Living in Los Angeles, I have had the good fortune to witness the creative harvest of Liz Huston. She is a skilled photographer, artist, book designer, creator of magic, business woman and mother, and each of these skills is exacted with grace and intention. In 2008, Liz began creating constructed images as a way express her life, using vintage photographs and imagery collected as “firewood” to become realized as singular stories. Each digital assemblage or photomontage uses the past to contemplate the future and creates inner landscapes that speak to imaginative possibility.
Liz Huston of Venice, California, taught herself the craft of photography more than 18 years ago. She has been a professional photographer nearly as long, shooting commercially as well as showing in the fine art world. Over the years, she has had three books of her photography published, with a fourth currently in the works. Always seeking new ways to express her dreamy inner landscape, Liz grew into digital assemblage or photomontage. As she refined her vision and skills with this emerging digital platform, she discovered a deep sense of purpose expressed. It is with photomontage where Liz truly excels; crafting her personal vision into fantastical new scenes using the nostalgia of antique images as a springboard. She regularly exhibits this work in Los Angeles and around the country.
I am fascinated with the way memory influences how stories change and evolve over time. This happens not because the facts change, but because the inner orientation of the storyteller has. Their perspective grows, expanding and contracting with experience. The storyteller journeys us deep into the timeless aspects of the human experience; the kingdoms of love and loss, through a myriad of emotions. Through grief, resolve, growth and into the balance of purpose.
The human form, quite often a female form, is the storyteller within my art. She comes to us in the nude, like a baby, with nothing to hide: her full power and breadth still intact. We see her as metaphor, as paradox embodied. She has the power of flight, yet chooses to walk. She has the ability to swim in great depths, yet allows herself to be captured and tamed. She teaches us, she moves through us, and yet, she does not belong to us. She is composed of images from the past and the present, and thus inhabits multiple worlds at once. This time traveler, this storyteller, unites the treads of time– leading us home, bringing us back into ourselves.
Featured on Dwarf & Giant, October 1, 2015
Written by Sue Molenda
Every midnight in October: a great work of horror and a conversation with an artist. All works are on display in The Last Bookstore.
In “The Book of Blood”* Clive Barker introduces a haunted house, a highway traversed by the dead, and an aging paranormal expert, recently widowed, who believes she has found her ticket to fame in a winsome lad who writhes, bellows, and scrawls on walls with leads he’s hidden under his tongue. The twenty-year-old presents himself as a medium through whom deceased celebrities and noteless nobodies scribble messages from the beyond, all over the walls of an upstairs room in the haunted house.
Dr. Mary Florescu has made a grave error: the McNeal boy is a fraud, and the dead will not be mocked. The enraged spirits of heinous murderers and their victims converge upon the house via an unseen highway, and carve, in miniscule script, the stories of their torment upon the milky flesh of young McNeal. They leave him, bloody and scarred, for Mary to comfort. Every inch of the lad has been transformed into a macabre book—a book of the dead. Certain that the object of her desire will recover, Dr. Florescu vows to read all the tales from McNeal’s marred body.
While aspects of the story would be distasteful to any prude, and although it details violence from which sensitive movie viewers would shield their eyes, Clive Barker’s vividly crafted tale renders the reader loath to discontinue the adventure; rather, one is impelled to devour the subsequent stories in The Books of Blood, to ride along on “The Midnight Meat Train”, or to wonder at the inexplicable patience of Jack, a man embattled by “The Yattering.”
*Editor’s note: Books of Blood is the 6 volume collection, while The Book of Blood is both the first book and the first story in the series.
LIZ HUSTON with Sue Molenda
Ms. Huston is part of the Spring Arts Collective, with a studio/gallery looking down into The Last Bookstore.
