LISA SCHULTE: A Neon Artist from California

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Lisa Schulte is a California-based neon artist. 

“Life is full of inspiration; all we have to do is look.”

-Lisa Schulte

Tell us how you got interested in neon from the start?

My love for “light” started in my late teens.  I had a friend who was a DJ at a disco.  I was underage, so I would get in under the guise of “working the lights”.  I love it.  The flashing colored lights and the swirling patterns of light from the disco ball above the dance floor were intoxicating.  Coupled with the energy and emotions from the couples dancing, I was hooked.  It didn’t take me long to see that the music was the beat but the lights set the mood; and I was in control!

Eyes Wide Open, 21″ x 74″

What is your source of inspiration?

Everything really.  It’s really rather difficult for me to articulate with any degree of accuracy.  Sometimes I’m inspired by a sound, sometimes a shape, for example branches, by colors at a particular time of day, or maybe a “feeling.”  Life is full of inspiration; all we have to do is look.

What was your first piece in Neon? When?

My first “piece” was actually to design a set for the 1984 Olympics.  My boss had given me the task of setting something up and when I told him I had an idea but no one provided the neon, he said that that was my problem and I just needed to get it done.  And so I did.

Can you tell us what your creative process is; draw first? Take picture of something you like? Else, and then what?

Most of my ideas come to me in my sleeping hours.  I will often wake up and sketch whatever it is I’ve seen in my sleep.  In the morning I will continue to work on the sketch/idea over many cups of coffee and cigarettes.  I see most things as a neon project.  It it’s a large piece, I will sometimes paint it to get a better idea of what it might look like. There’s really no science involved or particular methodology; I just go with it.

You are working with glass and gas; are there accidents sometimes?

Working with high voltage and open flames accidents are not unheard of.  Most commonly it’s a shock from the voltage or a serious burn from the flames.  The gases are contained and non-volatile, but under pressure.  There’s a certain degree of caution that must be used here as well.  While working with neon is fun, it requires hyper-vigilance.  I have certainly been both burned and shocked, but fortunately not seriously injured.

How is it to work as a female artist in your field?

Most fields historically have been male dominated and certainly the neon/sign industry was no exception.  While I was well received for the most part, I did have issues with work crews.  But that could have been attributed to my young age (21) in as much as the fact that I was/am a woman.  At this stage it’s really a non-issue with the exception that most galleries are male owned and they tend towards showing the men’s work.

Was there a time you wanted to stop and do something else?

Stop? Neon? Is there anything else?  Seriously, my love for neon is never ending and there is always a challenge to be overcome.  Pushing the limits of neon physics is just to exciting to ever fantasize leaving my first love; NEON!

If so, what kept you going?

It never occurred to me to change.

What type of client are attracted to your art?

My demographics are really all over the place.  For the older generations neon evokes memories of a gentler time.  With the young, they love the bold colors, the motion, and the “newness” of the neon. (Shhh… we won’t tell them it was around before their grandparents!)  My clients run the gamut in terms of age and walk of life.  Reaching such a broad audience, for me, validates my work.

Your piece, “Eat, Dream, Love,” looks like it could have been inspired by different areas of neon advertisements.  Are these periods influencing your work a lot?

It would be difficult not to be influenced by neon advertising.  Neon, in its earliest form, was exactly that; a form of advertisement.  The first neon signs appeared here in Los Angeles in 1923, purchased by Earle C. Anthony for his car dealership.  The two signs read “Packard” and were purchased for the price of $24,000.  Channel letters evolved from theatrical advertising.  In addition, I have a collection of over 10 thousand neon signs and lettering that also serve as inventory for my neon rental business (www.nightsofneon.com).  I have to support my art somehow!

A Conversation, 20′ x 10′

We recognize every element in “A Conversation” as being very actual.  Tell us about this piece.

This piece came about as a result of a curator pushing and pushing me to come up with something that was worthy of a “museum” piece.  He had already turned down 5 other pieces! The idea for the piece did come from an actual text conversation.  The conversation went from loving, to complicated, to contentious and angry very quickly.  As I thought about that conversation in hindsight I realized the issue stemmed from a complete void of perspective.  If I write here, I don’t like this question; you really have no idea how to interpret that as there are no marks to show where the accented syllables are.  As it is in human nature, we tend to become defensive and automatically assign our own meanings to a written statement.  In the statement above, the emphasis would have been placed on “like” and finished with a giggle therefore removing any tone of anger or frustration.

The actual text conversation went full circle with both of us asking to have face time so we could finish our discussion without the angst.  As a species, we have really lost our ability to verbally communicate.  Our world is limited to whoever our lists of contacts are on our smart phones.  I hope that “Conversations” will bring attention to the breakdown in verbal conversation. Things get lost in translation when we don’t take the time to go and live.

Is there a piece that you’ve made that you like in particular?

To date “Conversations” is my favorite piece.

What would be a dream project for you?

Having a solo exhibition has always been a dream and I am pleased to say that is in the works.

Scanned, 39″ x 60″

Any desire to expand and work with different mediums?

Interestingly enough, the show I am working on is mixed media; my first of this endeavor actually.  I am working with organics such as drift wood, grape branches and tree roots for my current pieces.  I find that working with these, while challenging, has opened new creative avenues for me.

Any exhibitions coming soon?

Yes; I have my first solo exhibition opening September 13, 2014 at the Hinge Modern Gallery in Culver City, California.

What are you working on these days?

I am currently working on the body of work that will constitute my solo exhibit in September.  This is actually a whole new body of work for me.

Please tell us everything we could have possibly missed that out readers would love you to tell them.

Gosh, can’t think of a thing now that you ask!

To get more information about Lisa Schulte, visit her website and at Nights of Neon.

Presented by The International Foundation for Women Artists.

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