Laura Lobdell is a true beach bum. Aside from clocking some serious sand time in a hut on the Bay of Bengal in Burma, Laura mostly putters around beaches in the Hamptons. Recently she’s been spending time picking up trash during long beach walks.
Laura’s most recent exhibition in the Hamptons is called SWELL, and it’s particularly important and exciting because the intention of the work is to raise awareness about threats we are posing to our oceans and wildlife by littering our beaches.
We sat down with Laura to take a deeper dive into her background & the issues SWELL addresses.
What’s your art background?
Right now my studio is in essentially a tree house, sort of like an art residency for one near the beach. I love being at eye level with the leaves – as the wind comes through they sound like the ocean.
After graduating with an MFA at the School of Visual Art, I did a post graduate fellowship in Hong Kong where I studied Chinese to explore the characters, paint calligraphy and other art forms like wood block printing and zhuamke (seal cutting).
What’s an interesting fact that not many people know about you?
I gave my dog, who is a black and white Japanese dog, an Italian-sounding name. “Enso” is a Zen symbol and a calligraphic circle usually made in a near-meditative state, traditionally in black ink on white paper. Enso also references the fluctuation of ocean temperatures, El Niño-Southern Oscillation. I often paint an enso as the first gesture I make in the studio.
Where is your favorite beach?
Ocean and sand are always a good mix to me. Indian Wells beach has accumulated a lot of good walks and meaningful moments for me.
Yes, the ultimate mix for sure. Aside from beaches, what inspires your art?
It depends on the day. Last week, it was a stone gargoyle carved on an old building near my store on West 10th Street in NYC and the bright red paint on the firehouse. On Sunday, it was some smooth white stones I found on the bay beach. This morning, some driftwood that washed onto the beach.
Right on. You were recently exhibiting in our neck of the woods, at the Quogue Gallery in the Hamptons.
Yes, having a solo show is always a wonderful opportunity for full expression of a body of work and also a good way to step back & observe. The gallery environment separates the work from me as the artist and puts it into a public space, opening it up to commentary.
I was exhibiting SWELL at the Quogue Gallery and on the night of the opening, I was thrilled to talk to so many people, of a range of interests and ages, engaged by the issues SWELL addresses. The dialogue around SWELL was exciting, since the Quogue Gallery creates a community focal point, and the photos document what’s happening very locally on our Hamptons beaches. People were so surprised by the amount of work I could create based on this abundance of debris.
How did the SWELL project come about?
SWELL began a few summers ago when I was so saddened by the debris on the beautiful beaches of the Hamptons. I vowed to collect a piece of trash from the beach on every walk I took. This led to me picking up lots of trash—but that was still quite obviously ineffective.
The following summer, it occurred to me that I might be able to find beauty in the trash and document it with photos—which could then be used to get the message out.
The Mylar balloons are a symbolic choice for me—the concept that as individuals we can make positive choices for our environment—people can easily avoid turning balloons into trash on our beaches. The Mylar and the ribbons harm the ocean wildlife as well as pollute the waters and we can simply do better.
Whalebone will be releasing their Water Issue this month, which touches on many aspects of the ocean. What else can we do to pioneer the ocean awareness movement?
This interview is a great start, thank you. SWELL focuses on the Mylar balloons in part because they make for beautiful images but also because they symbolize actions we can take as individuals. There are so many ways we can work together to help people realize that there are serious consequences to releasing balloons, and of course other man made items, into the environment.
It may look pretty to watch balloons float away, perhaps for an Instagram moment or by accident, but the balloons and their strings harm our oceans and kill wildlife. A reminder of being mindful toward our environment would encourage people to take extra care.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I’m currently making a series of small oil paintings of the beach stones and natural things I find while walking on the beach.
I’d also like to continue the dialogue of SWELL, which I think is just getting started, by getting it out into the world more and more. There are other beaches and so many more proverbial balloons.
For the next project, I guess that depends on what I find on my next beach walk.