When Liz Huston greeted me in her shop above The Last Bookstore, I connected with electrifying joy. Her energy, her aura, is pure joy. Liz’s entire being is a work of art, and her skin a radiant “canvas” of tattoos. I could not resist buying a limited edition print, once she began quoting the poem that inspired it. “My Sweet, Crushed Angel” evoked thoughts of those I love whose dreams are dashed or out of reach. Liz and I shared a brief, delightful conversation and promised to complete our interview via email, as art admirers crowded into her Belle de Lune Gallery. Below is that interview.
Sue Molenda – Since you posted the 2010 video about how you create art, how has your process changed?
Liz Huston – I have learned to paint with acrylics, watercolors as well as learned digital painting, all of which I use in tandem with digital compositing. Switching between digital and tactile techniques makes the process much lengthier, but the results are so much richer!
SM – How does it feel to be earning a living doing something you love?
LH – I started my business, Photomonium, in 2006. It started as a combination of photography and my traveling curiosity shop, but as I started to do photomontage, I did less of the photography and curiosity shop – eventually leading to where I am now, in a fixed location with just the art.
It feels right. I feel a certainty as an artist that I didn’t have in any job prior. It feels amazing to make art, yet terrifying at times. Being a self employed artist has a feast or famine quality. Those famine times are terrifying, but somehow it works out, and has for nearly a decade.
SM – When did you decide to become an artist?
LH – I’ve always wanted to be an artist. However, when I was young (lacking faith and encouragement), I held the dream close to my heart and rarely spoke it. I fancied myself a writer in my teens, and in my twenties I wanted to be a photographer, filmmaker (made 2 short films), and a curiosity/antique shop owner. Being an artist was my silent, secret dream. It constantly beckoned me. 10 years ago I finally admitted the dream aloud.
SM – What influenced you to become a full time artist?
LH – I had a wonderful day job in the music industry, and was a photographer on the side, with a passion for traveling to New Orleans several times a year. In those travels I took hundreds (maybe thousands) of photos of New Orleans cemeteries with film, usually infrared film.
It was June 2005 when a friend told me people were using this new website (Lulu.com) to publish their own photo books. I suddenly knew I had to make a book of my New Orleans cemetery photographs, and it HAD to be on the shelves by Halloween of 2005. I worked furiously on the book. We even traveled to New Orleans in hot hot hot July, to get some last shots. I was driven by something I could not quantify. I felt something greater than myself pulling the book into existence at the same time I was pushing it.
As fate would have it, I uploaded that book to the printer the night before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. After seeing the awful devastation, I rewrote the introduction, vowing to use the book as a fundraiser, benefiting Habitat for Humanity and New Orleans-based Save Our Cemeteries. That book changed my life. I started doing events with my photography and book, a couple times a month. I started making jewelry and curiosities, and my traveling curiosity shop was born. Seven months after the book came out, I quit the job I loved in the music industry to do my traveling curiosity shop full time. From there I just kept following the path. That path led me to photomontage and eventually to where I am now!
SM – What resources did you use to learn about art and about the digital skills you use in creating art?
LH – I am a self taught artist. I’ve assisted photographic workshops, but was only a student in one weekend fashion lighting course. I learned photography through a passion for the medium, my local library, a homemade darkroom, and lots of artist & musician friends willing to experiment.
I learned entirely by doing. My first creation was a wedding portrait. I had eloped to New Orleans, and had no proper portraits. So, I made one, which I still sometimes exhibit, entitled “The Lovers”. After that, I wanted to create my own Tarot deck. The cards had taught me about symbolism. I subscribed to Photoshop magazine to learn new techniques, since in 2007-08, there weren’t many YouTube tutorials. It was an arduous process of trial and error, but in 16 months I had created 68 of the 72 cards. Unfortunately, my computer crashed, had to be rebuilt and I lost it all. The only piece I managed to recreate (because it was also on a disc) was “The Lovers”.
That loss, which destroyed me at the time, was a blessing in disguise. Those early pieces were my teachers. The work was rough, but the process taught me everything I needed to know to make the work I make now!
