Mother’s Little Helper: Lori Solley
By Derrick White
“So much of my content in my drawings are based on being a mom and being a woman and my feelings of being invisible to my family and isolated from the art world. I was so devoted to being a mom I was not as prolific as I wish I had been in the early days of motherhood. By the time I had my second child, I had begun to adjunct teach at Kilgore College, and I was struggling with my role and identity as an artist and a mother. There was a moment of maternal ambivalence, a conflict of needs, mine, or my family’s. Then I realized when I started this new work one thing doesn’t stop when the next begins. There will be some overlap and I had to learn to accept a new way of working and accept help when it was offered. It is a balancing act. I can be all these things at once, a mom, artist, wife, educator, house cleaner, and cook. I just had to find the right way for it to work for me. Realizing these things is really when my work shifted, and the medium changed to what can I get done right now. If I only have fifteen minutes, I will work and rework my collages. I had to adapt my style and be able to stop and start at any moment,” states East Texas artist and educator Lori Solley. Her exhibition, by the Gladewater native, is on view at the University of Texas at Tyler’s Fine Arts Complex Gallery until October 14, 2022, and it is one of Glasstire’s (the oldest online-only art magazine in the country, focusing on Texas art) weekly Top 5 recommendations.
Lori Solley started college right after high school fully intending to study biology until an art appreciation class changed her life and she switched to art. She remembers, “There was something about looking at someone’s interpretation of an event or an idea I wanted to know more about.” Solley attended the University of Texas at Tyler and began majoring in fine arts specifically two-dimensional art, primarily printmaking, etching, and linoleum block printing. After graduation, she attended Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking. Lori is interested in exploring the human figure and loves using charcoal in her art. She explains, “When I draw, I like to work in black and white, with a full range of grays but when I collage or embroider, I incorporate color. I use a neutral color palette because I want the work to read as a memory and the colors are meant to provide just a hint of nostalgia. My hope is what I have been making represents what I can give the parameters and hurdles existing for my practice as a mother and an artist.”
Lori describes, “In college, we were studying the historical background of some artists in art appreciation and when we got to the Neo-Classical and Romanticism movements with all these great narratives, which had historical significance, and created emotional context, I knew it was something I had to know more about. I remember thinking I want to be able to tell a story like that. I wanted to be a painter and make massive oil paintings but once I took printmaking; that was it for me. The process and methodology of making a plate and seeing it through to the end were the best. The reveal of the print, the sound of the ink and brayer were hypnotizing, and I fell down the rabbit hole of printmaking.”
In discussing the East Texas art scene and her now full-time position teaching art at Kilgore College, Lori responds, “The art community here in East Texas is so diverse. I love being in this area and having the opportunity to see such a variety of artwork. I feel like there is so much happening in this area with the museums, the art galleries, and the murals. Seeing art every day and watching students make work and getting excited about telling their stories is such a joy. Being able to experience so much artwork with others and having a community of artists around helps keep me on track. I depend on art in the cliched way of being able to show you how I feel instead of telling you how I feel.”
Solley is influenced and inspired by many artists including Alice Neel (painter best known for her expressive pieces portraying acquaintances, relatives, writers, and strangers), Amy Sherald (painter chosen to paint the official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery), and Deborah Roberts (Texas artist working in mixed media collage). Lori adds, “The artist I am currently fascinated with is Jay Defeo who made this piece called The Rose she finished in 1966. She labored with the work for 8 years, it is ten and a half feet tall, and it weighs close to one ton. It is built-up layers of paint she would carve back into. She made such an interesting body of work, painting, drawing, collage, photography, and small sculpture.”
Lori describes, “I am not in a separate space when I am doing work. I have a converted garage, so I use the walls in there and the countertops in our kitchen. Plus, all the embroidery happens at the kitchen table so when I am working, I hear ‘mama can I have this, mama, mama, mama’ so there is a lot of stopping and starting. In some ways, it can be isolating but it helped so much in terms of the trajectory of where my story is going.” Adding, “I must give my husband a lot of props for helping me with all the familial responsibilities. I can go to him and say, ‘I need an hour to work out the first layer of value’ and he can keep the kids busy and out of my studio. This has been the thing motherhood and being an artist has taught me the most. Studio time is so much more precious now. If I have an hour, I make the most of the time. I have all these ideas for new pieces and sometimes piano lessons, dance lessons, and after-school events must come first so I keep a sketchbook or a device nearby and adapt my media too. I can take a lot of my smaller works to other locations and finish the embroidery on them after the collage or drawing portion is complete.” She concludes, “When I go into the studio I get to work, and then I can hear all the sounds of my home life filtering into the studio, and it is slowly becoming the ever-present sound of inspiration for my work.”