels very natural, almost like breathing. Even though the process isn't excessively difficult, it takes a lot of time and patience. Currently, I’m enjoying exploring a brighter color palette and larger size works. I hope to create room-sized installations of paintings and projections over the next couple years.

How has your style changed over the years?
After college, I created brightly colored paintings that were based on both color theory and dissonance in music. I scraped chunky, clashing colors of paint across surfaces of wood, Styrofoam, old towels, and other materials that I could find and recycle to create paintings. I called these works my Clash Series. As another part of this series, I painted hundreds of six-inch paintings on wood blocks that taught me a lot of what I know about color.

After those, I painted a series based on camouflage using acrylic and resin on wood panels. For me, the camouflage symbolized my struggle for survival in a time of financial uncertainty, cultural shift, and political transformation. Camouflage is about blending in, but it’s also about standing out. Camo hides shapes by generating hints of many other possible shapes. Instead of staying silent, camouflage is effective by being noisy: It hides signal with noise.

I kept abstracting shapes of the camouflage further and further, and I painted the patterns in larger sizes. They became quieter and more like maps or aerial photographs, taking on perhaps more of the personality of the land the patterns were designed after in the first place. Then, after a while those paintings simplified even further while I was on a residency in northern Minnesota, and I started to paint what felt like simple, quiet spaces. This is what my current painting styles evolved from.

What inspires you these days?
Weather, atmosphere, and the natural environment in general. Hiking and spending time outside is important to me, and I feel an intense need to help preserve and protect our planet. The arts play a powerful role in raising awareness about issues, and I’m interested in exploring how to better use my work as a method of environmental activism.

About two years ago, I started a project where I tried to explore as many state and county parks as I could in my free time throughout the year. At the start of the project, I thought the paintings I’d create as a result would reference the beautiful, sprawling landscape of Minnesota. But, what actually struck me the most about spending time outside continuously throughout the year was the weather. Now this seems obvious to me, but weather is perhaps the largest variable in preparing to spend long periods of time outdoors. Paintings I made after these hikes were filled with hints of clouds, rain, and bitter cold. Weather is the ultimate in small talk, but what was once an effortless topic now can be a point of polarization and anxiety. We chat about the weather as a safe subject, perhaps, but also because weather is important to us both physically and psychologically.

So, in addition to making paintings about the volatile weather, I’ve become mesmerized by the sky in general. I love watching the colors change at dawn and dusk. I wonder if these colors are affected by our changing climate: Do changes in the particulate matter and composition of the atmosphere change the colors we see when the sun is at an angle, like during sunset or sunrise? So, I create paintings that recall the colors in the sky, somewhat like a specimen of atmosphere at this time in history.

What makes your work different?
That’s something I think about often. Because of the internet and social media, most specifically Instagram, I can see that other people around the globe make work that might look similar to mine. It must be virtually impossible to create stylistically unique art. But, what makes my work different is the conversations that happen surrounding the work. Differentiation comes from what it means to me and what it means to you.

What's the best part about what you do?
My work takes me to incredible places and connects me with extraordinary people from across the planet. I’ll travel to the Arctic Circle this coming fall to sail around Svalbard, Norway, with a group of 30 other scientists and artists. On this expedition, I’ll learn more about the Earth’s atmosphere and its role in climate change, work with leading scientific researchers, and collaborate with composer and artist Mary Ellen Childs to create new, multi-sensory installations. Through my art, I get to explore ideas, work with brilliant people, and try to create some of what I see in my head in a way that makes some sort of impact. I can’t imagine anything better than that, and I feel incredibly fortunate. 

What's the most challenging?
I know most of us feel this way, but managing my time is always the biggest hurdle. I work a full-time day job so I have a regular paycheck and health benefits. For a long time, and still to this day, I think artists with “day jobs” have been looked at as somehow less successful than artists who work full-time at their craft. I think that’s silly. But, for me, trying to manage my time is a bit like a puzzle. Like my training schedule when I was skating, I get up early to work on art-related business before work. Then, during most lunch breaks, I try to get a little more done. After work and on the weekends I head to the studio whenever possible. Since my time is limited, I strive not to waste it. I try to be my own best advocate in order to not over-schedule and overextend myself, but that’s really challenging.

How can the readers of United Update help you with that challenge?
Beyond finding time to create and run my painting practice as a business, I think it’s critically important that artists and creatives spend time in the public. Whether that’s through simply making and showing our art, speaking engagements, advocacy days at the capitol, or just hanging out around town, we’re the ones who are helping to design and redesign this world. It’s up to all of us to create the world we want to live in. Our lives right now seem to be filled to the brim with stress and bad news. Either we can sit around and read terrible news headlines until our eyes glaze over, or we can get out there and make change happen. Now, perhaps more than ever, we live in a world that needs artists, creativity, and imagination in tandem with environmental and social activism. Let’s do this, together. 

What are your plans/goals for the next couple of years?
I, like anyone running a business, have some financial and strategic goals. But I think the goal I’m most excited about is trying to create a residency program for artists and change-makers to go to space. I saw a documentary on the impact seeing the Earth from orbit has on astronauts. They called it the “Overview Effect,” where it becomes obvious how fragile the Earth and its ecological systems are. I don’t expect this endeavor to take any less than 20 years, if it’s even possible, so my goal for the next couple years is to figure out how to give viewers the experience of seeing the planet from afar without actually going to space. I plan to keep building a network of collaborations with artists, scientists, and community leaders across the globe, and I’ll continue to grow relationships with the EPA, National Science Foundation—specifically through NSF’s Antarctic Artists & Writers ProgramNational Park Service Artist-in-Residence programs, NOAA, and NASA.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The first thing I remember talking about with my mom is about being a server in a restaurant. I was 6 years old or so, and we didn’t go out to eat except on very special occasions. I saw how servers could brighten a person’s day, and I thought that was really special. I asked my mom how long servers need to go to school, and she said something like, “It’s called ‘on-the-job training.’” I could tell she was trying to dissuade me from that career choice. But, I saw how they could make a profound difference in customers’ days. I wanted to be able to have a positive impact on people’s lives, or at least brighten their day.

What are five things that you think people would be surprised to learn about you.
1. One of my favorite things is to explore new places either solo (I’m a total introvert) or with my partner, Denny.
2. I like vanilla ice cream better than chocolate.
3. I’ve watched every episode of Star Trek except for the newest series.
4. In 1998, I was Miss Congeniality in the Miss Lakeville pageant.
5. I experienced the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan drama in 1994 and was in the same rink when Nancy got whacked on the knee. I haven’t seen the movie about it yet, but I’m really looking forward to it!

We're shoe-a-holics. What is a favorite pair you’ve owned?
If you would’ve asked me this question 10 years ago, I would’ve said something about my fuschia pumps. Now, though, my favorite shoes are a pair of LUNA Sandals I bought for a trip to Botswana and Namibia. My 21-year-old self would have cringed that I now love a pair of sandals this much, but those shoes have seen some incredible sights. 

Ask/Offer: What can we do for you? How can you help us?
I’m starting a blog! If you’re an artist or maker that works with environmental issues or advocacy, I’d love to talk with you about your work. Email or message me. And, of course, I would love for you to follow me on Instagram.

Find Lindsy and her work here:
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

(Photo of Lindsy by Stephanie Hynes)


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