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Pink Table
Pink Table

Lisa Roy
by Renée Germaine

"Lisa Roy shoots banality in color." So claims the invitation to her most recent group show in New York. The description is an understatement of Lisa's work, given the beauty and complexity of her photographs. Her pieces are visually and thematically intense images that use design to make beautiful the ugliness of post-modern living. Often shot on cruise ships and in hotel lobbies, Lisa's photographs capture interior spaces that attempt to create beauty out of chrome, plastic, and neon, but that have failed in this attempt. By using light, color, and meticulous composition, Lisa's images succeed where the architecture has not. By reconstructing these spaces, the artist brings to light the impersonality of life in post-modern America.

Interestingly, Lisa's early work was mostly black and white portraiture. She captured people in their natural environments, and while the faces and bodies spoke to the viewer, it was the composition and design that made the images resonate. The portraits captured a decidedly American chagrin, the Lost American Dream. Now, though, as she has removed the people from the photographs, Lisa is making an even more powerful statement. By abstracting the spaces, she creates a metaphoric paradox. The images resemble paintings, and are beautiful independent realities that communicate the bleakness of the spaces from which they are constructed.

"Banality in color." Were those your words or the gallery's?
Those are not my words. I think the phrase "banality in color" is a bit vague and doesn't say anything about my photographs. Arguably, the spaces that I've photographed are banal in some limited sense. But my photographs, the images that I create out of these spaces, have nothing to do with banality—the photographs are about an attempt to construct beauty out of plastic, neon, and chrome, and how this very American idea resonates with my personal development.

I remember the first photographs that you showed professionally; they were black and white, person-in-his/her-natural environment pieces. What precipitated the change of focus to large, interior spaces?
The portraits became less challenging and seemed less important to me. Just by chance I was invited on a cruise and went. I was immediately drawn to the spaces and people; I knew that I wanted to do something with it. It took several cruises and almost a year to make a good photograph.

I think what is most interesting to me about your paradigm shift is that as very different as the visual experiences are between your early work and the current pieces, there is a symmetry in their messages. I get the same feeling from that woman standing in the door of her trailer as I do from some of the cruise ship shots. You know, that Lost American Dream/Doll's House Gone Awry thing. Is that intentional or are you just obsessively drawn to symbols of these ideas?
I am naturally drawn to this subject matter. It has enormous resonance for me. The transformations I've tried to accomplish in these photographs are related to important personal transformations I've had to make.

Do you want people to look at these enormous, colorful prints and say, "Wow, that's beautiful," or would you rather hear, "Right, I get it—good point"?
Best case scenario, they say both.

You have been in four group shows in the last nine months. Obviously, things are happening. Have you felt it has been harder for you to make a name in the art world because you are a woman? Do you feel that men's work is taken more seriously?
I am not sure what "happening" really means in the art world. I am just making are that I want to make. Obviously, female photographers have been getting a lot of attention recently. I guess it remains to be seen whether we'll garner the type of long-term respect that the art world gives to male artists.

Do you think there is anything identifiably female about your images?
No, and I would hate to think that there has to be something "identifiably female" about my work because I am a woman.

I have to say this: from the first time I saw it, I've thought that the pink table shot looks like a uterus. A painter friend of mine said the same thing. Do you see that?
Sure. People react very positively to this image for a whole number of reasons. For me, the photograph resonates on several very different levels, and I think the anatomical is one of the most accessible of these levels. It is not, however, the most interesting to me. A few of these pictures work off of entrances and openings in architectural space—elements with clear uterine connotation.

The Artist's Space show was reviewed in The Times. I seem to remember your work being referred to as "brilliant" or "magnificent" or something like that. How important is the critics' response? I mean, I know how important it is in order for you to get more exposure, but does this response in any way affect your approach to or feelings about the work?

Speaking of critics, can you put that hat on for a minute? Who is out there making art right now whom you respect?
There is a lot of good art right now.

Who was making art long before you whom you respect?
There are many people, too many to list.

So, I heard a dirty rumor that you may be moving out of NYC. Are you worried that a more peaceful environment will be less conducive to your anxious art?
No. Not one of these photographs was actually taken in New York. Of the photographs that I have taken recently, the best ones were actually shot in Maine.

Lisa Roy received an M.F.A. from Yale University. Her work has been featured in galleries in Northampton, New York City, and Paris.