I am really excited to introduce you to an artist that I have admired for many years now. It has been a joy to watch this artist find and grow her talent. I had an opportunity to interview her, and so in this post I will share not only her beautiful art, but her thoughts on the creative process.
Lisa’s paintings have been exhibited in juried exhibitions across the United States, including such prominent venues are The Hecksher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY, The Salmagundi Club, NY, NY, The Bosque Conservatory, Clifton, TX, The Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA, and The Academy of Art Gallery, San Francisco, CA. She has a still life chosen as a finalist in The Artist’s Magazine annual art competition, and her portrait work has received recognition from The Portrait Society of America. Born in California and raised on Cape Cod, she now lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two sons. A long post, so grab a cup of coffee or tea, sit back and hopefully enjoy the read and beautiful art.
“When I apply brushstrokes I think about the qualities of the object I’m painting and how the paint can take on those qualities, how I can manipulate the paint to make the object live within it. I like to think of it as mimicking rather than describing, so the paint becomes the object, brings it alive in a believable way. I want to be drawn into the world on the canvas, relish in the magic of the illusion, and to enjoy qualities within it that can only be there because of paint.”
–Lisa Kovvuri, Excerpt from interview with art critic Brian Sherwin for The Art Edge.
When did you discover you had artistic talent as a painter?
When I was young I found an old art supply box that belonged to my father. In it, along with various pencils, paints and charcoal boxes were books on how to draw trees, how to draw boats, and how to paint with a palette knife. There were also drawings he had done. I was fascinated. I made my own attempts at drawings from the books and copying my dad’s drawings. He eventually gave me the box.
Any painters that influence your style
I’d say I’m most influenced by the painters of the Boston School. Edmund Tarbell is my favorite of them. The reason is the combination of really good, academic drawing skills and natural color. They emphasized exploring color the way it is in nature, the way the impressionists did, which makes the effect of light remarkably beautiful in the paintings. They have a power, because of that focus, and a poetic sense of design that I don’t find in many other paintings. Having said that, my understanding of how to see and use color is attributed to Nelson Shanks. The intensive painting course I took at his school, Studio Incamminati, gave me the tools to get what I want out of color and really understand it in the context of how it works in nature and in light.
Your favorite painters?
I love to look at Jean Leon Gerome, Tarbell, John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, and Ilya Repin. I also love Hovsep Pushman’s still life paintings.
What state of mind is your most creative? Most stifling?
My most creative state is usually when I can be alone and absorbed in my thoughts. I cherish that time and arrange my schedule to allow for plenty of it. What I struggle with is distraction. My studio is in my home so beyond closing the door, there’s no real separation from work, household tasks, and being a mom. I’m always working on strategies and habits to keep things compartmentalized so my painting time stays focused and productive.
Do you have an all time favorite painting that you painted?
That hasn’t been painted yet. As a painter I’m always seeking the ultimate expression, an elusive masterpiece. I heard someone say recently, unfortunately I can’t remember who it was, that it was like driving in the dark. You know your destination and where you’re going, but you can only see as far as the headlights are shining along the way. It’s an incremental process that builds on itself a little at a time with each painting. So at any given time I’d say that what I’m currently working on is the most exciting.
Do you have a favorite painting not your own that you own?
I have a painting by Michael Kline that I love. It’s a simple painting of some roses in a square glass vase. It was a recent purchase, and one I had to work to make payments on, but it was worth it. I love the way he paints. He has a very sensitive touch and his subjects are poetic and subtle. I wanted to have one of his pieces in my working environment.
What is your favorite painting by another artist long gone?
It’s really hard to pick one favorite. I have several. In my studio I have a small reproduction of “Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean Leon Gerome. It shows the sculptor in his studio embracing the sculpture of a woman he’s working on and she has begun to come alive. When I first saw it I wasn’t familiar with the story of Pygmalion. Instead, the image spoke to me about the artist’s relationship with his creation. It brought to life the passion and devotion artists feel toward their work, and how wonderfully absorbing it can be. It really is magical watching something come to life before you on the canvas. Now I know the story that it illustrates, but I still see my original version. That painting always makes me smile.
What is your favorite painting by a contemporary artist?
There are several I love to look at. “Skylar in Blue” and “Skylar Black Coat” are two by Jeremy Lipking of his daughter that I really love. I also like the series of women shopping and antiquing that Joseph Todorovich has painted. My favorites are “Antiques” and “Choices”. All of these works are unusual takes on figure and portrait painting, and the ideas behind them have a lot to do with why I’m drawn to them.
In many of your paintings you use gorgeous saturated colors. Anything in particular that informs that choice? Is there a predominant color/& or theme that you think runs through your work?
My color choices come from the things I paint. I think the most intense colors are found in my still life paintings, and that’s because of the objects and fabrics etc. that are in each set up. I have a collection of fabric pieces, including saris and shawls from India that are richly colored and I love to work with them.
On another level, I think the rich, saturated colors I tend to gravitate toward help me to create the kind of impact I want my paintings to have. The paintings present a given moment in time and focus on the timelessness within it. The colors give it intensity and power to hold attention, sort of magnify the world for us so we want to linger in that moment.
What is your favorite painting medium, and why?
Oil paint, hands down. It’s free and flexible and the quality of realistic illusion it’s capable of producing is unmatched.
What is your favorite to paint…. still life, portrait, landscape?
Still life and portraits are equal favorites. I love them both. I haven’t done much landscape painting. I like the psychological component of working with portraits, and the associations we bring to the objects in a still life give them a human essence as well, even in the absence of an actual person.
You have an amazing ability to capture expression, even when painting from photographs……how do you do that?
