Studio Visit Book Vol. 1

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Inside contemporary artist Laura Thompson’s surreal world of vintages collages

Laura Thompson is a contemporary artist hailing from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. In this interview, Laura talks about her life and how it has shaped her artwork. From her childhood in a posh neighborhood to discovering her special collage style, Laura’s stories offer a glimpse into her creative journey and the stories behind her “Little Worlds” series. Get ready for some inspiration and maybe even a few laughs as we explore the enchanting art of Laura Thompson.

Laura Thompson

Laura Thompson is an American mixed media and collage artist based in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her contemporary and surrealist works combine meticulously cut imagery from vintage magazines with abstract and representational painting to create dream-like and amusing compositions. Growing up in a wealthy suburb of Rochester, NY, she was exposed to levels of privilege and hypocrisy that she found objectionable. From early on, she honed her coping skills of humor and sarcasm. However, it wasn’t until after years of teaching art to middle schoolers that she began incorporating these themes into her own work. She left upstate NY in 1998 to attend James Madison University, where she earned her BFA in Graphic Design and MA in Art Education. She began showing her stained and fused glass art in 2004 but returned to drawing and painting after her daughter was born in 2008. She worked with graphite and watercolor, then leaned heavily into oil painting for several years, at which point her characteristic tone of humor emerged. After a pandemic-induced painting hiatus, she discovered her signature mixed media collage style, which debuted in January 2021. Since living in Virginia, Laura has participated in more than 20 exhibitions statewide, as well as showing work in Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. She has won several awards for her “Little Worlds” series, including First Place in 2D Mixed Media at the 2023 Fall Foliage Festival in Waynesboro, VA, and Second Place in 2D Media at Crossroads Art Center in Richmond, VA in March 2023. In addition, the Arts Council of the Valley awarded her the 2023 Public Art Forward Grant to complete a 1000 sqft mural in downtown Harrisonburg, VA.

1. Laura, your art comes from your life experiences. How did growing up on the fringe of a wealthy Rochester, NY suburb shape what you create now?

In addition to coping with the hypocrisy and snobbery with humour and sarcasm, I always felt like I was living in a sort of facade world and that there just HAD to be more important things in life than appearances, money, and golf. Upon being introduced to the Dada and surrealist movements in high school, I was immediately drawn to the impossibilities made visually possible and the rebellion against the idea of capital-A “Art” because I felt so liberated from the monotony of school and my peers. I want my viewer’s world to crack open or at least get a chuckle out of them.

“Laura Thompson” Goddess, 2024, 36x24in, mixed media collage

2. Going from stained glass to painting to your unique collage style is quite a journey. Can you tell us about some moments or things that inspired you along the way?

The move from glass to more 2-dimensional media was both a practical and an emotional choice. I had been through a very messy and painful divorce and custody battle, and I felt like my glass practice was so intertwined with my previous life that giving it up was like shedding a skin. I worked very abstractly most of the time with glass, and when I went back to drawing and painting, I made some huge technical strides in my representational subjects. I struggled to get acrylics to do what I envisioned in painting, so I took an oil painting class, which immediately clicked. I worked in oils for a few years but then switched careers and fell out of art for a while, and when I returned to it, I felt stifled by the thought of painting representationally again. The turning point for me, what set me on the trajectory I’m on now, was a show I entered in 2021 called the 6x6x30, where artists are challenged to create 30 artworks in 30 days, each 6in x6in. I wanted to revisit the lines and colors I had used so often in my glasswork years before but in a more expressive way. I created a design that flowed through all the panels using charcoal, acrylic, and graphite. It was enjoyable to make, but ultimately, the individual panels didn’t stand alone. I had cut out some magazine images to play around with in my sketchbook, so I pulled them out and laid them on top. It was a lightbulb moment, and I was really excited about it. I completed that work and ended up selling all the pieces. Unfortunately, I have only a few decent photos of 3-4 pieces and a poorly lit picture of the whole project. I learned after that never to let work leave the studio without proper photos or scans.

“Laura Thompson” Dogwood, 2024, 36x48in, mixed media collage”

3. Can you tell us how you go from picking out old pictures to arranging everything to make people laugh or feel slightly off?

As I’m flipping through my source magazines, certain images stand out as anchor pieces to me, so when I have a background painted, there are times when I already have at least one image in mind that starts the ball rolling. As I add, move, and remove the images, I take photos to see it more clearly (when you are laying out a collage, you can’t stand back 6 or 10 feet to see the big picture because you have to work horizontally). A composition isn’t complete until it has a punch line. It’s hard to explain, but I basically get a “eureka!” feeling when it’s right. It’s almost a feeling of relief, like when you lose your keys and finally find them.

“Laura Thompson” Invasive Species, 2024, 14x11in, mixed media collage (2)

4. Winning awards and grants must have felt awesome! Did they change how you approach your art or what you want to say about it?

Winning awards and grants validates, so I think the biggest change for me was my increased confidence in my work and skills. It has encouraged me to really lean into my style and level up. I continue to push myself out of my comfort zone, and it helps that I have an audience that cheers me on. As I have had more mural opportunities, my mixed-media collage work has also grown, with my largest piece being 3ft x 4ft.

“Laura Thompson” Invasive Species, 2024, 14x11in, mixed media collage

I use the “male gaze” a lot to express the experience of being a woman in a male-dominated world. I only include women in some works to emphasize admiration, empowerment, and collaboration. Recently, a woman at a show said she noticed the theme of “predators,” which I thought was interesting and does show up frequently (I love learning about my art from others’ perspectives!). I also create unlikely relationships between humans and the animal kingdom as commentaries on our impact on the planet.

6.  What’s the experience like when you’re working in your studio, and what stuff do you need around you to help you create your art and bring your funny little worlds to life?

It generally starts out very organized and devolves into chaos fairly quickly. I keep my images in categorized file folders, but as I pull things out to see if they fit, I end up with a proper shit-storm of a work table. I usually create multiple backgrounds on my painting days and then lay them all out so I can begin composing the collage scenes on my puzzling days. I almost exclusively listen to true crime podcasts as I work. I guess it feeds my dark humor.

“Laura Thompson” Delicate Balance, 2023, 24x36in, mixed media collage

Laura Thompson’s story is like a colorful painting, full of ups and downs but always filled with hope and laughter. This interview taught us how Laura’s life experiences shaped her art, making it unique and special. As she continues to create her “Little Worlds” and bring smiles to people’s faces, we’re reminded of the power of art to inspire and uplift us all. To learn more about Laura, click on the following links to visit her profile.

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