SM – Do you feel that art was within you all along, just waiting to be released?
LH – I have no doubt that the art has always been with me, and I’m excited about the pieces I am yet to create. It’s as if, for my entire life, present Me was leaving a bread crumb trail for little, past Me to follow.
SM – Is most of your art inspired by literary works?
LH – My work is inspired in equal parts by my life, mythology (Ovid’s Metamorphoses is dear to me), music and poetry. The lush poetry of Hafiz, Rumi always stir something deep in me.
SM – As your art evolves and your techniques become more advanced, do you feel a greater or lesser emotional/spiritual connection to the work?
LH – My work went from impersonal (the Tarot) to deeply personal, as I worked through the crushing pain and confusion of divorce.
I now tackle themes less rooted in current predicaments. Lately I’m more interested in telling stories and in retelling myths far removed from my personal story. It’s liberating. While the work still reflects who and where I am, I and my life are no longer the subject, simply the point of reference. I prefer it this way; the work is not entangled with personal pain or struggle.
SM – Have you ever found, in your art, a catharsis for emotions that might not otherwise have found expression?
LH – I never would have survived the deep loss of my divorce without making art. Art lifted the pain out of me so I could view it in all its facets and eventually move forward. Art was my lifeboat and lifeline. It rescued me, and as the years have gone by, the art has taken me to brighter, calmer shores.
SM – Has the process of creating beautiful art has brought more peace, more love, more of anything into your life?
LH – Creating art has brought more of all good things into my life. Parallel to my art path has been a deep spiritual path, and the two are entwined in my being. When I finally admitted my desire to paint, I connected with the deepest part of me. Art has given me myself.
SM – Is your art the legacy you hope to leave, or have other aspirations tugged as mightily at your soul?
LH – Art is absolutely the legacy I wish to leave the world. I want to leave this place more beautiful than I found it, and I do that through my art.
SM – Is there anything else you would like to say — any nugget of wisdom you’d like to share?
LH – Please listen to the yearnings in your soul. Don’t follow another’s path, follow yours. The path may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Even if you have to do it in secret – follow your own breadcrumb trail. Making art is always challenging, and not always fun. But for me, it’s always right. Find your path, and follow it.
Featured December 5, 2012 on RfotoFolio
We started Rfotofolio for the purpose of promoting photography and fine art. Liz Huston ‘s work bridges both. She crafts a world of imagined places and times, and gives us stories from her heart. It is a pleasure to share her work.
RF: How did you come to photography?
LH: I’ve always loved photography. I remember as a young girl, perhaps 11 years old, seeing the wet plate prints of Julia Margaret Cameron at a museum. That changed my life and inspired in me a love of the first years of photography, especially.
Ever since then, I have collected tin types, CDV’s, daguerreotype, photo postcards, photos of all kinds, so long as something about them moved me. I still collect them avidly.
It was my collecting that inspired me to learn photography, which I did at 18. I had a 35mm Canon AE-1 that was about as old as I was. This was in the early 90’s, before the internet. Needless to say, I taught myself by trial and error, (which got expensive). My friends modeled for me, and the light I used was crude and experimental. I read photography books and magazines, and hung out with photographers at the local community college. I didn’t attend school there, but I was friends with the lab director and he granted me access to the darkroom, showing me a few things. I loved being in the darkroom – sometimes more than shooting itself! I ended up building a portable darkroom in my apartment where I experimented with toning and solarizing – I learned so much there. I think it was there, in that makeshift darkroom, where I became an artist in spirit.
RF: Where do you get your inspiration?
LH: I wish there was an easy answer to this question, as inspiration comes to me in so many ways. I like to go for walks outside; there is something about moving my body and having no particular destination that allows my mind to dream and expand. I visit museums, antique stores and junk shops, libraries and book stores, galleries and quiet gardens. I go on hikes and regularly put my toes in the ocean. It’s all good for the spirit, and what is inspiration but full of spirit?
