Memoir IX: Lost in the World

All images pertaining to the artist have been provided courtesy of them

I’m up in the woods, I’m down on my mind. I’m building a sill, to slow down the time…

These are lyrics taken from the song, Woods by Bon Iver (2009). The song would later be sampled by Kanye West in Lost in the World (2010), and it is here, we get the title of this memoir.

Lost in the World is a retrospective song, and within it, Kanye raps about his past encounters, and his mental state. In the first rap verse, Kanye raps about this person stating, ‘You’re my devil, you’re my angel/ You’re my heaven, you’re my hell/You’re my now, you’re my forever/You’re my freedom, you’re my jail‘ – it’s as if Kanye is examining this person, and their influence on him – they bring him this joy and ecstasy but at the same time, this chaos and destruction.

So that’s an example of a retrospective song but if we wanted to talk about introspective songs, then I would say Frank Ocean is the best person for that.

However, it goes without saying, as much as I love artists such as Frank Ocean and Kanye West, sometimes I need something slow, like an electronic ballad with some synths. Like… Daft Punk’s Something About Us (2001). Something slow and dreamy which allows me to just sit in my thoughts and reflect.

Throughout my years on this planet, I’ve learnt that life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes we can feel lost… Lost in the world you could say. But I think being retrospective and introspective can help, and this is where Larissa’s art comes into the equation because she explores these ideas and more. So, with that being said, let’s get lost in the world of Larissa De Jesús Negrón.

Larissa’s story begins in Puerto Rico. As a child, she would play with dolls, and this would fuel her imagination. “Before painting, I would say, what influenced me, or what drove me to be a painter was playing with dolls. I was able to create these worlds with my dolls, and imagine different lives for them – there was this storytelling that I created through dolls. Whenever I think about playing with dolls as a child, it’s almost the same feeling… The same process as painting. Because you’re creating something from nothing”.

Dolls aside, Larissa’s first encounter with art came from her aunt. She would draw a range of different things, and this would amaze her, “I was born and raised in Puerto Rico to a family that was not really the artistic type – they were more musicians and singers. But the first person in my family to bring that artistic influence was my aunt because she was able to do these little drawings of men in suits and dogs – she was able to create a lot of things with her hands. And that was like… Mind-blowing to me because somebody could just imagine something and make a drawing out of nothing”.

The next encounter would come from her father. When it comes to her understanding of colours and shapes, Larissa’s father played an important role, “My father would sit me down, and we would just paint a lot when I was a kid. He would make sure that we were painting abstract paintings, and that we were giving meaning to colour and shape”.

Larissa further expanded on her father’s influence, and recalled her father’s love for poetry and his vast collection of Dali prints: “My father had a bunch of Dali prints in the house. So as I was growing up, I saw him and other surrealists, and other figurative works. But I think the whole idea of my father teaching me that way to see art was to give meaning to anything. He was so poetic, and he would try to find meaning in the bad things – everything was like a life lesson for him. So that was what really formed this idea of conceptual art for me”.

After completing high school in Puerto Rico, she attended The School of Plastic Arts in Old San Juan, and it is here, she became specialised in painting and drawing. After 2 years, she transferred to Hunter College in New York where she got her BFA degree. If we fast forward to today, Larissa’s practice is now based in Queens, New York.

With regards to who else helped her as a child, Larissa thoroughly enjoyed this question, as it allowed her to reminisce over her years studying art in Puerto Rico: “I really love this question (smiles). Because I don’t get the opportunity to talk about that period of my life. When I was nine in Puerto Rico studying art, I was in classes with mostly bigger kids and adults – I was the youngest in the class. So in that environment, I was looking up to… You know… Greatness! I had this teacher who would also make me feel like I was at their level. She made me feel at home, and she taught me really fast. She was like, ‘I want you to practice a lot’. When you’re that age, and you have someone boosting your confidence and believing in your work it’s an amazing feeling. I think I can truly say I felt validation for the first time over something that I created when I was with that teacher, and I think that was what really fuelled my like… Overachieving personality. Because I was like, ‘Okay, what else can I create? What else can I do?’”.

In terms of that moment when Larissa felt like an artist, she said it was during the seventh grade: “I would probably say I felt that way when I was in seventh grade, I did my first mural, and it felt good at the time, but after that mural, I just wanted to focus on perfecting my drawing techniques and skills. Because at that age, I was understanding this idea of expressing myself through my art… And learning that I could assign these meanings to colours and shapes. So at that age, I felt I could do this thing we call art. So at that point, I saw art as this thing that gave my entire life purpose; I could agree and identify with the fact that I’m an artist, and I should just continue working on my practice”.

When it comes to how she would describe her artistic practice, Larissa states the following: “I would say that my practice is mostly based in me finding myself, defining myself, and working through my traumas. My art serves me as this thing that allows me to meditate and get over things. It also works as this defining entity that really tells me what I’m going through at that moment, even if I’m very scatter-brained or I don’t understand exactly what I’m feeling. I’m a spontaneous painter, and I let my subconscious come through since it tells me things about myself that I need to know, and I discover something new about myself with each painting”.

