Life as a House

431Detail from a piece by Lee Richmond.Detail from a piece by Lee Richmond.

I was surprised when I walked through the door of Lee Richmond's house. The living room was open, with lovely high ceilings, minimal furniture, little to no curios or bric-a-brac and everything was in it's proper place. There were only 2 pieces of art – one very large painting, by Lee, leaning against the living room wall and a framed black and white line drawing hanging beside the dining table. The reason for my surprise is that every artist's home or studio I have seen has been more cluttered with either walls jammed with art, stacks of supplies on desks or in corners, lots of "whatnot" sitting around or just complete and utter chaos. Lee is a collage artist, which is a

fairly messy sort of work, with lots of paper bits that fall all over the place, which is why her living space was so unexpected. "My home is very organized. I grew up in an environment that was not, so I taught myself to be tidy. I allow my true self to come out when I work." Lee explains.

434Lee RichmondBy Lee Richmond.

We descend into her basement studio. The ceiling is low and unfinished. The floor is concrete painted grey. Boxes and paintings lean against every available wall. There is a bookshelf stuffed with books, magazines and paper. There is a blanket rack that holds sheets of paper instead of quilts. The surface of her desk is barely visible under bits of paper, X-Acto knives and pencils. Rolls of wallpaper and stacks of finished art are everywhere. Now I feel at home.

435The floor around Lee Richmond's desk is a wonderful collage in itself.

I thank Lee for not cleaning up as most people panic when they hear I want to shoot their studio. They do a mad tidy before I get there so their studio is no longer a true representation of how they work. "I never clean my work space ... well I clean it, I just don't believe in tidying it," Lee says. "My process requires me to have a messy space."

436Paper Chaos Lee RichmondHeavenly paper chaos!

Lee begins every piece by photographing her subject. Her subject being houses – interesting houses that catch her eye. Right now modern houses are her focus. She photographs them and uses them as inspiration when she begins drawing. Her work revolves around her memories and how houses have memories of all the people who have lived out their lives in them. Each piece that she creates is a "Life Plan" and gets numbered. She explains how everyone has a life plan, but life can't be planned. These plans are constantly changing and evolving. Her artist statement explains further: "We have the tools to remodel ourselves and embrace life’s unexpected turns,” Lee said. “Beginning with drawing, I juxtapose shape and pattern and create in layers. As I move through the process everything changes again; I see differently and begin adding, editing and layering until I feel myself at home."

437Lee RichmondColourful works by Lee Richmond.

Lee collects paper and her papers gets organized into themed groupings in preparation for upcoming works. She has kept items from her childhhod like drawings, cards and wallpaper. She uses images from old books and magazines. As her website explains: "Lee revisits her childhood designs to create a tribute to the past, a view of the present, and a dream for the future using scraps of ephemera saved over the years."

438grouping Lee RichmondA grouping of paper ephemera for Lee's next work.

Collage is an interesting beast because you are taking found pieces cutting them up and repurposing them into art. Lee is very aware of the issues around borrowing and sharing art. But as a collage art she believes in "stealing." She takes photos and other peoples "art" and cuts them up or rips them and incorporates them  into something new.

Her process is evolutionary. Her pieces shift and change as she works on them. She does try to keep her work as earth friendly as possible. After her initial drawings she spends time in the kitchen mixing a wheat-based paste. This paste is what she uses to glue down her collages. This eliminates the chemicals that are found in glues and paints and polymer. All of her materials are recycled. The substrates that she works on, masonite, paper or wood are the only items that she needs to buy. She does not varnish her work. She protects her work using museum quality glass that has a UV protective coating on them. She loves how the paper medium changes as it ages. Varnishes are not only environmentally unfriendly but they also hinder this natural shift in the paper medium.

439Lee RichmondPieces from the 5 x 5 show in Seattle. By Lee Richmond.

She evolved into collage by accident. She started her career creating large scale paintings which she would plan out with sketches. Paints are expensive so instead of using paint for these sketches she would glue down paper and make little maquettes before beginning the final piece. She soon realized that these maquettes were the art. She would love to start working her collages into 3-dimensional works. This may be a project that she works on as part of a collective that Jill Price is setting up called Paper Dolls. Lee is very interested in working and collaborating with others.

440Paint Drawer Lee Richmond Lee is revisiting using paint in her recent works.

Lee moved to Seattle several years ago and was an active participant in the art scene there. Now that she is back in Toronto she misses the support and community that she is used to on the West Coast. In Seattle galleries worked together to make things happen. There was an environment of sharing with swap-systems and artist collectives. She wants to try to help create more of a community in Toronto. She even offered to help me with this blog, posting videos and trying to get a bit more traction.

441Life Plan 11 1/2 F. By Lee RichmondLife Plan 11 1/2 F. By Lee Richmond.

Camper, Lee's 12 year old hound dog, has been whimpering and grumbling at the top of the stairs for a few minutes now and has made it very clear that the interview needs to wrap up. We ascend into the wide open upstairs. I pat camper on the head and thank Lee for her time. As I walk down the path to the side walk we are still making plans to start our own blog/video collective. I have a feeling that my original plan for my blog may be changing... how very exciting.

442Life Plan 11 1/2 G. By Lee RichmondLife Plan 11 1/2 G. By Lee Richmond