This week we’re chatting with artist Deanna McLaughlin. She is a visual artist and designer who makes unique artwork and custom creations. Deanna worked for several years as an art therapist in state mental hospitals and for over two decades as a public school art educator. She was one of five Americans to participate in the First Artist Exchange with the Union of Artists at St. Petersburg, Russia.
I create one-of-a-kind 2-d and 3-d artworks. I let the idea dictate the materials I use when I set out to figure out how to make my concept or idea work! There are exceptions to this. Sometimes the idea is born from the material I find. When this happens the idea is born from the object itself. I have made pieces from sticks I found in nature, and from objects, people discard as in the “Rara Avis” sunglass lens piece recently on view at Park Town Towers. There is no one set material I create with. I have never found one medium to be the singular best to represent an idea. My preference is to work with found materials. We live in a culture of excess. When possible I use materials that I find or reuse things that already exist and modify them into a new form.
I make art to satiate my desire to make an idea come alive. I love the design problem-solving process. How can I make this idea come alive? That’s really what it is about for me. I exhibit to make sure the objects I make do not collect dust! It’s the process of creating something from nothing that satisfies me most. If I am accepted into a show that’s great but I do not hinge my art-making on the outcome- that would kill the joy of the process. My work is a way of processing the world around us and the irony of our culture.
Center City, Philadelphia, PA
This is nearly impossible to answer. I have been influenced to make things for as long as I remember. My parents and grandparents were master craftsmen and makers. Everyone was always working with their hands. Aside from working on the farm and gardening, The women made these beautiful crochet, knit, and sewn pieces, and on grandmother was an amazing quilter. My mom was a seamstress. For many years she designed wedding gowns.
I was sick a lot as a small child.
My mother would put a pile of stuff on the table- random scraps of fabric, paper towel tubes, scissors, thread and needle, glue- whatever we had and tell me to make something. I think it was her way of keeping me occupied. Inevitably, It was fantastic practice for working in public education as an art teacher. Although the arts are not supported in our educational culture, they are essential to teaching problem-solving skills.
My well of inspiration spans the arc from Nature to our cultural clashes. I hold the spark of the meaning of the outcome at the front of my mind while I work on problem solving the process of giving structure and form to whatever material I have in my hands. (see “What do you make” above).
Historically I have a fine appreciation for the European masters of course, but I love more those who are less understood- Andy Warhol for instance understood our culture on a deeper level than most give him credit for. I am drawn to those who creatively manipulate materials. Microscopic artist Willard Wigan blows my mind away. His work is exceptional. He designs sculptures on the head of a needle. Microscopes are necessary to view his work. My favorite contemporary is Cornelia Parker. She also focuses on the absurd. It is the absurdity of our world that draws me in and toward others who view the world from another perspective.
I left teaching because I believed there are other ways I can educate beyond four walls. I am creating educational works of art. I am working on a series of playful remakes of board games from the 1970’s that will teach historical facts. I am also proposing a public artwork based on the 30 Articles of Human Rights. A document the USA signed in alliance with 48 other countries after WWII and which few are aware of. Regardless of the materials, I intend to continue creating works of art that bring attention to the absurdity of our culture.
How did you find me?
I met some new makers who were working with materials I had used a lot in the past- resin based works. I learned about some new resin products which peaked my interest for learning more. I really do love learning about new materials. It ignites me!
The best moment of the day was when a man walked up to my booth. He saw the leather settee shopping cart with a side table I had brought for part of my display and just stood there staring at it for the longest time. When I asked him if he had any questions, or thoughts about the cart, he said “ My wife is in a wheelchair and I am looking at this for ideas for her!” I was blown away- I had not thought about how someone would consider adapting what I had done to a wheelchair, or to use one of my carts as a wheelchair option- I was very touched by that moment.
I also teach yoga. It has been a very big part of my life for many many years.
Deanna McLaughlin – a la cart is now installed at the Philadelphia International Airport at Terminal A-West through the end of 2022!
Listen to Taking Time to Breathe and Talk Design with Artist Deanna McLaughlin on the podcast today!