The visual artist’s paintings and sketches are on display through August 25 at Black Locust Cafe.
Often the bond between an artist and their art can be nebulous, but in the bright and dreamy sketches and paintings mixed-media artist Lana Scholtz is showing through August 25 at the Black Locust Café in the Robinia Courtyard complex on East Wash, the personal connection is clear.
This is not just because of the works’ vibrant colors and fairytale-like qualities, but rather that the bulk of Scholtz’s art is mined from their own memories, some stretching as far back as a childhood that began in South Africa (where Scholtz and their family lived until Scholtz was 9) —a period that shows up in coloring book-style illustrations in the show—shifted to Massachusetts, and settled in Wisconsin when Scholtz was 14.
Other parts of their work channel more recent memories, like desert psychedelic trip hijinks and a concert in Chicago, and others yet take a more outward view—like Scholtz’s paintings of real-life Tinder profiles they’ve encountered, as well as their more recent reflections on the tumult of the present. Scholtz’s colorful style turns their memories into something like myths, both deeply personal and abstractly universal.
The week after the exhibit debuted on June 13, Tone Madison was able to chat with Scholtz about the origin of their style, the impulse and therapeutic purposes of adapting one’s personal experience to one’s art, and the value of memory.
Tone Madison: One of the major themes in your work seems to be memories, how memories are formed, and how memories are not just recorded segments of reality. How do you think all of those shifting settings growing up influenced your work?
Lana Scholtz: A huge body of work of mine, like the black-and-white drawings, really dove into my childhood in South Africa. Those more so reflect childhood themes. But growing up in a lot of different settings left me with a lot of unprocessed emotions and memories. Definitely, the source for all my art is processing different times of my life.
Tone Madison: Do you think of your art as being therapeutic in a way?
Lana Scholtz: Very much. It’s directly my art therapy.
Tone Madison: What is it like, then, to share that art therapy in an exhibit setting like this one?
Lana Scholtz: It’s cool! It’s very cool to just share very intimate details of my life. I don’t know how other people perceive it, but a reason why I work with certain memories and certain images is that there are very mysterious emotions and memories to me that I can’t quite put into words. So, I think sometimes it’s very difficult for people to understand, but I guess that’s kind of the cool part.
Tone Madison: Kind of like how the meaning of these pieces is very obvious to you, but to me, it might be hard to glean.
Lana Scholtz: I always try and be very literal with my depictions of memories, and I guess it’s a space for me to make those very loose associations that are very hard to vocalize.
Tone Madison: Your style, though, makes it so a casual observer might have trouble seeing that literal meaning or that it’s even depicting reality to begin with.
Lana Scholtz: I guess I never think about that! For me, it’s very literal, but it’s also just my love of loud colors.
Tone Madison: There’s a Studio Ghibli movie called Only Yesterday that has two concurrent storylines that are both about the same woman—one told in the past and one told in the present. The scenes in the present are very vividly animated, but the scenes from the past are drawn with much more faded colors. Do the black and whites from childhood, like “Present,” and paintings like “The Sixfold Path: After School Special,” follow a similar model, where more vivid colors indicate recency?
Lana Scholtz: For the black-and-white drawings, those are a part of a coloring book. So, it’s kind of like I drew all these memories in black-and-white, and then in the coloring book, you can draw them however you like. It’s to symbolize that I have these memories of things that definitely happened, but the way I reflect on them will always change depending on my state of mind, and also accuracy and nostalgia.
Tone Madison: Could you tell me more about the urge to make a coloring book?
Lana Scholtz: This whole book is all about childhood memories. I associate childhood with coloring books, and I wanted to take on an illustrative style. It’s also kind of how I make most of my pieces. I create a coloring book for myself like I make a whole drawing and then I go and color it in.
My biggest and earliest inspiration was definitely cartoons and animated movies and stickers and toys, so I’d say a lot of my work has a child-like quality to it in the very graphic use of color.
Tone Madison: How does your approach shift then when you do drawings that depict adolescence or adulthood, like your series of Tinder profile drawings?
Lana Scholtz: I feel like no matter how old or mature you get, you’re always going to have some sort of naivete about you. In terms of the Tinder ones, the intention wasn’t for it to be a spoof or to make fun of the profiles. It just felt like a very candid recreation of the profiles.
Tone Madison: So they’re actually profiles?
Lana Scholtz: Yeah, they are actual profiles! I really want them to contact me! I want them to find them and be like, “that’s me!”
Tone Madison: Why do you think people might register it as satire and not realism?
Lana Scholtz: That’s an interesting question. I never thought that people might perceive it as satire. I can definitely see how people would see them as satire. I kind of just wanted to make them an anthropological study. They are the profiles I thought would fit archetypes, so that could be considered satirical. I have a little zine of them, so you can play analog Tinder.
Tone Madison: I see that in the zine, you included yourself. Why?
Lana Scholtz: Because I think it would be unfair to just say I was on Tinder, and I drew these people. I had to be on Tinder too to see them. I’m just really fascinated with Tinder too, in general. It’s this very public platform for seeking very intimate things.
