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Lisa Yuskavage On Criticism, Courage And Her New Aspen Art Museum Show, 'Wilderness'


Lisa Yuskavage first became known for her paintings of provocative female nudes. Her new show at the Aspen Art Museum, “Wilderness,” focuses on a more under-the-radar aspect of her work: landscapes.

Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter Christin Kay: Your work is pretty provocative, and it was even seen as a joke by some people when you started. How did you develop courage and conviction?

Lisa Yuskavage: At first, you know, I made work and I was shocked by the criticism. I was like, “Whoa, these people are really mad at me!” And then I was like, well, look, Yuskavage, if you throw a hard punch, something is going to come back at you. I just kind of got used to it and started to embrace it. 

I won't say I’d miss it if it doesn’t happen again, I'm not gonna lie! You know, no artist wants anything but to be loved. That is a fact. We're not striving to be hated; to connect to the world is an extremely positive thing for an artist. 

Also, all of those challenges kept me trying to figure out how to be clear to myself, and I learned how not to feel indebted to my viewers or the people who are my supporters because if they weren't there, I had to only really think about what the work needed next.

CK: This show at the Aspen Art Museum, "Wilderness," calls attention to landscapes.What’s it like to focus on this part of your work that tends to go unnoticed? 

Credit Yuskavage.com
"Snowman" by Lisa Yuskavage. (2007). Oil on linen.

LY: Because it's a survey of my work, you choose a way to look at the work that opens up one's understanding of what I'm doing. The show is co-curated by Christopher Bedford from the Baltimore Museum and Heidi Zuckerman at the Aspen Art Museum, although she's no longer at the Aspen Art Museum. Heidi looked at a show that I had last year at David Zwirner Gallery of 90-some small paintings. And, in that. she noticed a use of sunrises, sunsets, moonscapes. 

But when we decided to do [Wilderness], I said, well, I'm interested in this theme as long as this is not as a way to censor what my work is as a totality because I don't think of my work as sexy. I think of it as telling a story that actually hasn't been told before.

CK: You gave an artist’s talk at the Aspen Art Museum last fall, and you said you learned when you were a younger artist that you couldn't not be in your work, even if it was like a still life or a landscape. How do we see you in “Wilderness”?

LY: Art comes from three points. One is other artwork, and then there is a second point, which is the world around us. And there's a third point -- the inner life of an artist. So my own inner life is a story of a painter who happens to be a girl. And there haven't been that many of us. So that is a story. sometimes sometimes sexy, sometimes tragic. And I think that in general, the landscape provides an opportunity to really depict state of mind.


Contributor Christin Kay is passionate about the rich variety of arts, cultural experiences and stories in the Roaring Fork Valley. She has been a devotee of public radio her whole life. Christin is a veteran of Aspen Public Radio, serving as producer, reporter and interim news director.