But the idea of transformation has always been something that I romanticize in a work. I’m cautious of it but I also need it to connect my thoughts with the process of making. That’s really important.
Discover MFA Programs in Art and Writing
New York Academy of Art, New York City
November 9, 2005
The following is a transcript of the conversation.
Patricia Spears Jones Can you talk a little bit about how you came to be a sculptor as opposed to painting or watercolors or photography or anything else?
Lorenzo Pace From Chicago, I was one day sitting on the beach. And talking …
PSJ There’s a beach in Chicago?
LP Yes. (laughter) We call it the lakefront. I was with some friends of mine. One guy was carving “The Last Supper.” I asked him what he was doing, and he told me he was making this piece. I really admired the way he was really into this piece. So I went home, and I went to a friend of mine’s house. He had a piece of wood on the fireplace, and he had some tools, carving tools. So I began to carve. It was a spontaneous kind of process. I just started, and started exhibiting the pieces on the streets of Chicago.
PSJ How old were you?
LP Oh …
PSJ It couldn’t have been that long ago.
LP (laughter) My early twenties, like 21, 22, something like that.
PSJ One thing that we do share is that we both grew up in Church of God in Christ households—
PSJ So yours was much more intense than mine. Did some of the religiosity—because he was carving “The Last Supper,” things like that—you think that has something to do with …
LP Very much so. My father’s a minister, bishop in the church. Throughout my work, you will see religion icons in there. In the installation that I did with the student museum, it says “Jesus Saves” on there—a part of my mummification series. I can’t seem to get away from it. I’m accustomed to seeing people shouting and clapping and tambourines and drums. So it comes through the works. It just comes through the work.
PSJ For people who don’t know what the Church of God in Christ is, it’s a Pentecostal Church as opposed to fundamental, which means that it’s really about the charisma, the charismatic nature of religion. If you grew up in that church, you don’t—no matter what happens to you— you do not forget it. There’s just no way. It’s incredibly ritualized. I can see that coming through. So you talked about the mummification. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to that?
LP I basically grew up in Chicago. I’m from Alabama originally, Birmingham. So one day I went to the Museum of Science and Industry, which is a very large institution. They housed the Tutankhamen exhibition. I was totally blown away by this exhibit. After coming back from the exhibit, I came up with the idea of mummification. That when I really began to get into performance. My first performance piece was at the Art Institute of Chicago, where I wrapped up the President of the Art Institute as well as the NBC news anchor person …
LP … As well as the Director of the Institute.
PSJ You must have been young.
LP (laughter) So I got into this whole process of wrapping. So I guess the next ten years I just used the whole wrapping process and mummified. I even mummified myself.
PSJ Now wait a minute, how did you do that?
LP (laughter) It’s a whole two hour performance piece where I wrapped up … . now I became a kind of, like a spirit of Tutankhamen. I took on the role of the Tutankhamen. So the performance piece led into the actual installation and wrapping.
PSJ So since I know that you are an art educator and you’ve been very much involved in the study of African cultural systems and such, was looking at Egypt the beginning of that?
LP Yeah, actually it started when I began looking at African art. I began to study Africa—well I actually began to look at the painters, Picasso, who was influenced by icons of African sculpture. But then I began to get into the whole Egyptology in terms of the whole ritualized process they used. So it kind of coincided with my church experience. So it was kind of like a dual process for me. I began to get into this whole performance aspect that really, I thought, was indicative of my upbringing.
PSJ Did you have a sort of posse that you worked with? Did you have a bunch of friends, colleagues, peers, at that point that were also artists and stuff?
LP Yeah, I mean …
PSJ Can you tell us a little about that? Because when I was looking around for information about you, there’s sort of the broad outlines of your biography, but not many details.
