By Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson
I had the pleasure of interviewing artist Lisie S. Orjuela via email. If you’re a Spectrum subscriber, you’ll probably recognize the vivid colors and organic figures in Orjuela’s work, which has twice appeared on the magazine's cover.
Orjuela did her undergraduate studies at Andrews University and later completed her graduate studies at New York University and the Art Students League in New York. Orjeula has shown her work in solo exhibitions in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, as well as in Mexico. She has also participated in numerous group exhibitions across the U.S. Orjuela works in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and four-year-old son. She says she divides her time and energy between working/nourishing her art and taking care of/nourishing her little boy.
Here’s our conversation about the artist's life:
SF-JWould you mind sharing a bit about your background and how you came to be an artist? Do you come from an artistic family? Has art been a lifelong passion for you?
OrjuelaMy cultural heritage is Argentinian. I grew up in Uruguay, Switzerland, and arrived in the USA at age 13. My father worked as an evangelist with the South American and European Divisions, and then at the General Conference of the SDA church. Art was not something really present in my upbringing. Drawing was something you might do when you had nothing else to do. However, while living in Switzerland (for 5 years) our family traveled around Europe, and I was exposed to excellent and powerful art and architecture.
Unbeknownst to me, a seed was planted within me. I had been exposed to the potential power of connection and communication through art. While in school in Switzerland, art was part of the curriculum where everyone was expected to do well (as with all the other classes), but here in the U.S., of course, that was not the case. Art was not part of the curriculum, and was clearly considered a triviality. But, as I started to explore what I would study in college, the seed for art suddenly awakened after I saw a tiny reproduction of a Rembrandt in a world history book. The pull, the bug, the power of it began to grow. So, I only started my art training in college, at Andrews. Since then, yes, it has been my passion, my obsession.
SF-JTwo things strike me in particular about your work: the layering of glowing colors and the organic, dance-like poses of the figures. Because the figures in your artwork portray ambiguous identities, they feel universal, relatable. Would you mind talking about the underlying themes in your body of work as a whole?
OrjuelaThe inner world, also known as the soul, the spirit, the psyche, and the mind is what captures my attention. I am interested in how we human beings relate to ourselves, to others and to our environment. This is what motivates me and drives my artwork. The paintings integrate and weave thoughts, feelings, and experiences into an avenue in which to tap into, express and at times nurture this inner core.
I tend to use the female figure as a protagonist (which is different from the traditional and even of most contemporary art). I want there to be an insinuation of movement, of life in my work, and yes, a few of my paintings are directly linked to dance.
I am seduced by color, I love the way color can reach the inner parts of us and infer subtlety, boldness, emotions, thoughts. The figures, colors, patterns, layers are my tools, my way of exploring and expressing something of the inner world.
SF-JWhat are some of your influences—artistic and otherwise?
OrjuelaMy influences—work that I connect with in a powerful way come from artists such as Diebenkorn, Giacometti, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and the early Renaissance artists, among others. In terms of content and themes, my interest in the inner realm must stem from my strong religious upbringing. I took the religious teachings and beliefs very much to heart as a child, and my search and inquietude with the spiritual connection and understanding from that early time has obviously continued in a broader sense in my artwork.
SF-JWhat is your creative process like? What kind of physical space do you work in?
OrjuelaI have a studio in my house. It has a good amount of light and I work during the day. I have regular times set aside to work, since I need good chunks of time to quiet the mind from all other responsibilities and mental obsessions.
I work with oil paints, oil bars, and oil pastels on stretched canvas. Most of my current work is approximately 4 to 5 feet square, though I sometimes work on smaller pieces as well.
I work in a way that reflects natural life; in a slow organic manner. I work with images and colors to understand and express aspects of life. The paintings are created with multiple layers of paint, visual textures, rich earthy colors, as well as the human form. The female figure tends to be a central part in most of the work, dissolving and coming out of the surrounding ground, interacting with it, and being a part thereof. The paintings change and evolve continuously as I work on them, as layers cover and reveal some of the earlier stages. Patterns and textures, in addition to color, are part of my vocabulary, adding to the richness and ambiguity of the pieces.
SF-JFor you, is there a struggle between being an artist and a spiritual person? Or do the two feed each other in a positive way?
OrjuelaThere is no struggle at all between being an artist and being a spiritual person. For me it is all the same, it is all connected, all comes from the same depth of my being. So it is the same struggle. It is funny to think about that now, because as I began (in college) I struggled enormously with the belief that art and being an artist was in direct conflict with spirituality, with an ethical life.
View Lisie Orjuela’s work.