Art is a difficult process, I prefer doing yard work. A conversation with collage legend Lou Beach

Brooklyn based artist Andrew Lundwall interviewed the iconic artist who since the 1960s has created collage pieces that have in many ways marked the territory that collage occupies in our contemporary culture.

AL: Where are you from? How long have you been making collage?

LB: Grew up in Rochester, NY. Family apocrypha has it that I was given magazines and newspapers in my crib. I tore them into pieces…collage as babysitter. So…I’ve been making collage for a very long time.

AL: Why collage? What drew you to this medium?

LB: I’d always been drawn to the Surrealists, particularly the collagists (Ernst, Schwitters, Hoch, et al), and to John Heartfield. I studied them (I mean I looked at a lot of their work in books and whenever possible, at exhibitions). I began, actually, making assemblage art using wooden boxes that I would bring home from my job in a machine shop that manufactured drawer slide hardware. The boxes were sample drawers. From assemblage it was a quick right turn and a smooth road to collage making using mostly scrounged magazines. 

AL: Could you describe these early assemblages? What materials did they contain? What themes were you exploring at the time?

LB: I was influenced by Joseph Cornell and tried to make my assemblages as poetic as i perceived his to be. Mostly they were the drawers I mentioned, standing on end. I’d adhere optical bits (lenses, prisms,) into them, along with found objects…rusty keys, typewriter keys, locks…that sort of thing. I remember some unpainted metal soldiers that I found in an abandoned garage which I glued to the outer edges of a round mirror. In the center stood a metal horse. All of it was attached to a motorized base so that the whole regiment moved slowly in a circle. I wasn’t really exploring any themes other than the chance synergy between disparate objects.

AL: Would you say you are improvisational in your approach toward making art?

LB: Mos def improvisational. Sometimes at the outset of a picture, other times somewhere along the way after an initial layout.

AL:  How much does the happy accident figure into what you do?

LB: The Angel of Accidents drops in at her convenience. Can’t quantify. As Steven Heller said about my work: “Raucous, yet restrained.”

AL: What’s been your most surprising source of inspiration?

LB: Can’t speak to inspiration. It’s all around (without sounding too cosmic).

AL: What does a typical day in your studio look like? Do you prefer to work at night or during the day?

LB: When I was younger, night time was the right time. Now art is my day job. 
I actually try to avoid making art; it is a difficult process. I prefer doing yard work, household chores.

AL: What do you find most difficult about making art? 

LB: Getting started.

AL: What makes something art?

LB: A frame, a pedestal.

AL: You’re in LA? How much does place inform your work?

LB: Can’t quantify how much living in California informs my work, but have certainly made cacti and the desert a recurring motif. The ocean, too.

AL: Are there any questions that you’ve never been asked about your work that you’d like someone to ask you?

LB: Yes. “I’d like to purchase all of your work. Where should I send the money?” 

AL: How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it?

LB: Why bother describing when you can just take a look?

Find out more about Lou Beach on his website and Instagram