LP In 1982, I moved to New York with a very beautiful colleague of mine Noah Jemison, who’s sitting in the audience, who was also very involved in the New York scene at the time dealing with performance pieces as well as installation. David Hammons, also Tyrone Mitchell, Charles Searles, were all the artists—we hung out. We just had great times where I’d collaborate with Noah Jemison at the Studio Museum in Harlem back when the Studio Museum first opened the new space. So these were some of the colleagues that I had to look at and was inspired by really when I moved here to New York.
PSJ Did you feel like when you guys were all working together that you guys were getting a sort of support from the community or the critical support that you needed to do these things? Or were you doing a lot of other things to make that happen?
LP Well, sorry to say, for the process for African American artists in New York there has not been really a supportive environment. More or less you’re kind of out there in the woods struggling by yourself kind of thing. I know Al Loving and Benny Andrews were out there trying to make a difference for inclusion and diversity in the arts; [it] has not been a really diverse kind of process here in the city. So basically the artist has to kind of going about this struggling alone, trying to do the work but very little acknowledgment. So I think that’s the part of the struggle as an artist anyway.
LP But you keep doing your work, and you do the work because that’s what you want to do. This is in your heart. This is in your being. Sure, you write poetry; it’s not for getting some kind of acknowledgment.
PSJ Oh I would love acknowledgment. I really would. And money too.
LP I mean it would be nice to get some bread before you leave, but that is not the essence of why you do the work. You do the work because you love it. It’s something that’s in your soul, in your being. I think that’s the struggle of an artist not only in New York but throughout the world. It’s the fact that you sometimes have to work out there in the wilderness; and hopefully at some point before you leave the planet, they say, Oh wow you’ve been doing some good work!
PSJ And they do.
LP But nine times out of ten it happens when you leave the planet.
PSJ I just saw some bits and pieces of your installation in your studio. In fact he has this incredible—I mean I felt like I was having déjà vu all over again—he has a studio in Williamsburg, but it reminded me of when I first came to New York and people had actual lofts in Soho—remember back in those days? And you had to actually get people to throw down the keys so they could get you into the building? (laughter) And it was kind of like that; and I was like, Oh they still have those kind of things in New York? So one of the pieces that I really like was part of an installation that looks almost like a gateway or a portal into some other space. I don’t think that’s what it’s meant to be, but that’s what it looked like to me. With the two sort of slender …
LP Oh, right, right, right. That’s an installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. It’s based on the mummification where you had two wooden structures. Part of it is wrapped with sand …
PSJ What is that called?
LP Mummification Series III.
PSJ Oh you’re one of those. Like I have one word, and then I use it over and over again.
LP It’s a series. I mean I worked on mummification for at least ten years just doing mummification wrapping and wrapping and wrapping.
PSJ So what happens to these installations once their gone?
LP They’re decommissioned. Hopefully somebody come along and buy one, which is very rare for installation art.
PSJ That’s true.
LP Who wants to buy an installation piece?
PSJ There’s some people who do. But since you’ve done all these installation and you’ve done all this performance, what got you thinking that you could do this monumental sculpture that is now in downtown New York? To me, that seems like the biggest leap.
LP Well it kind of happened serendipitously by chance. Of course you know the African burial ground was discovered in 1991 in Lower Manhattan. Over 20,000 African and African American slaves were buried there. It’s a major discovery for the city of New York, because I didn’t even know they had slaves here in New York City. I can assure you.