Having a curiosity about life also invites inspiration; wondering about the who, the what, the when, the how. I like to exercise my perceptions. I’ll see a bird in the sky and wonder what the world looks like from that vantage point. Or, I’ll see a beautiful antique coat, and wonder who wore it, for what occasion and when. With these little exercises, I feel that my imagination expands and new ideas are more able to come to me.
RF: Which artists have had an influence on you?
LH: I already mentioned Julia Margaret Cameron, who had a huge impact on me. I am a huge fan of the black and white photography of Joel-Peter Witkin, Man Ray, Brassai, Doisneau, and Eugene Atget.
Women Surrealist Painters, such as Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Marion Peck and Frida Kahlo have inspired me, and really given me the idea that there is a place in the art world for me and my work. They inspire me beyond words.
RF: Your photographs and photomontage seem to tell a story do you also write?
LH: I do love to write. I write best when there is a longing in my heart to address, and one could say that about my art, as well. There are those times when the words just won’t come, when the longing is so great, and the story wants to be seen, and not read. I really enjoy naming my work, and sometimes the titles are rather long, novellas themselves…
RF: Can you share your creative process and how you edit your work?
LH: My creative process starts with a core idea. This core idea varies in its specificity; sometimes it’s nothing more than an impression in my mind’s eye of a certain color scheme. Sometimes, that core idea is a specific detail like the moon as a man’s head, or a two-headed woman, or a skeleton and a woman dancing, but nothing more than that.
From the moment the core idea hits me, I begin to gather all of the bits which will go into the final piece. I look through my vast collection of antique photographs, searching for the perfect face, body, shoulders, waist, hair, hands, lips and eyes to create the main character. If I can’t find the details I am looking for, I end up photographing myself. My hands, my body in a bodysuit, my eyes, my legs and my hair have all found their way into my art. I also dig into the thousands of photographs I have taken over the years, which I call, “firewood”. Firewood can beimages or pieces of images of children’s toys, trees, animals, paint textures, flowers, clouds, dirt, doors, windows, puzzles, mounted insects, props, antiques – basically all the little details that people don’t readily notice, but their presence really make the pieces sing.
I add firewood, and I subtract firewood. The piece shifts and changes – but as long as my actions and reactions continue to resonate with the original core idea, I follow wherever they lead. There come several points where I’ll print a copy out, paint in some details, re-scan that and layer it using Photoshop within the piece. I’ll go out photograph missing details that I need from multiple angles, and bring it back to the studio, working it all into the piece. The pieces get really complicated, much more than I think most people expect.
For example, one of my pieces, entitled, “Do You Love Me” 2012, was the hardest piece I’ve ever made; emotionally and technically. I actually kept a tally of the amount of hours and the number of layers and such, just because as it was unfolding, it was such a huge accomplishment.
The results of that tally:
– 192 hours just on compositing, in 3 weeks time
– Layered psd file size 2.4 gb
– 479 layers (including 46 groups, 96 layers with photographic/pixel information, 47 painted layers, 336 adjustment layers, 452 masks)
RF: How does photography affect the way you see the world?
LH: It has a literal effect, actually. I find that when I speak to people, I move myself to frame them, either so they have flattering light, or to eliminate a bad background. I won’t have a discussion with someone if there is a tree growing out of their head or a bright light behind them. Most people don’t even know I’m doing this as I speak to them, I just gently move, slowly, to a better vantage point, and they move with me. It’s like a dance. Must have come from all of my years as a wedding photographer.
RF: How do challenge yourself creatively speaking?
LH: The best trick, so to speak, that I’ve learned, is expecting one creative act of myself, each and every day. At first that meant Art, with a capital “A”. But not everything is meant to be art! I learned that if I challenge myself to be creative every day, I end up being more creative in the rest of my life. The challenge, really, is in being creative when I truly feel like doing nothing at all.
