“The Most effective way to do it, is to do it.” – Amelia Earhart
With a heap to do the next handful of months – like finish graduate school, a graduate committee review, gallery exhibitions and shows, commissions, teaching a photo class for the first time, and full-time teaching at Washington High – Mollie Lage still carves out time to get in her studio, and hustle that art. We could not think of a better local artist to kick off the year (and revival) of our Inspired Interview Series. So, without further adieu…meet Mollie!
Describe to us what type of work you do, and your preferred mediums:
The art that I make when I’m not working on commissions is mostly abstract, and socially or emotionally motivated. I call it conceptual art because it’s based off of ideas rather than physical subject matter.
I also enjoy creating works that represent stories, which is why commissions are so important to me. It gives me the chance to bring someone else’s idea to life, and is a unique opportunity to give back. Acrylic and charcoal are my mediums of choice, but as a high school teacher, I’ve been dabbling in just about everything!
What’s the story about the people that you paint?
The show that I’m working on right now is called Visual Language. I teach at Washington High School where there’s a high ELL (English Language Learner) population. For instance, the parachute painting is called “Inadequate Safeties.” These students (some of them coming from refugee camps or war town countries) don’t always have the resources that they need to succeed, not necessarily academically, but in a lot of other ways, which is why I’ve been using my recent artwork to gain support for LSS Center for New Americans, an amazing source of help.
“Old Enough”, the painting of a hand holding the balloons, is about the how in some countries birthdays aren’t celebrated, so when coming to America, the children have no idea how old they are. When some immigrants and refugees come into the United States, they have to give a date of birth, so they just put down January 1st of whatever year they think might be right. So, thinking about the mental ability of an average 9 year old versus an average 13 year old, that’s a disadvantage in itself. The balloons are for those students.
The portraits of the ladies are an attempt to represent idea formulation, and potential growth coming from people who don’t look the same as one another. Something that I’ve noticed as a teacher is that when a student doesn’t speak English very well, there can be a tendency to feel it’s necessary to water down the content they’re supposed to be learning. However, unless there has been major trauma or an event that has caused cognitive or educational delays (which is sometimes relevant), a 16-year-old who doesn’t speak English is just as aware and capable as an American born 16-year-old. Some adult refugees or immigrants were doctors in their country, but now have menial jobs or no jobs because of the language barrier, and the assumptions that employers make. I wanted to portray that thought, so I’m calling the series, “We are not weak.”
How long have you been doing your specific medium? How has your work evolved over time?
The first time I used acrylic, other than when I painted Christmas decor with my mom, was in high school, but it terrified me then because I was used to drawing. I got heavily into painting my sophomore year of college, and have been working with it since then, which was about 8 years ago.
Over years of teaching more realistic and technical skills that I wouldn’t necessarily say I had honed in on in high school and college, my work has turned from almost completely abstract (focusing mostly on color and texture) into something somewhere in the middle of abstract and realistic. I still love abstract painting, but I’m not afraid to get highly detailed in some areas of my work. I’ve begun to love making artwork that resonates and means something to other people, too, even ones that I don’t personally know. It’s so enriching to facilitate that connection.
Were there any factors that led you to where you are today?
First of all, my family has always been supportive in my artistic endeavors, so I don’t know where I’d be without them. At first that [endeavor] was music, but in high school I started developing a strong passion for drawing. When I went to the University of Sioux Falls, I went as an art education major with a music minor. Then, I dropped the education major, because the idea of teaching terrified me, and I added a psychology degree instead. Because of that switch, which I eventually switched back, I interviewed for an internship at Sanford in the arts and healthcare realm. I was offered the internship, which was a wonderful, heart wrenching, inspiring experience. Through it, I grew exponentially as an artist because of the emotional impact of working with children and adults who were battling, winning, or losing to cancer. Not only that, but the other artists that I worked with, and the unlimited number of supplies at my fingertips, funneled me into a making spree that hasn’t completely stopped since then. My husband, Chase, has also been a huge support, pushing me to make when I want to avoid it. We’ve been married for 6 months, and I’ve done more with my art than ever before.
Opportunities that fell into my lap, like traveling to Europe with my choir and art department in college, changed my life, my way of thinking about the world, and expanded my brain. Those thing I never expected or even wanted to experience, because I didn’t understand how immensely important they would be in my life. Traveling and teaching are an accurate representation of how my artist journey has been going so far – not knowing I needed something, and then having it plopped in my lap. I thank God for leading me here, allowing me to work my butt off doing what I love. I think it’s so important to say yes. even when you’re scared or don’t feel ready, because that’s how you’re forced to get ready, because that’s how I got here.
What usually inspires you to create your work?
It’s different every time. It can be something social or emotional that is triggering an urge to make. Sometimes it’s just a great way to think through a problem or an idea. Other times, a story has been shared with me, and I am trying to get it down for that person or that group of people. Other times it’s recreational, and fueled by the music that‘s playing.
How long does it typically take you to complete a project?
Until recently, I would go through spurts where I’d paint for 2 days straight, and then wouldn’t paint for weeks or months, but lately I’ve been trying to be more consistent. The amount of time a project takes really depends on the size and complexity of the project, but I am a pretty prolific painter when I get down to it.
Do you have anything you want to work on in the future?
As far as artwork goes, I plan to continue doing a mix of commissions and originals. I plan to show Visual Language in 2019 and 2020 around Sioux Falls, calling more attention to the Center for New Americans. I plan to have WHS student work up alongside my own work at Dunn Bros in March. After that, The Museum of Visual Materials is hosting my work from September to October, and then I’ll be showing at the downtown Coffea from December to March of 2020. I’m working to fill up the year!
As that body of work is being shown, my plan is to continue with the fundraising project that I’ve been doing the last few months. I just created a website, MLSFStudio.com, which I’m using to host print sales of my own artwork. Each season I’ll be making mini prints of that artwork available. 50% of the proceeds from those mini print sales will be donated to the Center for New Americans.
Any skills you would like to develop over time?
Developing myself into a local business owner is something I’d like to do, but as far as making art goes, I’ll never stop working on my technical and design skills.
How has Sioux Falls influenced your work?
Sioux Falls has been a lovely supporter of the arts since I first moved here, and it’s only getting better. My students here, and the people I interact with at work and in my personal life, are frequently leaving me feeling motivated to make. Obviously, my teaching career at Washington in Sioux Falls has been a huge influence in my latest body of work.
What are your thoughts on the art community in Sioux Falls?
The art community here is smaller just because Sioux Falls is smaller, but we are definitely blossoming, and seeing more and more people reaching out to get the arts involved in their projects. We have the Sculpture Walk, the Pavilion with Arts Night and the fine arts center, First Fridays, and more galleries and places willing and ready to host artwork. We’re definitely growing, and with that growth, more opportunities to be successful as an artist here. Lastly, most Sioux Falls people see the value in supporting local artists, businesses, and food producers, which has created an encouraging environment for us to do what we do.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out as an artist?
Just keep making, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Hone your skill and be diligent. Don’t take criticism harshly even if it’s harsh, just consider it. Look at what you make, and either toss the criticism to the side, or take it as kind advice and use it to get better. Even if you don’t always feel confident about what you’ve made, which you won’t, put yourself out there to other people anyway, because as a collective of human beings with lots of opinions, skills, thoughts, and ideas, the people around you are your greatest resource.
Find Mollie’s work!
FACEBOOK: MLSF Studio
P.S. Check out our Art Educator Interview with Mollie from back in 2015!