LP No, I didn’t. I was shocked. I’ve come to find out that New York City was the second largest slave port in the country outside of Virginia. I had just come back from Birmingham, Alabama to bury my father in ’91. I came back to read the New York Times, and it had this front page article on the burial grounds. So I immediately—I had just got back from Birmingham, burying my father—and my uncle who’s 95 years old now, we were all sitting around the dinner table after we buried my father, and he came brought this lock to the family table. He said, This lock is the lock that enslaved my great-grandfather Steve Pace in Creek Stand, Alabama. So everybody at the dinner table just dropped their mouths, stopped eating, and just began to focus. The family decided I would be the keeper of the lock. I have the lock. I brought the lock back to my studio in Brooklyn. When I got back and was reading the article in the New York Times. I immediately went down to the site and began to take pictures. I jumped over the fence against the law. I felt compelled to take photographs of this site. I didn’t even know there was going to be a memorial or a monument or anything to acknowledge these. So the Precinct for Art called artists to submit proposals for a monument. So I threw my hat in the ring; 300-400 artists applied. They narrowed it down to five, and I got the call. It was just sort of happenstance that I had received the lock that enslaved my great-grandfather. So I made a replica of the lock and buried it as a part of the monument, which connects my family with the slave operation family here in New York. As a sculptor it just fit right into the whole essence of my work. It wasn’t something that I had planned or I had foreseen. It was just one of those thing that would happen. I mean I just happened to get the lock; I just so happened to throw my slides into the ring. Boom. That’s the way it happened.
That’s how the book came about. My daughter—she’s 15 now—she asked me on day—she was about seven or eight—she said, Daddy, are we from slaves? It just shook the foundation of my being and I said, Yeah, yeah we are. So I had to figure out: How can I explain our legacy to my daughter. So that’s when I wrote the children’s book called Jalani and the Lock. Jalani is named after my son Jalani. It talks about a little boy taken from Africa, brought to the United States put in locks and chains and eventually got his freedom in the old Abraham Lincoln story.
PSJ The visual for the Abraham Lincoln [story] is pretty funny actually.
LP The guy with the big hat—
PSJ —big hat comes and tells you, You are free!
LP So it’s the African American story. Slavery is a very difficult topic for us to talk about; even for African Americans it’s a very sore point. We have this shame thing happening; and then we have this guilt thing happening on the European side. It’s like a sore. So when you touch it, it begins to bleed. But I think that we have to talk about it. We have to try to … I know they have a major exhibition at the New York Historical Society on the African burial ground—the first and only exhibition in New York devoted to African American slavery here—that you should go see. I recommend everybody in the room, go see the show at the New York Historical Society. Next year they’re going to have a contemporary wing of contemporary artists showing about the whole issue of slavery in New York.
I’m saying all these things just kind of happened. There wasn’t any plan or any systematic process. The book just kind of happened. My daughter, she kind of dropped this question on me, which kind of blew me. I mean, how could I explain this to an eight-year old?
PSJ But isn’t that … one of the things that all of us, as artists, do is try to pose a question or answer one. So it seems to me that what happened in these particular works, the publication and this large monument, they both try to answer a very important question about enslavement and what happens afterwards.
I knew that there were slaves in New York. Because like a lot of writers I’m incredibly interested in history, and because of the Sojourner Truth story. Sojourner Truth was a slave before she was free, before she became a great orator and speaker of women’s rights and stuff. She was a slave in New York state. That’s something that people forget, because they’re a lot of forgetting in this country. The kind of work that you’re talking about in a lot of ways talks about memory, but it’s sort of more than memory.
LP Yes. It’s a memory that we don’t want to deal with. Even in my own family, we never talked about it. It’s a taboo subject; you don’t bring that up.
PSJ At the same time, your family knows a lot more than mine does. I could talk to my mother and say, Some of our people came from South Carolina, and they came up through Mississippi, and they came up through Georgia and then to Mississippi. Along the way, because of illiteracy—there’s a whole bunch of my family in Mississippi, I probably never will know because the people who kept in touch didn’t know how to read and write. So somebody had to read and write for them. When somebody died, there went all that information. It was gone. One of the ironies of The Roots things is it just reminded me of the idea of who’s privileged with information and who’s not. Even within the African American community, if you are a poor person, you don’t necessarily get to have all that information. If you’re a little—not poor, but if you’re not an educated person—I mean the whole idea or issue of education is extremely important. I mean, I know that we’re talking a lot about your art and stuff. It seems to me that another piece of you as an artist has to do with an education. Can you talk a little bit that?