RF: What do you hope your art says to the viewer?
LH: I want my art to invoke in the viewer a strong feeling. I hope for feelings of love or even longing, hope itself or peace, maybe strength. But really, at the end of the day, if a viewer feels strongly about any of my work, then I have done my job. That says to me that I have translated my own feelings, given them a voice; and that voice has been heard.
Thank you Liz for your time and your art.
March 10, 2011
Liz Huston is a photographer and photomontagist based in Venice California. Her subject matter is varied and her techniques are versatile. Whether she is using pinhole photography in a New Orleans Cemetery, her iphone camera in the city, or photographing jellyfish underwater, compelling themes about mortality, the supernatural, and our place in the world are always present. Her work can be seen in galleries in California and New York, in magazines, and on her web site. Her work has been published in three books; Sacred New Orleans Funerary Grounds (2005), At the Threshold of Life (2008), and most recently in The Motionless Dream (2011). Ms. Huston has graciously agreed to share her work and thoughts here on The Daily Undertaker.
Pat McNally: The interplay between permanence and impermanence, and between the familiar and that which is beyond our understanding is everywhere in your work. We see antique figures that seem very familiar, but have been transformed in supernatural ways. We see signs of decay and life that belie the permanence of stone monuments. What draws you as an artist to these themes?
Liz Huston: I have always been interested in the supernatural, the strange and the unusual. So these themes spoke to me on a personal level first. I explored everything occult, supernatural, and fringe that I could get my hands on in my early years. After that, all I learned was integrated into my being, where it sort of just spoke through me as an artist.
As for the cemetery photography, looking back, I believe I was drawn to it in an effort to come to terms with my own mortality. What I learned though the lens was that everything is always changing, expanding, morphing, and moving towards its own death. If everything is in a state of impermanence, perhaps then to take a photograph or to make a piece of visual art is an attempt to freeze that moment in time and preserve it from its own demise. I cultivated a peace of mind in the idea of death, and in doing so found I was suddenly more open to life.
PM: There seems to be a great deal of emotional content in your images. Even the still life and nature work, express love, loss and pain. Can art be a means to healing for the artist and the viewer? Can looking at our situation, from the perspective that art affords us, enable us to deal with emotional issues and move forward?
LH: I am a woman who feels very deeply, and so, creating authentic work for me means that each piece is laced with a certain emotional intensity, and an emotional subtlety, as well.
The creation of art is indeed an act of healing for the artist. In times of great confusion, change, pain, sadness, even happiness, the only constant, for me at least, was art. Creating allows a space to rest, to dream and reflect - to wander between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind in a safe way. It's a funny journey to take, between the conscious and subconscious. There have been many times where I'd make a piece of art, thinking the entire time that it was about one thing on a conscious level. Once the piece is finished, that original intent is still intact, but it has a strange way of revealing some deeper truth. Inevitably, it puts me face to face with the truth, be it pain or joy, I subconsciously was trying to avoid.
Art is a great mirror, if you allow it. It is also the great transformer, an alchemist, if you will. I have made work to help me get through a specific heartbreak, only to have that same piece, years later, take on a whole new meaning. The stench of heartbreak is no longer palpable, and instead the piece gives off an air of transcendence and personal power.
I also believe that art is a great healer for the viewer as well. When an artist travels to the most authentic parts of themselves and brings a vision forth from there, the result must be healing for others. We are all on this strange journey called life; we all have many of the same struggles and joys. To see yourself reflected in a piece of art creates a sense of humanity, a connection - and I believe that is where the healing comes from. Realizing that you're not alone in your experience; that it had happened to others before and it will happen to even more after.
PM: It’s interesting to me that even across different media, your work is recognizable in its atmospheric, and even its granular feeling. The images may be from different dreams, but it is clear that they are from the same dreamer. Where in your mind or experience does this ‘place’ come from?