It’s also my first exploration of the social media sphere, and Tinder is definitely one of my favorite ones because it’s kind of a game. You get to collect people!
Tone Madison: Another kind of motif I noticed was present in your work is that you don’t take the space in your frames for granted. A lot of your pieces have something filling the negative space between the piece and the frame itself. Why is that?
Lana Scholtz: The previous times I displayed works on paper, I would have all of them just up against the wall, but I figured it would probably be appropriate and safer for the work to have them in frames.
But I also definitely gravitate toward things that are maximalist and very busy. I recently got back into marbling, which I learned back when I was 12. It’s the technique I use for the frames in the two coloring book photos. In terms of the ones with musical notes and old classroom notes, my piece just didn’t fit wholly into the frame. I usually keep a lot of collage materials on hand, and I did try to connect them thematically. Like the musical notes, one is about my time at a music festival.
Tone Madison: What is your criteria in general for determining which memories of yours you turn into pieces?
Lana Scholtz: It depends on the series I’m working on. The theme around all the childhood coloring book pieces was definitely memories that I would always tell as little anecdotes to people to relay these novel experiences I’ve had.
With other pieces though, I transitioned from childhood to young adulthood. These are more teenager/young adult memories. The “Sixfold Path” paintings are more memories of rituals you would do in order to break the monotony of everyday life—the exciting things you would do to break out.
Tone Madison: Break out of what?
Lana Scholtz: Both of them depict having these out-of-body experiences with themes of rebellion. When I was making them I was thinking a lot about growing up in rural Wisconsin, and there were these rituals of things like getting together with a group of friends and deliberately going to a new setting, whether it be a big city or out in the woods getting inebriated with your friends just to get out of your normal life.
Tone Madison: I’m interested in your use of the word “ritual.” Why are they like rituals to you?
Lana Scholtz: The way I see a ritual is that they’re sacred and precious. Even though it’s not a very cool thing to go in a canoe, it feels…I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I feel, but I’ve been really into the private rituals or rituals you have with your group of friends that you do that are habitual in a way.
The first one I made is about me and a friend going out to Chicago to see a show, so there’s this whole routine of you go, you pack up all your favorite things you want to wear, you get ready, you put on makeup in the mirror to look a certain way, you get inebriated, you dance in a big group of people, and then you get a tattoo to commemorate the whole night. The whole experience felt like a ritual in that it was a very sacred thing to do. It’s not something you do every day, and it feels like something you do in every culture in a way. There’s a celebration with a special dress, special inebriant, and special markings.
That’s exactly what I’m trying to get after. What are these sacred and precious moments in just everyday samsara kind of shit? Also growing up in so many different cultures, I never felt like I was really a part of a culture that had its own celebrations, so these are kind of my own.
Tone Madison: I also wanted to talk about the names of these two pieces, “The Sixfold Path,” your two biggest pieces. I read that the sixfold path is a Buddhist term. How did you encounter that and decide to reference it in your work?
Lana Scholtz: It’s based on the idea of the Eight-fold Path. I named it six for practical reasons of there being six panels. But, again it’s the whole thing of celebrations that were really special to me at the time, but also just these things of going to a concert or in The Sixfold Path: After School Special” of going camping with friends, which can be seen, as not necessarily mundane activity, but it’s not like a holiday or a celebration of something specific. It’s this out-of-body experience, and I wouldn’t call myself an expert on Buddhism, but there are a lot of ideas that I find really interesting. I really resonate with the idea of creating these moments that take you out of this samsara, this everyday cycle of life.
Tone Madison: Where do you draw the line with thinking about your memories? Like we can think about our memories, but then when does it become wallowing in the past?
Lana Scholtz: That’s why I draw them specifically all of these little childhood memories. They got me really emo thinking about them all the time because nostalgia is just a really heavy emotion. Like we said at the beginning, it felt very therapeutic to take thirty minutes to an hour to draw out this shit. It’s very cathartic and then after that, I don’t really ruminate on these memories again. It’s like giving them a little resting spot.
Tone Madison: I’ve had my own issues with ruminating on memories. Basically, I used to worry that I won’t remember good times in the present correctly and that when I’m older I won’t have enough memories to make it feel like it was all worth it. But more recently, I’ve shifted my thinking to be more about just having memorable experiences, rather than be concerned with making memories.
Lana Scholtz: I’ve definitely been in a creative funk lately. I don’t really have a studio space right now to make this stuff, but along that line of thought I’ve recently worked past a lot of angst from my younger years that used to be my creative field, so now I’m trying to figure out how to make my experiences and in what lens I’m going to put them in now.
Tone Madison: Do you anticipate moving in a different direction? Do you think your future work may be less focused on the past?
Lana Scholtz: I don’t exactly know. I’ve used the past more literally as collage material or source material but maybe use them more in line with how I’m experiencing life in the present. I’ve caught up now with childhood, teenage years, young adulthood, now I’ve got to be present.