LP Yes. I struggle with my friends a lot. I think art is about education. I think you really have to educate as you go. I guess because I’ve been teaching for so many years I think it’s a critical part of broadening our minds, broadening our being, because I think art does that. Art opens you up to other ideas. I think it opens you up to other cultures, to other venues that you would not normally be a part of. I think art is the essence of life and culture and being, as a community. I guess that’s why I’ve just been in education for so long. Hopefully one of my students will eventually buy my work and support the arts—
LP —which will just be a part of the whole process of opening up. The educators and the arts is the vital role in any culture. If you back and look at any society, the Egyptian society, go back to the Renaissance, to any major society, African societies; art is the essence of the people. They tell the story of the people. They tell the story of our times. You see what the artists are doing today. They’re the ones who put their finger on their pulse of what’s happening. If we don’t support the arts, then we are considered a dead society. You have to start with the students. I have my daughter. I have to start with her, with educating her about the arts. So when the arts were taken out of the schools here in New York, I just felt that was a real blow to the supports for the arts.
PSJ I know, when I first came to New York, one of the first people I met—he just recently passed— was Sidney Geist. I lived for about a month in Bill Glass’s rehearsal loft, on the second floor, on Bleeker Street. I was young; I could walk up and down them stairs. Mr. Geiss had a studio there. One of the ways he and many other people supported themselves was as New York City schoolteachers at one point or another. A lot of people did that. Not only was it incredibly wonderful for the students, but obviously it kept a whole body of artists alive and with some kind of means to have homes and families. It’s been a huge struggle ever since for that level of support to come around again. The other thing about education—and I guess I was going back to something else—is that within, say the Black community, there’s a lot about education, and there’s a lot about art’s education, in the work of the people you were mentioning. Nora Jameson, David Hammons … I was thinking of the people who used to hang out just above Midtown Gallery, and Linda Goode Bryant. I was just like a hanger-on. The level of sophistication and what I don’t see happening as much as I would love is a real pleasure in that level of sophistication. There’s a lot of stuff going on that’s very smart right now, but I’m not too sure if it’s all that sophisticated. It may be my own take on thing. I’m not sure if you agree or disagree with me.
LP Well I think the art is always is indicative of this time. You regurgitate what your living.
PSJ Yeah that’s true. These are not sophisticated times.
LP (laughter) Well you got the war going on. You got all these terrorism things going on around the world.
PSJ We have an idiot President.
LP You have 50 Cent saying, “Get rich or die!”
PSJ And he can’t act! Act or die!
LP You got to deal with your times whether you like it or not. But I think for education, it’s very important for institutions to see the artist live. The majority of the time when I was a student back in Chicago, we mostly talked about dead artists. You need to interact and question live artists. I mean that’s the whole point of the arts. Why are you alive? To be able to interact with students as well people that aren’t necessarily in the arts. To see what an artists is like, to see their studios, to question their heads, Why are you spending so much time doing this? I think that the education process only can nurture that. I think it will give the art, the students, support—a “hey if you can do it, I can do it” kind of thing.
PSJ Given that you just brought that up; maybe we should open up this soiree to a little bit of … to all these—look at all these people out there! I know they must … That gentleman in the back.
Audience Member (question inaudible)
PSJ He just asked him if he used his found objects and if they are transformed once he uses them into something else in the installations.
LP That’s the essence of my work, found objects. Most of my work, most of my material is eclectic material. I’m all over the place in material. I mean I just love material, and if I see objects that I like that’s in the natural state, I utilize it directly into the installations. For instance a church bench that I literally had taken out of a church in Harlem and just put it directly into the installation.
PSJ Now wait a minute, how did you get that bench?
LP Oh, you always got ways.
