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33PA Interview with Debra Lott

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Debra Lott [b.1951] is an American figurative artist from South Florida, now based in Louisville, KY. Her work focuses on figurative paintings that empower women and reflect upon the human experience. Her portfolio includes socially conscious themes that communicate human values and emotions. Lott completed her undergraduate degree at Palm Beach Atlantic University and received her Masters of Art in Teaching Art from Florida Atlantic University. She studied privately under Graham Ingles, EC Comic illustrator. 

 Lott has practiced oil painting and portraiture while instructing art classes since 1971. Selected exhibitions include: Evansville Museum of Fine Art, KY, Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, KY, 33 Contemporary Gallery, Chicago, Eastern Kentucky University, Xavier University, Cincinnati and Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin.

Selected awards include: International Artist Magazine Art Prize Competition, Finalist Award, American Women Artists Spring Show, Outstanding Figurative Award, 16th International ARC Salon Competition, Finalist, Portrait Society of America, Member’s only Competition, Finalist, and Save Art Space- Solo Public Art Exhibit installed in Louisville, KY and Seattle Washington. Recent publications include International Artist Magazine, New Visionary Magazine and Fine Art Connoisseur. Lott is a grant recipient from Kentucky Funds for the Arts, Great Meadows Foundation and three-time recipient from Kentucky Foundation for Women. Notable collections include Norton Cancer Institute, Family Scholar House of Louisville, KY and The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Department for Community Based Services.

Debra Lott is among a select group of artists to have their artwork on the moon (digital and analog technology in time capsules) and the first of women artists to have her painting on the lunar surface. The Lunar Codex is the first project to put the work of women artists on the Moon and also represents the first figurative realist art on the lunar surface. Lott’s work was selected by Samuel Peralta the payload coordinator and curator for the Lunar Codex.

What's the purpose or goal of your work?

 For the past 20 years I have been exclusively painting the female figure. My focus on the female form (beyond my passion for painting the figure) stems from my desire to empower women and reflect upon the human experience. I see my paintings as a way of recording the world through my own shared experience as a woman while addressing socially conscious themes and expressing human values and emotions.

How can your work affect societal issues?

 I've found my art to be a powerful tool for social transformation, particularly in advocating for the abused and marginalized, with a focus on black women who often face intersecting forms of oppression. Through my series of paintings and solo exhibits, I strive to bring attention to their experiences and amplify their voices. I've been fortunate to witness firsthand how my work can impact societal issues. One of my exhibits centered around elderly women, where I collaborated with nursing homes to showcase their resilience and beauty. Some of the women who modeled for my paintings were able to attend the opening reception, even at the age of 99. The impact was profound, as the staff reported that these women began to feel a renewed sense of self-worth and took pride in dressing up each day. Another solo exhibit delved into the #MeToo movement, featuring young women as models who were in recovery from abusive relationships. I feel that these exhibits exemplified the transformative power of art in social issues and helped foster empathy and understanding among viewers

Mention a specific critique you have received about your work. What have you learnt from it?

In my solo exhibit, "#METOO”, I received several critiques, including the following two examples.  Art critics hold significant influence over an artist's reputation, which can be a daunting experience. These critiques, both pertaining to the same exhibit, offer contrasting viewpoints. It's noteworthy that one critique is more positive and detailed. Aside from their difference in gender, one writer took the initiative to interview me and ask questions about my concept, while the other relied solely on personal observation.

“Only one, Debra Lott’s show at PYRO Gallery, made any overt mention of the MeToo movement, but any preoccupation with subjects such as the struggle for gender equality or the rise in protest against sexual harassment and assault is handled with reserve. Lott’s paintings of young women have always had a pensive air, and it feels as if she raises her characteristic viewpoint to match the needs of a MeToo statement with ease and authority. Yet all of that is in the social atmosphere so pervasively that it cannot help inform the way the work impacts us at this moment.” 

“Some people see ribbons and strings as tools that hold things together, that keep things from falling apart. Debra Lott sees them differently. Ribbons bind and trap. In her paintings, they wrap and tangle around women — a metaphor for silencing victims of sexual abuse. But there’s hope and healing in Lott’s work; the ribbons and strings ensnare women, but the women take those ribbons in their hands, unraveling themselves from bondage”. 

I feel the first critique, solely based on the observer's perspective, lacked the depth that comes from direct communication with the artist. While it may offer valuable insights, it could also miss intentions behind the work. It can be nerve-wracking to receive critiques, especially when they vary widely, but they also provide valuable feedback and perspectives on your work.

Tell me about a time you received negative comments or harsh criticism. How did you handle it?

There have been occasions where I've faced negative feedback from critics, a familiar experience for many artists, which can induce feelings of self-doubt and depression. One memorable critique occurred during my solo exhibit titled 'Women Imaging Women,' where a critic deemed my work irrelevant.  While some might argue that any attention, positive or negative, is welcome exposure, and that criticism can serve as motivation for improvement, I believe it's essential to stay authentic to your artistic vision. I've realized that creating art solely to please others never yields genuine satisfaction or success.

Describe a piece of art you are most proud of. Why?

My most recent painting, ‘The Skelton Key’, holds a special place in my heart.  It stemmed from a visit to a local century-old church where I noticed the beauty of its wooden arched doors. I envisioned a young woman standing before those doors and I was inspired to bring it to life through a photo shoot with a hired model. The process of capturing the contrast between the bright white dress and the dark, shadowed door, while playing with warm and cool lighting, presented significant challenges. However, the satisfaction of completing this 36x60 full figure painting was rewarding. The inclusion of the young woman holding a vintage chain and skeleton key adds an element of mystery and narrative depth to the artwork, making it a piece I am truly proud of."  


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