For most of her life, Lindsey Liss lived a conventional life while writing and taking photographs as a hobby. It wasn’t until middle age that she discovered her true passion and started doing what makes her happy, and what she’s best at. Now, at 42, only three years since focusing on her art full-time, Liss is seemingly on the verge of something most artists strive for but rarely attain — recognition, respect, and clients.
A native of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Liss moved to Chicago in 1997 after graduating from the University of Indiana, where she said she majored in The Grateful Dead. Arriving in Chicago by herself, Liss worked in the hotel industry putting together corporate events and later sold advertising for the Yellow Pages. It wasn’t until having her four children, who now range in age from 8 to 13, that she had an epiphany and turned her creativity into her vocation.
Liss, who still writes a lot and takes pictures, focuses mainly on creating lenticulars and art using neon signs. Lenticular printing is a technology used to produce printed images with an illusion of depth, or the ability to change or move as the image is viewed from different angles. Liss thinks of the image, often combined with words, and has it printed. For her work with neon, she is not a bender of neon, meaning she does not fabricate neon signs. Rather, she says she considers herself a neon scrapper who remixes – giving new life to the old. Enter her studio and one finds a collection of old neon signs, some in full, some just parts, along with transformers and other parts that are essential to making them glow. Both her lenticulars and her neon signs are heavily influenced by words and phrases. Looking over her work, it’s obvious that words matter. But so do the images that she pairs with the words. For her lenticulars, it could be a phrase such as “He Said, She Said”; an image of a woman’s breasts with the word ‘boobs’ superimposed when looked at from one angle, and images of Donald Trump superimposed over them when looked from another angle; An image of crime victims behind the phrase “Stop Children What’s That Sound” from one angle and “Everybody Look What’s Going Down” when viewed by another.
With her neon work, often it’s a mishmash of letters from a variety of old signs to create something new, like her “Delusional,” which is part of a national competition that she is currently in. Liss also has been combining her neon work with her lenticulars, and getting noticed. Like most artists, her work hasn’t been an overnight success. For Liss, it’s been a three-year process, mostly self-taught through trial and error, but a process that is now starting to pay off with clients from all over. Her work has been exhibited at Zhou B Art Center, Heaven Gallery, HAM Gallery, 2112 Incubator, Arts Incubator at University of Chicago, Connect Hyde Park, Soho House Chicago, The Paris Club, Macy’s and Double Door.
She first began working at her home but opened up a studio in the Cornelia Arts Building in Roscoe Village two years ago because her production was taking too much space. She now has several art-collecting clients in Chicago and beyond, from the random art lover to famous fashion designers like Betsey Johnson.
Currently Liss is in the busiest period of her career and on the cusp of getting national attention. She just landed a large commission in New York City. She has a show in November in Lincoln Park; will take part in an open house at the Cornelia Arts Center October 6; and starting September 14 people will be able to vote for her in the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series, which is an annual search for the best emerging artists from North America. Her piece in that competition, “Delusional,” will be on display at Gallery Guichard, 436 E. 47th Street from September 23 through October 21.
Liss recently had a series of conversations about her career over three days with Bob Chiarito of The Chicago Ambassador where they discussed her art, the impetus behind it, and why she feels that she’s on the cusp of ‘going all the way.’
CA) You moved to Chicago in 1997?
LISS) Yes, I moved to Chicago to work in the hotel business, doing corporate events. I knew virtually no one. But it wasn’t me. It was after I started having kids that I really —
CA) That’s when you started with your art?
LISS) I had always taken pictures and written things, even if I didn’t consider it art at the time. I think you’re born an artist. I just called it something different.
CA) What did you call it?
LISS) Just my writing, or photography. I was experimenting back then. I think art is the most important thing, it’s everything.
CA) You told me that it was after you had your kids that you really got serious about your art. Was it something you had to do?
LISS) I had to, I had to get the stories out. I don’t know, it was just like I had to!
CA) You had something to say.
LISS) Yeah. I might have gone crazy. I told you I had a lot of questions. I didn’t know creative was a good thing, that you could do it as a career.
CA) What kind of stuff did you first start doing?
LISS) I’ve always written and taken photos. I don’t even understand how it happened. It was so slowly. I’d get these ideas. I started painting and doing stuff with my kids. But then I’d keep going. I could see it in my head. I’d have these messages and words that had two parts to them. I like the duality. I always thought people could take my art and put it together to tell their story.
CA) You said you had a lot of questions and were confused at first. What do you mean by that?
LISS) I find that people in the art community went to school for it and I am an outsider. I do visual poetry. If you want to know how it started, that’s how it started. By taking the words and making them visual. I’m still writing like you wouldn’t believe. I think that’s why I work with lenticulars and neon, it’s my way of editing.
CA) How did you start with the neon?
LISS) I’ve always loved the way neon looked. It’s light, what’s better than light? But it’s really evolved into more than what I thought. One of the first pieces that really got me into it is a piece I did that’s now hanging in a really cool Airbnb in the city. It’s “Welcome to Chicagoland.” I had the idea for a sign, then I had to find a way to make it.
CA) How did you find people to help you work with neon?
LISS) I’d learn some things the hard way… You see that I have a lot of neon signs and letters. I have qualifications for the stuff that I get. It has to be cool, something that I can picture doing something with, and it has to be pretty cheap, but good quality.
CA) Let’s go back a bit to when you started. Were you doing the lenticulars at the same time? What is that process like?
LISS) I come up with an idea and draw it out and then have it printed.