PSJ Well I had one other question, the other one [of your pieces] I liked a lot was the quilt on one side and the other was a big piece of cloth. I’m not sure if that was a quilt …
LP Yes, that piece was in the permanent collection for the New Jersey Arts Museum in Trenton. One those two pieces are my mother’s quilts; my mother is a quilt maker. I put directly those two pieces of quilts because I love their pattern. I don’t know if people know about quilt processing. My mother was a prolific quilt maker. So you see my work and directly in the center are my mother’s quilts. Only two wings of it. [It’s] called, Mary Alice Pegas and the Senegalese Dance because I’ve traveled through Senegal many times; so I incorporate her quilts with the dance of Senegal in West Africa. I used to take my students from Montrose State University to Senegal every year for five years. We lived directly on the beach, in thatch huts, no electricity, no running water. We had to bathe in the ocean.
Audience Member Why Senegal?
LP Why Senegal?
PSJ Did you speak French?
LP No. Can’t speak a lick of French and can’t speak Wolof. But I have very good friends, from 20 years, in Senegal. Because I love to travel. I used to travel all over the world every chance I get. Senegal is a very vibrant city for the arts—
PSJ Which? Dakar? Is this Dakar?
LP Dakar, yes. You see it in the dress. You see it in the food. You see it in the plastic arts. You see it everywhere. I just had to go. I fell in love with it, because when I go there I feel like, Hey, wow art is everywhere. The same thing in Brazil, in Bahia and Sao Paolo. It’s the same thing. The arts: it’s really in the people, and that’s where the essence of the arts is. It’s in the people.
Audience Member Sorry to steer back to such a serious question, but earlier on you talked about religion as such a part of your core, charismatic religion. What slides would show is a performance. I think it’s a show performance of “Jesus Saves.” It’s a very disturbing image of people–or I guess you’d call them “Mummification Unwrapped.” Could you talk a little bit about why the mummification or what it stands for, your feelings about religion and how it manifests itself in your work?
LP Well, the mummification process is about remembering; it’s about wrapping. You see the choir robes; you see their faces are wrapped as a mummy. It’s a personal piece for me. Remembering my father, me growing up in the church, and seeing the ritual of dance every Sunday, sometimes three times a week, because I had to go to church. It was an obligation. So the mummification to me bridges those two: the historical with Egypt as well as contemporary, where I come from. That’s the way I incorporated that piece; and as you see it says “Jesus Saves” at the top. We have an icon in my house; my father always had that picture of Jesus that said “Jesus Saves.”
PSJ Another thing to think about in terms of the church is the way the church is set up, which I don’t know is the same in Birmingham. There was a sister side. There was a brother side. In the middle was where the choir was, the minister, and the band. We’re talking Pentecostal here folks. There’s a real sense of symmetry. There’s all this symmetry going on. So it seems to me that in that wrapping things up there’s sense of—I know it’s charismatic, but it’s also intensely reserved. This level of interior is going on as well.
Any other questions?
Audience Member Going back to today, the artist of today and the young kids try to get away from what was happening in the ’60s. What do you think we’ve got to do to bring some of that back?
LP Well, I think art is continually an organic process. I’ve been over in Williamsburg for about twenty something years now. I’ve seen the organic process move in terms of the community. Back in the ’80s the whole graffiti thing was a major aspect of the arts. So now it’s a whole other thing. So in terms of how to bring that back, I would say that artist has to be free. I think the artist has to make those personal decisions as to how and what you’re going to contribute to that process. I think you have to allow it to keep evolving. You go back and look at the Renaissance and you see where that comes from. You look at African art. It’s an evolving process. Whether you like it or not, art has to be free. I don’t know exactly how you could put a curve on that.
PSJ I’m not sure I understood your question.
Audience Member Basically artists have lost a soul, they’re basically chasing after a status symbol. It’s not about the state of your mind.
