Lisa Sweet – Where Are They Now

Veiled, etching, 2019, plate: 10 x 6 inches
Description: “Portrait of woman, hands folded, with floating white kite in lower half of the image. This piece addresses themes of mysticism and mystical experience; a theme I’ve been exploring on and off for many years.”

Lisa Sweet, an Olympia, Washington based artist reflects on her residency in July of 2015 at Zea Mays. Sweet was a professor at The Evergreen State College in 2D art until this year. Sweet writes about her intentions going into the residency and what she was working on during her time at Zea Mays: “I needed concentrated time to work on non-toxic etching, having taken almost no instruction in etching beyond introductory classes in college, and learning on my own through trial and error. I took a month to work on multiple-plate, color etchings emphasizing layers of color and patterns (Celtic knots, Islamic geometric and floral patterns, and early Christian/Roman patterns).  I worked very small, in order to make a lot of experiments quickly.  Mostly, I wanted to know if I had competency in etching and intaglio printing and wanted to see what I could do with the luxury of a private studio and a month without chores, family, dogs, job, and gardens to attend.” 

Sweet’s work shifted while she was at Zea Mays due to the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was arrested for a minor traffic violation and was found hanged in her jail cell in Texas three days after her arrest. Sweet writes, “It just so happened that around the end of my residency, news stories about Sandra Bland, and the events leading to her death in police custody were emerging. I was troubled and moved by the story and began making drawings and thinking about a way to process her death through artistic practice. When I returned home, the first print I made was an image of Sandra Bland. That work led to deeper inquiries and reflections on which stories I, as a white woman can tell, which I should probably not try to tell.”

A prototype for a woodcut installation piece, working title, White folk all look the same, etchings on waxed silk tissue, 2019-2019, plate/images: 15 x 5 inches each
Description: “The file name is ‘white supremacists prototype for Web.’ It includes individual full-length prints of people who have identified as anti-Black racists, or unwilling perpetrators of white supremacy; prints are on transparent paper revealing other figures behind them. The figures include current white nationalists, domestic terrorists (Dylan Roof as a boy, and white participants in lynchings), and me as the person who has unwittingly, unwilling perpetuated white supremacist systems.”

When asked if she learned anything new during her residency Sweet responded with “Oh goodness, YES!”  She explained, “I learned to mix inks/colors and to layer colors through multiple plates; I observed studio processes, equipment and protocols that I implemented in my home studio and in the college studio I taught in; I attended an amazing printing workshop with a master printer; met a number of fascinating, skilled printmakers. I kind of committed to etching/printmaking and moved my painting materials out of my home studio (I developed a modest regional reputation for oil painting). I came to understand that I like learning challenging things — I like a little technique and complexity in my practices. Etching offers the delight of never quite knowing exactly how a piece will turn out, and I like the surprise of collaborating with the plates and inks. I also learned a great deal about paper and choosing papers — Liz Chalfin turned me on to Revere Suede for aquatints and I’ve used it since. I refined techniques and sensibilities, and began challenging myself by setting higher standards of excellence for my work. I’m just beginning to see the fruits of those lessons.”

White Sleepwalker, etching 2019, plate: 14 x 15.5 inches
Description: “Image of a theater stage, with various figures: Charlottesville white nationalists, Black protesters, and a large, white sleepwalking woman (self portrait).”

Sweet at The Evergreen State College was already teaching in a non-toxic etching studio but her time at Zea Mays changed how she approached teaching and studio practices. “I knew a lot about non-toxic methods, but I was able to refine and improve on a lot of things in our studio.  We’ve been using Zea Mays recipes for transparent base (ink), for aquatint solution, stop out. I use BIG hardground at home, but it’s not feasible for students’ use at school. I also encouraged our printmaking technician to attend a Zea Mays workshop and she did participate in a residency and learned a bunch that has led to improvements in the college studio too.” Sweet felt that her time at the studio significantly affected the way she teaches.

Sweet writes about her creative practice and how it’s shifted with the pandemic: “I actually distinguish my creative practice between ‘teaching’ and ‘non-teaching’ seasons. I can’t make art when I’m teaching and the pandemic definitely impacted my teaching negatively because my plans for teaching printmaking had to be re-designed for remote studio practice (collage).  Learning remote technologies over spring break also derailed everything in my life. I did retire from teaching in June and have been focused on making etchings since leaving teaching. So the pandemic is actually a blessing of sorts since I have a home studio and can’t go out or find distractions, I can work in my studio as much as I want to, which is daily.” Sweet seems to have found a silver lining for her practice in the midst of the pandemic. 

Check out more of Lisa Sweet’s work at her website http://lisa-sweet.com/

And her Instagram @lisasweet5751

Dragging Down Jefferson Davis, etching, 2020, plate: 15 x 19 inches
Description: “The file name is ‘Jeff Davis print.’ Image of a person (self portrait) attempting to pull down a confederate monument of Jefferson Davis, the rope is a clothesline between them.”