CA) I saw something at another exhibit today that made me think of you. It was a piece that said “Words Matter” and I thought of you because most of your work seems to be based on words and phrases.
LISS) Absolutely. Words matter. And it’s stuff that comes to me through meditating. It’s a lot of intuition and channeling. Words matter, words are everything.
CA) Regarding your writing, is it mostly poetry or stream of consciousness?
LISS) It’s stream of consciousness that has a beat or a rhythm. Everything is lyrics to me. The power of language, I really like that.
CA) What would you like to do with your writing?
LISS) I’d like to share it, just like with my art. I want to get it out there but everything unfolds in its right time. I’d love to put out a book or do something where I can share it.
CA) You want to share it, but you talked about wanting to spend some time with your art before letting it go. So you’re doing it for yourself and for others?
LISS) Right. But there’s a message in what I’m saying. I don’t want to call it conversations with God but the universe is whispering in my ear. I don’t necessarily need to know what the purpose of me doing it is. I know what my intent is. My intent is to create everything that I’m creating so the world of art can see it and it can be heard and make a difference. It will get out there when the time is right, when people can receive the most concise, clear message. The world is such a crazy place right now, I know that creativity is the only thing that changes it.
CA) Would you say that there’s any sort of unifying message with your art and your writing?
LISS) Love. One love. We are all the same and more alike than different. We just are behaving way too human.
CA) What do you mean? Do you mean behaving badly?
CA) But doesn’t human mean bad and good?
LISS) Of course, but the good has to outweigh the bad. I feel that nobody is better than anyone else. We just need to be reminded. I’m hoping that my art can take back thought and mind control and give it back to the people. I don’t care what people think, just think! I think we’ve become like over-processed cheese.
CA) Your stuff has some political messages but it doesn’t seem angry to me. It seems very optimistic.
LISS) I actually am angry.
CA) You’re angry but you’re an optimist.
LISS) That’s because I’m doing something. We are in this situation because we’ve gone against ourselves.
CA) What do you mean by ‘this situation’?
LISS) The climate of our country. Mother Nature is even mad at us right now. You look at things like [hurricane] Harvey that happened and it’s horrible but there is beauty that came out of it. People are acting civil. You take care of your neighbor.
CA) Where does most of your inspiration come from?
LISS) My influences are everybody. Everyone can teach me and I can find something to like about everyone. It doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them, but it’s about respect and dignity.
CA) Tell me about when you sold your first piece, that must have been pretty exciting, right?
LISS) That’s so intimate!
CA) [Laughter] I’m not asking about when you lost your virginity!
LISS) I think I rather tell you about that. [Laughter]
LISS) Yeah. For me, I think it’s part of the reason that I was holding myself back and not pushing my stuff that’s for sale. I feel like it’s selling a piece of me. It makes me feel very vulnerable. One of the first pieces was a lenticular of Cheap Trick and the eyes moved. I asked what kind of home it was going to and what other type of art they had.
CA) So obviously that’s pretty important to you?
LISS) Yeah. Yeah, I felt like I was selling a part of myself, that I was pimping myself out a bit.
CA) You do have a few pieces at Transistor, a store in Andersonville. Anyone can go in there, buy them, and you would not know who they are. Is that weird to you?
LISS) I feel detached because I have to be. That’s part of the process. It’s getting a lot easier [to let go]. I guess I like to spend a little time and enjoy my pieces for awhile before selling them. I just made a piece and people were asking me how much I want for it. I don’t know yet but I know I have to let it go.
CA) When you get a sign, letters or words — do you have an idea in mind for those or do you come up with something later?
LISS) Normally I come up with something later although right now I’m on the hunt for certain letters.
CA) Some of your stuff can be duplicated but some of it cannot, because you don’t have the same neon letters or whatever.
LISS) Right the neons are just like people, nothing will ever be exactly the same. Whereas the lenticulars are usually are made in a series of 7.
CA) Why 7?
LISS) I don’t know, one for every day of the week. Do you have a problem with 7?
CA) No, just curious why not 6 or 8?
LISS) Because I’m an outsider and I’m still figuring my shit out.
CA) You have the Bombay Sapphire competition, the show in November, an open house here, and a commission in New York City. Do you feel like you’re at a turning point?
LISS) Yes, 100 percent.
CA) What do you think has gotten you to this point?
LISS) Working my ass off and being little Ms. Loves-To-Be-Wrong.
CA) What’s that mean?
LISS) That’s how I learn. By making mistakes and growing.
CA) So you love to be wrong?
LISS) I don’t love to be wrong but I know that if I can admit that I’m wrong, that I’m learning.
CA) You told me before that you feel like you could go all the way and I had asked you what your definition of all the way is.
LISS) All the way is doing what I’m supposed to be doing and fulfilling my purpose. That’s all the way to me. Being balls to the wall, putting it out there and letting my voice be heard.
CA) Is that a destination or an ongoing journey?
LISS) It’s an ongoing journey. There are different summits and different base camps on my Everest.
CA) I don’t get the sense that you’ll ever sit back and say I’m done or that you have nothing more to offer. It seems like you’re just getting started.
LISS) I am just getting started. I’m having fun.
To find out more about the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series and vote for Lindsey, click here. Her piece in that competition, “Delusional,” will be on display from Saturday, September 23 through October 21, 2017 at Gallery Guichard, 436 E 47th Street.
To find out more about the October 6 open house at the Cornelia Arts Building, click here.
To find out more about Lindsey Liss, click here.