It’s Complicated

“Other interests” is probably too mild a phrase to capture the creative passions that animate O+A’s designers when they’re not at work. Our team has always included in-house sculptors, painters, dancers, writers, singers, builders—what is design, after all, but a practical aggregation of arts in service to a specific space?

So when O+A Project Manager, Laura Hapka, sent an email recently alerting staff to her upcoming show at Werkshack Gallery in Oakland, it was very much in keeping with the culture of the firm. Of course the woman who allocates staffing hours for all projects at O+A is an artist!

Laura’s show “Devaluation” is already up at Werkshack and will host a reception at this week’s First Friday Art Murmur in Oakland. It will continue into November. The show provides a window into a unique process that has given Laura an apparently inexhaustible range of directions. “When you look at my pieces they look very simple,” she says, “but there’s a lot going on.”

“Complicated minimalism” is how she describes it—art that looks minimalist when viewed from a stepped-back, hand-on-chin perspective, but is, in fact, intricate when you lean in. Laura’s technique of cutting paint into small pieces which she then assembles into sculptural surfaces gives each canvas a thematic unity that resonates as a fact of creative life with artists and designers alike: the complexity of effort behind simple-seeming achievements. Laura’s work often carries a tart social or political subtext—she once printed the Paris Climate Accord on paint, then shredded it—and every one of her pieces has a meaning.

 


If that seems unusually dutiful for a 21st century visual artist—well, Laura is a native Midwesterner.

“I grew up on a farm nine miles away from a town of 600 people. The nearest movie theater was like an hour away. The white-out scenes in the movie ‘Fargo’ were filmed up there.”

Potato-farm-as-metaphor is probably an angle on her work that Laura would just as soon plow under, but it’s irresistible to colleagues newly acquainted with her painting. Surely the labor-intensive manipulation of materials is related to that rural work ethic. Surely those bedrock Minnesota values inform her aesthetic of meaningful simplicity.

She shrugs. “I’m at peace now when I go to the countryside, but when I was growing up I really did not like it. I always trended toward wanting to be an artist. It was just never an option in conservative northern Minnesota where there were no artists.”


Even in progressive, art-abundant northern California being an artist is not an easy career choice. Laura’s work has been in the public eye for a little over four years, and while she is steadily building a following, the vagaries of art as a business make every artist’s progress a singular quest. “It takes guts and grit to make it in the art industry,” Laura says. “That and a relentless drive to create. And thick skin.”

Still, “making it in the art industry” is not the same as making art. The actual creation of new work is a world unto itself, a world with its own rewards. One of the things that emerges when you look closely at a Laura Hapka painting, one of the complications hiding in its minimalism, is the intricate, meticulous pleasure of creation. These shards of acrylic or shredded currency lovingly repurposed into a structure with the density and complexity of an organism speak to hours of meditative toil. Could this be what farmers, designers and artists have in common—a love for the physical process of their work?

“I’d rather start a piece than stop,” Laura says.

“Devaluation” is currently showing through November 9th at:
Werkshack
481 25th Street, Oakland, 94612
Fridays and Saturdays 12-5 pm
Art Murmur First Fridays, 6-9 pm.

Follow Laura and learn about upcoming events on her website: http://laurahapka.com/

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