Thank you! That’s a little tricky to explain. At the very basic level I have to be sure that it’s accurate and looks like the person. That comes from careful drawing. Expression is less definable. I have to know before I start the kind of look it should have. I decide on the mood and feeling I want and keep that in my mind as I paint. I keep working until I start to recognize what I imagined. It helps if I don’t try to think too much. Logic can get in the way. I have much better results if I trust my instincts and don’t question them. I practice painting from live models on a regular basis also. Studying their faces for hours at a time while painting gives me an intuitive sense of what should be there. I fall back on that knowledge when working from photographs.
Your Newfoundland paintings are so beautiful….you capture the dogs expression and personality. Are they your favorite animal to paint? Have you ever done wildlife?
Thank you. Yes, they are my favorite animal to paint. I didn’t really set out to paint animals – it wasn’t in the plan. But being the daughter of a breeder, Newfoundlands have always been a part of my family life. I frequently had opportunities to paint them over the years, and I was always glad to do it. Now it just doesn’t seem right not to paint them. They’ve been such a huge part of my life. I enjoy honoring them through paintings that say as much about the experience of being with them, raising, owning and loving them as they do about the dogs themselves. As for wildlife, I haven’t ventured there yet.
What is your favorite thing about being an artist? What is your least favorite?
The best thing is when someone brings one of my pieces home. It means I’ve succeeded in communicating something meaningful for them. That’s what it’s all about.
I’m not sure what my least favorite thing would be. Maybe when supply manufacturers change the design, lower the quality or discontinue products I like to use. This has happened a lot with brushes lately. It’s very frustrating.
Are their other artists in your family? Is your family supportive?
My dad used to paint and draw before he was married. He abandoned it, he told me, because he didn’t think he could support a family doing it. Instead, he found a creative outlet building catboats when he wasn’t at his job as a marine mechanic. Our basement was a place of wonder when he was working on those boats. I learned a lot from watching him. I remember how fascinating it was to see him carefully steam big pieces of mahogany trim and slowly bend them to the form of the hull. He took a lot of pride in his work and built some beautiful boats that are still on the water today. The rest of the artists in my family are musicians. My grandfather played the piano and saxophone, and my sons seem to have inherited that gene. They’re both accomplished guitar players. My eldest is currently pursuing his degree at Berklee College of Music. My family has always been supportive of my work. I’ve been very lucky.
Do you feel compelled to paint? Why do you make art?
Yes, I do feel compelled to paint. It’s somewhat of an obsession. The promise of that blank canvas just never gets old. I make art because I feel a constant compulsion to explore my surroundings, my world really, with paint. The work is about appreciating things the way they are, embracing the intrinsic beauty in whatever is surrounding me and exploring my connections to it, what it means to me. I think this is something we all try to find our own way to do, consciously or not.
What is your most important artist’s tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
Aside from the obvious of paint, canvas and brushes, my favorite tool is a nifty little gadget called a view catcher. It’s a little 31/2” square frame with a sliding insert that allows you to adjust the size and proportion of the window opening to match the size and proportion of your canvas. Looking through it at your subject, you can easily see how it will fit within the boundaries of your canvas. You can use it to decide which size canvas will work best, and to design your composition. I used to do this with an old slide with the film removed, and then used masking tape to frame the right proportion. The sliding version makes it a whole lot easier.
What do you enjoy doing when not in your studio?
I like to travel and spend time with my family. That often involves visits to my mother’s on Cape Cod or to the lake in the summer, or to my husband’s family home in India. I love to get lost in a good book, visit the MFA in Boston, or spend the day exploring the city on foot.
How do you choose the frames for your work?
I try to find something that compliments the image and works with the scale, color and feel of it. I’ve recently started working with a new local framer here who has a gordeous selection of moldings. She also has a wonderful eye for what looks good. She’s found some great frames for a lot of my recent work.
Do you ever have a problem knowing when a painting is finished?
There’s usually a saturation point where whatever I do from that point on won’t add anything significant. It just looks right, and I’m satisfied. Once in a while I have one I’m not sure I’m completely happy with. In that case I may decide to set it aside for a while and distance myself from it, start something else and come back to it later, so I can judge it with fresh eyes.
Back in the summer of 2009, Lisa did a project of 100 small paintings in 100 days, and shared it with those who signed up on her web site for a newsletter to follow the project. It was especially interesting to me, because as she explained her thought process for each painting, I came to realize that as a designer there were certain parallels as to how I chose colors, furniture placement, art, etc. for rooms. I also learned a lot by following her project. Below are a few of these art works along with her notations.
Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my questions and for allowing me to share your amazing talent with my readers.
I hope you will visit Lisa’s web site Lisa Kovvuri Fine Art to see more of her work, to purchase original art, or perhaps commission one. All information is on her site. I personally enjoy three of her paintings in my own home, two of Newfoundlands and one a commissioned portrait of my late husband with two of his favorite Newfs done from multiple photographs. I was totally blown away at how she captured his essence, especially because she had never seen nor met him.
Lisa presently has a new exhibit called Moments To Savor going on right now. You can sign up for her newsletter where she shares previews of these art works or go directly to her web site to see the first two paintings.
Current Exhibition : MOMENTS TO SAVOR
November 7 - 17
A collection of new paintings never before exhibited. Works will be posted on Lisa’s web site, one per day at 4:30pm eastern time, November 7 through 17. subscribe here if you would like to be included in previews.
Well, it was a long post and as always I thank you for stopping by. I consider it such an honor when I am able to post about artists, architects and designers whose work I love, am inspired by and learn from. If you have friends who might enjoy seeing this post, I would love for you to forward it. Laters, charisse