By JoAnne Castagna, Ed.D.
World renowned Astronomer Dr. Rebecca Oppenheimer describes how it feels to discover something new in the universe, “It’s a tremendous excitement that triggers a lot of internal thoughts. It’s something the rest of the world hasn’t seen and you want to share it with them and make a contribution to human knowledge.”
She said she felt the same when she discovered Lisa Beth Older’s paintings.
Recently, Oppenheimer commissioned Older to create a painting to be hung in the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Astrophysics in New York City, where she is a curator and chair for the Museum’s Astrophysics Department.
This department is visited by international research scientists, graduate students, celebrities and dignitaries, such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, actress Susan Sarandon and Musician David Byrne, who were there recently.
She feels Older’s unique style of blending and bending colorful acrylic paint will help educate people about the outer universe and also their inner universe, which she feels is what artwork is all about. It’s to get people thinking.
Oppenheimer discovered Older, a Chelsea-based artist in New York City, when going to a meeting at 65 Broadway – The landmark American Express Building in Downtown New York City’s Financial District.
In the lobby, she was stopped by a series of paintings that seemed to have grabbed the attention of others as well.
“In an office building where you have hundreds of people going back and forth all of the time. I noticed that people were stopping and looking at her exhibit. I thought this was unusual because people usually are running to appointments. This said to me that these paintings are catching other people’s eyes besides mine,” said Oppenheimer.
Hardship of Hope Exhibit
The exhibit is called Hardship of Hope, and it is Older’s first solo exhibit in Manhattan. She was commissioned by the building’s management to create a series of eight 36 by 48 inch paintings using her unique painting style.
Older said, “Hardship of Hope represents my life and the life of all others who face challenges which can be overcome. Hope kept me going; hope keeps us all going.” To learn more about the Hardship of Hope Exhibit please read the sidebar.
When Oppenheimer, also an art enthusiast and collector, saw the exhibit she was attracted to Older’s unique style, “I love her use of heavy coats of paint with a lot of texture and her unusual color combinations,” said Oppenheimer.
Older calls her technique “blending and bending” paint. “My art of bending and blending paint is a reflection of the complexity of our society and the times we live in today. We live in a “texturized” society with a cross blend of cultures, buildings, food, technologies, creative energy and expressions – a sensory overload. These impressions translate into my work, which is rather perceptual than conceptual,” said Older.
Older begins her technique by blending a wide array of different colors of acrylic paint on a canvas. She believes all colors match.
She then bends the paint to get a texture. She said many artists blend, but she has not seen anyone bend the paint. Older said, “Maybe someone is doing it in another universe or galaxy!”
She bends the paint by digging into the paint with a Butcher Knife or other object and blends it in a certain way so that it becomes like a rainbow of colors in one stroke. “I use my subconscious to bend it and show the layers below,” said Older.
Other objects she uses include brushes, knives, forks and pencils. She said the bend has to come out just right because it can’t be reworked.
She then lets the paint dry slightly and then she layers, maneuvers, manipulates bends and stretches the paint into unworldly shapes.
She describes the results as imaginative, indulgent, sensual, emotional, energetic, quite three dimensional and esoteric.
Description of Style
To describe her style Older provides this analogy, “When you were a child you may have been given an exercise in kindergarten where you color a piece of paper with many different colors and then you cover it with black wax and then you scrape off the black wax.”
“When you scrape, you know what you’re going to get and it’s always nice as long as you trust the process. I liken my artwork to that,” said Older.
She describes her artwork as abstract expressionism. Her artwork has been compared to the works of the famous Abstract Expressionist Artist Jackson Pollock, who became known for his drip technique, who she said she does not emulate.
However, she is like Pollock in that she taps into her subconscious mind and the energy of her inner and outer universe when creating her work.
“I know there is a universe in there because I don’t plan to make this. Whatever I am making I’m approaching with a blank slate. But something inside of me is compelling me to the paint store, compelling me to pick out certain colors, dictating to me how it is going to come out and lets me know when it’s completed,” said Older.