LH: I mentioned in an earlier answer, an authentic place within. Even though I say 'authentic place', it's not really a place, but a feeling. I get an idea, a core image and I work with that. It's usually a pretty abstract idea, but the more questions I ask, the more I work with the idea, the more it comes into focus. As long as I'm true to the core idea, from beginning to end, the result is authentic. That is what allows me the freedom to cross over into different mediums and have the vision constant within them all.
I really appreciate you saying 'it is clear that they are from the same dreamer". So many artists feel that they have to limit themselves to doing one thing only; one look, one theme, one medium, one consistent style that viewers can always recognize and relate to. I can see the value in that, I can. However, I think it's insulting to the viewer and stifles the creative process. To limit ones artistic self into creating only the same kind of work over and over again in a predictable manner kills the creative spirit. Don't get me wrong, this is something that I have had to work through for a long time. I too bought into the idea that it had to be the same work, same style, over and over. But, as I said in the beginning, everything is always changing and expanding. If I did not allow my work to change and expand, the work itself would then cease to be authentic.
PM: Your work certainly demonstrates the great value that cemeteries can be from an artistic and historical perspective. As a person who has obviously spent some time in cemeteries, what do you think about their cultural and emotional importance ?
LH: I was married in a cemetery in New Orleans, St. Louis Number 1. I think cemeteries are beautiful places, as full of peace and love as any sacred space. Emotionally speaking, cemeteries are incredibly important, especially with how disconnected we are in the west to the reality of death. Our society hides death away from us all too well. In the case of a natural death, our loved ones are carted away to leave this world in a cold and bright, impersonal hospital room. Where, just a hundred years ago, they would have passed quietly in the family home. Too often we never really get to say goodbye, and so cemeteries are needed to give us a place to grieve, move through the pain and perhaps even confront our own fears of death.
PM: There a many references to the afterlife in your work. Can art add something to the contemplation of our existence after death? Would you agree with me that the way we envision our existence after death profoundly effects the way we conduct our lives?
LH: I think that art is a great platform in contemplating our existence after death. Our soul within our physical body cannot contain the experience of death. Since the body cannot relate to it we can explore the notion through the mind. Our mind can decipher the code and explore the possibilities in art, because art is based on metaphors; a visual language that lives inside the mind.
I completely agree that our belief in existence after death effects the way we conduct our lives. If a person believes that this is the end of the line or even if they believe that this earth is a hell and heaven is somewhere else, then why not trash the environment, why care about future generations? It might be an extreme example, but I think you get my point. We are selfish creatures, and if we don't think we have anything invested then it's easier to turn a blind eye and give in to apathy.
For me, I don't give as much thought to the afterlife as I used to. I've made my peace with not knowing what lies beyond. In making that peace, I find that I've embraced my life as a whole. As a result I strive to live out my days with grace and beauty. I've learned to take responsibility for my place on this planet. It is important to me personally, to leave a sustainable legacy for my children and their children and so on.
PM: In addition to galleries, your work can be seen and purchased online in books and on Etsy. What changes would you hope that these relatively new opportunities will have on the ways we interact with art?
LH: The online world is such a fantastic way to discover new art, to connect with fans and friends - the possibilities of connecting seem so limitless it's a little daunting! At the end of the day, I truly hope that websites like Etsy help independent artists share their vision in a far-reaching way. A way that, even twenty years ago, would have been inconceivable.
PM: It appears that there is a great deal of detail in your work, especially the photomontage work. I imagine that seeing them in person is quite a different experience that on a computer screen. Are there any upcoming shows we should look out for?
LH: Yes, indeed! Seeing the work in person is a completely different experience. I print the photomontages on metal, then hand paint on top of the metal. They range in size from 8” x 10” to 20” x 24”. On metal they have such a luminescence, a truly otherworldly quality that you really have to see with your own eyeballs!
All work is copyrighted and used by permission