Q&A With Linda Litteral
Since we last saw Linda Litteral, the San Diego artist and educator has been busy working in new residencies and developing new projects. Her work with fellow Sparks Gallery artist Anna Stump at 29 Palms explored earthworks and site specific installations. Now back in San Diego, Litteral has delved into deeply personal works for her upcoming book addressing childhood abuse and trauma, and shares the ways in which creating and sharing her art is a healing process for herself and other survivors. Trigger Warning: SA
Sparks: Reflecting back on early spring 2020 when your solo show at Sparks Gallery opened right when lockdown started in San Diego, how has the pandemic shaped your new work? Have your art-making habits/routines shifted as a result? How was your art community impacted by the change?
Litteral: Right after the opening at Sparks Gallery, I went to a residency in 29 Palms. When the shutdown began, I was at the Desert Dairy Artist Residency and decided to stay for the agreed time. The process of learning about Covid was a bit scary and intimidating and impacted my ability to focus on my art. Anna [Stump] gave me the opportunity to extend my work which had consisted of putting spirals into the surrounding area by agreeing to do a labyrinth on her property. The spirals were ephemeral and would eventually be erased by wind and rain. They were drawn in the desert sand or with ash from the pit firing I had done with ceramics there. I did a lot of spiral drawings as well. It manifested into an installation earthworks project that I spent 8 months organizing and putting together. Several members of the Feminist Image Group agreed to donate small sculptures to be included in the structure of the piece. It is a labyrinth constructed with rocks collected from the surrounding desert and installed at Desert Dairy. The form is a triskeles, a modified three legged spiral with an 8 foot tall totem in the center with other artworks throughout the legs. It was very different from my normal way of working and having the interaction with the FIG members was a wonderful part of the process. It was a project that kept me engaged in my work and the community element was healthy during the isolation of the pandemic shutdown. I did several trips up to gather rocks and to put the structure together. It ended up being a FIG gathering to open the labyrinth, and a video by Ted Meyers documents the process, which can be seen on Youtube: “The Walk: a Project by Linda Litteral”.
Sparks: Your MFA thesis focused on art as a means of exposing and healing childhood abuse. How do you use your art to explore the themes of trauma and recovery? What roles do artmaking and viewing/interacting with art play in the process of healing and empowerment? What additional insights into this topic have you gained since the completion of your thesis?
Litteral: The thesis was a voice for the voiceless, a visual representation of the memories and thoughts about being an incest survivor. I had been a part of a show in New Hampshire earlier that was a revelation for me. It was a show that represented over a hundred artists that did work around the topics of childhood sexual abuse, spousal abuse, and cult abuse. I had a feeling of understanding and connection to all of the art in the show—it felt as if I belonged in a way I had never felt before. The instant connection to the art had a healing effect on me. I was no longer alone with my expressions of abuse. I watched other people who interacted with the show have compelling and healing reactions themselves. It showed me the power of the visual image to heal and give the viewer positive connections to the ideas expressed. I am always trying to push my work to bring the visual voice of trauma into the open, as it is my hope to give others a platform to bring discussion about the issue to the surface. I repeatedly see others positively respond to my work that they say is healing and empowering for them.
Sparks: You mentioned you have been working on a book project for the last year and a half: Show and Tell: Art, Incest, and Healing. Is this connected to the ceramic masks you have been posting about on your Instagram (@lindalitteralartist)?
Litteral: I am working on a book to tell my story and share the art that I have made over the years about the results of childhood sexual abuse and how the projects have had a healing effect on me. I hope to share that healing with others. The faces piece that has been on Instagram is definitely an expression of my trauma, it is a self portrait using a mold of my own face that I made smaller through the creation of repetitive molds as the clay shrank in firing. It is a statement of the repetitive nature of the abuse of children; it is a continuous nightmare that happens for years. There are 168 faces representing the many that have experienced sexual abuse. The front of the faces are all metallic glazes that show the mask that all abuse victims wear to be able to function in the world, hiding everything that is being done to them. The back of the faces are images that are childish in nature, they are stick figures and imagery that children would draw. The images represent that which is hidden. It was constructed specifically to be included in the art of the book.
Sparks: As a multidisciplinary artist do you have a preferred medium? I am particularly interested to hear about your experience working with ceramics and bronze.
Litteral: Clay is my first love in the arts; it is the material I learned first and that allowed me to express more than I had ever been able to do before. My first art class was in clay at the age of 38. Bronze was a diversion that I found interesting but did not pursue after my first experience with it. I was able to go to a foundry in Switzerland with friends to work there for a month. I found the wax to be more difficult than clay to construct the objects I wanted to, though it is a beautiful medium that I am glad I was able to experience the process of.
I am intrigued by different materials as they all have their own energy and feel. Different mediums all have a distinct emotional affect when viewed. For example, painting is the language of color and I love the richness and beauty of expression in color. Drawing moves me and I like to put drawings in three dimensional forms. I choose to use different materials and I love to experiment and see what can be expressed through them all. It is the idea that I am more about than the material when doing my work around trauma. If it does not feel right in clay, I look to other mediums to see their emotional aspects.
From the artist’s website: “Linda Litteral is a multi-faceted artist working alternately with ceramics, bronze cast and clay sculpture, oil and acrylic paint on canvas, pen and pencil on paper, wood, and three-dimensional mixed media sculpture. Linda earned her MFA from San Diego State University (SDSU). Her thesis was an exploration of art as a way to expose and heal childhood abuse … As an artist she is passionate about making the world a safer place for women and children. She uses her art to educate and heal viewers. Her classes help people of all ages open to healing themselves and their communities.”