She also believes this energy that is inside of us is how people connect or don’t connect. She felt that she connected with Oppenheimer when they met. Older said, “It’s like my internal universe and her external universe kind of collided together and we had an immediate, instant attraction.”
Oppenheimer agreed, “We share a similar appreciation for learning and discovery. This is what artwork is supposed to do.”
Honored by Commission
Older was honored to be asked by Oppenheimer to commission a painting. Instead of Older painting a piece using her blending and bending technique, she boldly created a piece using a technique she was just beginning to experiment with.
The technique, which is not new, involves pouring different colors of paint onto a canvas and moving it around to create different shapes and blends of color. Her technique is different in that she physically picks up the canvas and moves it around in combination with blowing the paint around the canvas.
From this technique, Kiss the Sky (36 by 36 in.) was created. Older said, “This painting has a lot of movement with greens and purples and a red image that resembles lips looking up toward the sky. There is an alien image and a feeling of outer space on purpose. The paint crystalized into an almost mountainous finish even though it is flat.”
Then Older received an email from Oppenheimer telling her that she had a dream about the painting Older was creating for her.
“When she told me about her dream, I was like God she couldn’t have dreamt of what I already painted for her, so I started to paint another one,” said Older.
You would think Older would have been upset, just the opposite. Older said, “With Kiss the Sky I felt like I did my duty to Rebecca, but I felt self-conscious creating this piece.
Now I felt I owed it to myself to paint for me and I did. I began to think of what she does for a living and how she looks through telescopes at the universe and I painted from my heart and soul and created My Inner Cosmos.”
My Inner Cosmos (36 by 36 in.) was created using Older’s signature blending and bending technique. Older said this painting is an amazing spectrum of colors and textures with an alien-like feel that depicts a moon, craters and planets.
Surprisingly, this second painting actually ended up looking like the cosmos even though she never knew what the cosmos looked like. Older said, “Afterward, I saw photos of the cosmos and was like wow. The cosmos is not just black with white specks. It’s filled with a blustering of colors and explosions and gas and linear lines and it looks just like what I placed on that canvas!”
Older had two paintings with different styles prepared for Oppenheimer and she didn’t know which one to show to her. She invited Oppenheimer to her studio and pointed to a wall full of paintings and asked her which one was hers.
Amazingly, Oppenheimer expressed that she liked both of the ones Older created for her. She commissioned My Inner Cosmos for the museum and purchased Kiss the Sky for her personal art collection.
Oppenheimer thinks My Inner Cosmos is perfect for displaying in her department, “It is just beautiful to look at. Every time you look at it you see something different. It also expresses the complexity of what we all study in the department, which is the sky and the universe as a three or four dimensional entity that we are all trying to understand,” said Oppenheimer.
She added, “The name My Inner Cosmos is interesting because it draws your attention inward. Many people at the museum also study biology, the process of what cells do and genetics. It is a perfect combination of what we all do on the science side of the museum. It exemplifies our work.”
Being commissioned is a win for Older as well, “This was my personal hardship of hope. It can open doors for other opportunities, such as getting into prominent galleries allowing me to do what I’m passionate about,” said Older.
Oppenheimer said, “I hope this piece will get people thinking about the complexity of what we all do. It is such a complicated piece and that is part of what we do. In science you deal with a lot of details. And it’s rare when you step back and think of the grand question. So I hope it spurs people to do that.”
To see more of Lisa Beth Older’s work go to www.LBOart.com. The Hardship of Hope exhibit is free and open to the public 24/7 in the lobby of 65 Broadway in New York City. The exhibit was originally scheduled to end last summer, but has been extended until further notice.
Dr. JoAnne Castagna is a freelance writer based in New York City. She can be reached at www.drjoannecastagna.com.
Additional Information: Hardship of Hope Exhibit
Artist, Lisa Beth Older
65 Broadway, New York City’s Landmark American Express Building (Lobby)
Free & Open 24/7
The exhibit was originally scheduled to end last summer but has been extended until further notice
“Hardship of Hope represents my life and the life of all others who face challenges which can be overcome. Hope kept me going; hope keeps us all going, “said Lisa Beth Older, Artist.
