This week's blog was written by visual artist Jennie O'Connor. Jennie interviewed paper collage artist Lavaun Benavidez-Heaster.
How long have you been a member of Artistic Portland, and what appealed to you about joining the Co-op?
I've been a member of Artistic Portland since June of 2018. I was feeling very isolated working at home in East Portland and not having a work community which often takes the place of family and friends in this day and age. I didn't expect that being part of an artistic community would have such an impact on my artwork which has evolved and grown.
What’s your background?
What the heck is meant by what is your background? Well artistically my background is that I went to college and within my first year of junior college realized that being an artist was probably not the right career choice for me. I went on and did work in Social Services for 20 years then after being laid off and not being able to transfer with my government employer due to disability-related job barriers I ended up unemployed. Distress of the situation helped push my health to a bad place, and all my friends and family came together to get me through a kidney and pancreas transplant. This is what brought me back to art because I felt a need to give something back these people have been so generous during a really bad time for me. That's my background as an artist.
My human background is that my mother was orphaned and not raised within her cultures (Navajo, Ute, Latino) so I was always trying to get more understanding of where we came from. My father was not part of my life growing up, so I'm not highly influenced by my Irish heritage except my appearance. I have a great-great uncle Benito Sanchez who was a Navajo Rock painter, my mother was an artist in Greenwich Village before she had me, and my sister doodled on anything she could get her hands on throughout her life. So my background is rich in experience, culture and the DNA to make art but not so rich in the education or training.
What does your work aim to say?
My work is ever-evolving meaning it changes all the time. Sometimes it aims to say women of all sorts are beautiful and have amazing attributes that strengthen our world. Sometimes it aims to say let's find the common beauty that we share because we need to find a bridge between ourselves. Sometimes the message is just isn't this pretty and aren't we lucky to live in a world where beauty can be found when people slow down and let the creativity take over.
Who are your biggest influences?
My big joke is that early South Park and late Matisse are my big influences but quite honestly that's a joke. I do admit to loving the organic feeling of Matisse's paper collages which I remember staying on a Margaret Mead book as a teenager. The artist that I grew up loving was Diego Rivera. I love his earthy colors and his beautiful women with their indigenous brown skin which reminded me of my mother. Later my mom fell in love with Raul DelRio because of his whales and dolphins and I fell in love with his bright bold colors, sharp edges and graphic nature which he called modern primitive. I've actually written to Raul Del Rio and had some lovely written conversations over the years.
Probably my earliest influence was La Raza art exhibits, Dia de los Muertos art, murals in the Mission District of San Francisco and our neighbor painting traditional brightly colored tropical flowers on a black chair when I was just a kid.
Describe yourself in one word. Why that word?
Determined. We are all a complex jumble and the thing that people always say about me is about my courageousness or bravery but that's really not at my core…it’s just a means to get to whatever it is that I want or feel driven by.
What and where do you create?
I create visually accessible paper collage with clean sharp edges, high contrast colors and the tactile structure created by layers of card stock. I called my work visually accessible because it can be seen usually from pretty far away and is created for people with low vision not no vision, plus anyone else who likes bold, colorful graphics.
I don't work in the studio; I work at my dining room table, on little TV trays, sitting on the floor, at coffee shop tables or anywhere else that I feel like creating.
What inspires you?
I tend to be inspired by visions that float through my brain when I'm meditating or having an interesting conversation. I also get inspired sometimes by trying to figure out how do we as humans share and care for each other.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
My one indispensable item is scissors and now paper is also necessary but somehow the scissors are more important. I use cheap Dollar Tree scissors that I buy two or three sets at a time and somehow still lose. I oftentimes have a set of scissors in my bag and I have put numerous holes in canvas bags with these scissors.
What kind of creative patterns, routines, or rituals do you have?
I don't really have rituals around my art. I do tend to create art late at night or at least in the evening but sometimes I wake up and immediately start on a piece that I didn't finish the night before. The other thing that I'm trying right now is creating art everyday. This doesn't mean I create a piece of art every day—just that I put some scissors in my hand and a scrapbooking glue stick for at least an hour.
Is there an artwork that you created that you are most proud of? Why?
What part work I am proud of changes constantly but there is one piece that lives in my heart. My Happy Mother's Day piece is very special to me because it has an image that I could never find for my mother growing up. When I was growing up I worked really hard to find beautiful brown women to reflect my mother which sometimes can be hard to find. Only when I started making my own art did I realize that I had been forced to choose cards that did not reflect my family. The beautiful brown women always had beautiful brown children but my mother had two little cute white babies. So I created a beautiful brown woman with her two little white babies and to this day that is my favorite piece of my work.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you do?
If I wasn't an artist I would probably put a little more effort into my activism and advocacy work. Somehow I think that my place is to be a bridge so when not creating art and focusing my energy there I have been active in the equity and inclusion community asking where people with disabilities fit into the efforts and opportunities.
What do you like to do when you're not creating?
What I enjoy outside of art, activism, and advocacy is cooking, my yoga class, and playing games. I used to like socializing in small groups with my friends, but it seems like since the advent of social media people think that an online connection is enough. Online connections aren't enough for me so I found a way to build it into my art by becoming part of an artistic co-op.