PSJ So you’re talking about the commercial aspect of art as opposed to the … . But that’s always been there, and I think that there’s always been art that’s in the marketplace that can be manipulated for whatever commercial aspects that can be made to happen. I think artists themselves have to make a choice about how they want to have their art presented or used. You can either sell it in as many ways as you possibly can. Everybody needs to eat and have shelter. But you can also sort of make sure that it has something to do with you as opposed to who it’s being sold to.
LP Okay beautiful, and I think that’s completely correct. But I think we have moved toward a major commercialism because of our society.
PSJ Oh, yeah. It’s the age of Reagan.
LP The whole money thing has gotten … When I go back, I was talking to a friend of mine last night who’s a painter. I was telling him about how we were discussing about how you have to do it because you really want to do it. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the commercial success. It’s not about me, me, me. Let me get my name out there and all that. It’s not about that. The essence of it is about what you’re giving back to society, hopefully to enrich society with what you’re saying as an artist. This goes back to the whole education and teaching process. I think each artist has kind of a responsibility to give back. You can give back the essence of your being. If it’s about money, well that’s cool. You go with that. Of course, artists want to be acknowledged in the time which they’re living. All the arts want to be acknowledged for what they give back to society, but to me, I think the essence, the crux of the thing, is that you got to be real with what you’re giving back to society. The commercial thing is a whole other ball game within itself. If you want to play into that and be a super-millionaire in the arts, that’s okay. I think that you have to live with yourself as an artist. That’s the first thing. Like myself, I’ve been struggling around in New York for all these years, very little work has sold, but that’s not the issue for me. That’s why I teach. That’s why I had to go teach to support my own art. If I don’t get support from the outer community, I support myself. I support the arts. That’s when it really gets down the essence of if this is what you really want to do. You go out and get a 9-5 until hopefully one day before you leave the planet, it can support you. Hopefully, before you leave. But 9 times out of 10 … hopefully it will support you. But that’s not the issue. The issue is what are you giving back to society. What are you doing to nurture and help society. That’s my take on it.
PSJ Alright, hold on. Two questions.
Audience Member What kind of things did you put into your work that are important to you?
LP Well right down the street is the African burial ground, which is a monument very important to me. Let’s talk about my history, but also the history of the country. I try to incorporate in my work something that, hopefully, my family, my father, my mother who both have gone, will look back and say, Hey, my son, good job! That’s what I see comes through me, is to try to represent. Hopefully my mother and my father will be proud of what I’ve given back.
PSJ But what I see in your work is a real sense of the body—literally the body wrapped, the body unwrapped, the body dancing, there’s a lot of just a sheer physicality of the body; but it’s not in the usual body shape.
LP That’s true, and I love the body. Especially women’s bodies.
PSJ Uh-huh. I got that.
LP All jokes aside.
PSJ Well, Noah was next.
Noah Jemison (artist, friend of Lorenza Pace) This is addressed to both of you. How would you respond to the transition religion’s gone through both politically and the economic aspect? What is your reaction?
LP Oh that’s a ball of wax. (laughter)
PSJ Well I’m not a theologian. I’m not an economist. I’m not a lot of things. I think the only thing that’s new about it is there’s more media representations about these things. I think I got an email one from Tawana Davis saying this has been the third reformation. There’s been every few decades or so some kind of crazed political sort of big way of either Protestant churches were changing or something else. The Republican South it’s the same people; they used to be Democrats forty years ago. It’s the same people. I think the only big real difference is Roman Catholicism as a major sort of political caste in this country. It wasn’t a hundred years ago. This is a country sort of built on Protestant religious ideals and ideas and action, combining with a whole lot of capitalists and some wonderful enlightened people and a whole bunch of slave owners. They all kind of came together. They were all religious!
LP You’re right!
PSJ Everybody’s playing to the media. What really gets me is not so much the economics of religion, but the economics of celebrity-hood. It feels to me that this is all about celebrity. “I am more whatever than thou, but I’m also a movie star or a President.” There’s some kind of connection between star power, real spirituality and faux spirituality.