The exhibit also represents the hardship experienced by the men and women who live and work in New York City. “It’s a rough, tough environment where you have to grab that cab to get to your next meeting and the subways are stopped or delayed. It’s a struggle and we treasure it. We go through the hardship because we have hope for a better day,” said Older.
The environment of the city also plays a role in the exhibit concept. Older said, “This feeling of hardship and hope came from the juxtaposition of this building – the landmark American Express Building – which has seen The Depression and the Freedom Towers – the former World Trade Center – down the street. I was commissioned to make the exhibit fit into an environment of metal, steel and marble and at the same token express something about myself.”
Eight 36 x 48 inch paintings showcasing Older’s unique blending and bending painting style.
GLADIATOR: Layers of red, gray and Italian gilded gold acrylic and metallic paints on canvas. Older said this painting represents the fight for freedom from personal slavery. She said she was mad when she created this piece because she was being challenged by the exhibit. She believes sometimes you have to be challenged to move yourself to the next level. While she was creating this piece – which fittingly depicts a shield and metal -a force took over what she was doing and it ended up expressing exactly what she was at that moment – a fighter. She said, “Gladiator was me fighting through that anger. It was going to be a forceful piece to be reckoned with.”
YELLOW RIBBON: Layers of yellow and gold acrylic and metallic paints on canvas. Older said this painting represents faith in that we’ll unite with our loved ones, once again, despite the odds. Older said the yellow ribbon seen within the painting signifies the men and women coming home from the war and going back to work in the city. It also represents the tenderness of the many homeless people she sees lying around outside in the city who do not have jobs or homes.
REBORN: Layers of white, silver, gold and black acrylic and metallic paints on canvas. Older said this painting represents the memory of someone young and fiercely loved, who we’ve lost. She said this painting is named Reborn because she had a baby that passed away shortly after he was born. The little gold alien at the top of the piece represents him being reborn again into this painting. Older said, “No one else can understand what kind of pain and hardship that is and still carry around a little bag of hope.”
LENORE: Layers of black, gold, silver and white acrylic and metallic paints on canvas. Older said this painting represents her mother that she lost at the age of six, who is now shining down on us. She said this painting that has an almost French Proventil feel was an emotional piece for her to make, but she felt that she needed to be there.
THE INFERNO: Layers of bright red and gold acrylic and metallic paints on canvas. Older said this painting represents her personal ascent from hell on earth to her present heaven. Older said that when she was creating this piece, she was feeling the challenges of the exhibit again. She said, “Inferno represents me getting to my boiling point. I was going to be fiery and rebellious.”
BEATING HEART: Layers of blue and gold acrylic and metallic paints on canvas. Older said this painting represents the hope that life will continue to go on no matter what obstacles lay ahead. Older said that this painting was her hope. She wanted to have fun with this painting after going through a lot of struggling, so she decided to use a bright blue paint and to play around and experiment with it. She used a Butcher Knife to bend the paint and also poured some paint onto the canvas. The results show a gold heart and aorta inside of the work.
THE EMPEROR: Layers of green and silver acrylic and metallic paints on canvas. Older said this painting represents the idea of not letting circumstances ruin our joy and that our regrets are superseded only by our dreams. What gave her the idea for this painting was a crushed bright green Mountain Dew can she saw lying in the street. “It represents the poverty we have in the city. We see people dragging these huge garbage bags filled with empty soda cans. They are doing this to survive. It’s not an easy job digging through trash for these cans. It’s all about jobs and hardship of the city and yet the hope that surrounds us,” said Older.
MELEE: Layers of orange and black acrylic and metallic paints on canvas. Older said this painting represents stumbling blocks turned into stepping stones. She said Melee, with its Oriental feel, expresses her elation of finishing the exhibit and accomplishing something amidst all of the chaos she went through. “Melee is wild, chaotic and exciting,” said Older.