LP I just think that religion today has been so politicized that it has just lost the essence of the meaning. This whole “holier than thou” spirit has just given people a bad name, especially with what is going on with the war in Iraq, against the two major religions—Christianity and Islam. I think we’re in a very difficult struggle right now, politicizing the whole religious aspect.
But let’s talk about the arts.
PSJ Well, it doesn’t work that way. Yes, sir?
Audience Member Do you feel that Picasso has exploited African art in his images of the ’60s and ’70s?
LP I think art is borrowed from artists all the time. I don’t think there’s anything new, because they would capitalize on it. But art is borrowed from icons. It’s been going on for years, generations. I borrowed things from [Picasso]. I think that’s the nature of the arts. Everybody’s trying to get their own thing out there; everybody’s got to feel the vibe. I think the whole Picasso thing was he saw the beauty of African art and really said, Wow this is the new thing. And he just took off on it.
PSJ Since you have traveled a great deal, and I saw all these wonderful things in your fabulous loft. What in the last year or so have you seen that you feel like may wind up somewhere along the way in something new? See I didn’t ask you if you were going to be a tree or anything like that.
LP The reason I travel is because I love nature and I love to be in nature. I love different ethnic groups, ethnic foods, ethnic cultures. So what you see in my work is the amalgamation of all of that—the food the dance, the music. I play music as well. I’m talking about my performance pieces.
PSJ Well we started at the beginning, and you kind of veered off. But you can talk about it now. Go ahead.
LP Alright, alright, so all this you see in my work. Music is a very important part of it. I’ve been performing this book throughout the country over the past three years. They did a major one-hour production of Jalani in Dutch, because the Dutch have a major history in slavery. They just acknowledged [it]; they had a big monument built in Holland. So they took the book, put it in three theatres in Holland. Then they took the book, put in Suriname in South America. I was there in November of last year. I had a chance to play my flute—I play flute. I bring the drum; play the drum. I bring the flute; play the shake-away music. I bring the story alive, because theres’s a participatory aspect. The kids or adults, they become part of the story. It’s an American story, because that’s where my religious aspect of call-and-response comes in from my church. So I read the story with the drum, played the music, have the audience read the story with me, so it becomes a multimedia. They project the images on the screen. So it becomes a 3-dimensional kind of piece, live. We have to do bring our stories alive, they’re not something that’s way back there. They’re right here, something we can touch and feel. But let’s go back to the audience.
Audience Member I’m just curious in your childhood, where are the stories happening? Was it your father preaching them in your church; were they happening around the dining room table? What was it that drew you to them? Who was the one who told you those stories?
LP Mostly in Sunday school. We got told a lot of stories. My father was not a storyteller; he was on the pulpit telling the story. That’s where I got my storytelling. I didn’t know that I could write in terms of a book so that just came out of that whole process—
Audience Member Was it from the Bible? Were the stories from the Bible?
LP Yes, Biblical stories.
PSJ And who were the people telling the stories?
LP My mom, my sister, my dad. I’m from a family of 13. My mother had 13 children. So we had a very large football team.
A lot of great-grands, grandmas and grandpas.
PSJ Your trajectory is very classic from Birmingham to Chicago. You show promise. Somebody says, Go to the school at the Art Institute of Chicago. You go and you thrive, thrive, thrive. You come here. You find people. I think you’ve had really good teachers. So I wanted to know what teachers you had, besides your family and besides your peers.
LP There was one professor at the Art Institute, Jim Zanzi. He’s a sculptor. My first day in class Jim comes in and introduces himself, gave a little spiel about the school and what he expected students to do. He walks out and never shows back up again.
LP He says, You want to be a student? You want to learn? Here’s all the material. Here’s everything you need. Get in there and make some art.
LP That was the most major impression that I’ve ever had as a student.
But the idea of transformation has always been something that I romanticize in a work. I’m cautious of it but I also need it to connect my thoughts with the process of making. That’s really important.