Some good examples of this are Dark Times Abroad (painted 2020) and Waiting for a rude awakening (painted 2020)

Dark Times Abroad (painted 2020) [Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 24 x 26inch]

In the words of Larissa, this is her favourite piece of work she has ever done in her entire life: “I’ve done a lot of paintings but this painting… I feel like… It was a success for me because I showed an incredible fear I was feeling at that time”. Even down to the figure’s face, Larissa said she has tried to replicate it on numerous occasions, but all have been unsuccessful. “I don’t know why I can’t recreate the face, but like I said, the painting was done in a moment where I felt a lot of fear. Quarantine was just starting, and there were so many protests in the US, and so much was going on at that moment. I felt a lot of fear, and I also felt like I was hiding behind my phone at that moment. I felt protected by the screen, but I wanted to be free, and I wanted to escape”.

It was this idea of hiding behind a screen Larissa wanted to show in this painting, and if you pay close attention you will start to see that. Starting with the part of the body that is behind the screen. It appears fuzzy, but strangely, it looks more clear, more perfect, compared to the other parts that are not covered by the screen. And this moves us quite nicely onto my next point, which is the screen. This screen we see represents our phones, and how we portray our best selves online. But there’s a limit to this facade which Larissa cleverly captures in this piece. Because look at the figure’s face, hands, and lower thighs, there’s a stark difference between what is covered and what is not. “The thing with the internet and just social media is we always try and portray our best image, and I think for me at that time during quarantine I wanted to break away from that perfect image, there was this yearning to show my true self – my nasty and imperfect self. I wanted to show the part of me that was outside of the screen’s protection. So at the time when I created this, I was identifying with this creature, and that’s why I’m so drawn to this painting because that was how I felt about myself at that moment, I felt like… A monster”.

Another impressive feature of this piece are the droplets; if you focus, you can see the droplets reflect the path ahead.

One final feature I asked Larissa about was the piece’s composition, and why the use of nature as a backdrop? I loved Larissa’s response to this question because it is also why I love nature too: “I see nature as this place where you can find refuge; nature has this healing property that we tend to ignore. When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, there was nature in every corner – there was the beach and stuff like that. So for me, I yearn for nature every single day – it’s a daily thing. I yearn for that freedom it gives, and that peace of mind you get being in it”.

Waiting for a rude awakening (painted 2020) [Oil on Canvas, 24 x 30inch]

Waiting for a rude awakening was a piece that really spoke to me, and it was its dark colour palette that initially captured my attention. If we look at this piece, we can see a female figure peering into this orange light, above them is water and below are blocks of wood. If we further analyse the interior of this piece, we can see that the figure is in a narrow space. With such a claustrophobic environment, I was intrigued, and because this was done in 2020 – the year of the pandemic, I asked Larissa if this piece was indicative of her emotions during that period – this feeling of being trapped in a never-ending situation. Larissa’s answer was the following: “That idea of this piece representing claustrophobia is something I hadn’t even thought about. But definitely! Around that time, I mentally felt claustrophobic. 2020 was the year of the pandemic, and I really felt like I had to get out. I was trapped in here… In my apartment. I had nowhere else to go, and I just had to look within. So every time I would paint, it felt like I was standing in front of a mirror and saying to myself, ‘What am I trying to say? What am I trying to discover about myself?’”.

This idea of looking inwards, that self-discovery, can definitely be seen in this piece. If we look at the orange light, its presence is symbolic of that hope that inner discovery brings – the light is guiding this figure. But it also invokes this question of what is beyond the orange light. Because 2020 was full of uncertainties, no one had the answers. “This piece was about introspection and about a wanting to wake up, and wanting to be enlightened. It’s about that search, and this figure, this woman – it could be me. Is searching for that light, that better person”.

Within our interview, I applauded Larissa for how unique her art is from a visual perspective. Because personally, I haven’t seen this mixture of 2D and 3D within art. The exact word I used to describe this combination of the two was effortless. I asked Larissa how she achieved this, and she said the following: “I appreciate the fact you see my work as unique, and when you say it’s effortless… Well… It kind of is… But I don’t mean that in an arrogant way because I do spend a lot of time on my pieces. What I do mean is that in terms of the composition, that just happen naturally. In terms of my newest paintings, those took about six months or more, maybe even eight months. How I created that effect was by mixing airbrush and oil colour on one canvas. So in most of my current paintings, I’m working with two mediums that are opposites to one another. One is oil, and one is water. So to get that final piece, I really plan things out. So I’ll do all the airbrushes first, and then all the oils. I really enjoy how they play with each other on the canvas, because one is really thick and heavy, and one is very light and airy”.

We see this very technique on full display with works such as Fixing old habits (painted 2021)

Fixing old habits (painted 2021) [Acrylic on Paper, 35 x 37inch]

Fixing old habits is one of Larissa’s most recent works as of the release of this memoir. The figure’s face in the corner is Larissa’s. “So, this painting is of me looking out the window from my apartment, and just seeing the entrance of my apartment here in Forest Hills, and seeing my reflection on the glass”.

One detail you will notice in this piece are these thin, almost slug like objects, Larissa stated they are clay: “Clay is something that I’ve used in the past to relate to my childhood. It’s this idea of a person moulding themselves, and having the power to create the person that they want to be. I see the clay as this thing that is changing because as I am growing up, I’m always thinking about the things that I need to unlearn”.

What I find intriguing about this piece is the clay is scattered across the backdrop of Forest Hills, and by having the extra context provided to us by Larissa, it makes me think, does she see New York as this place where she is learning more about herself? Is The Big Apple changing her? From the scenery to the people she has encountered in this big city, is New York morphing her into this new and better person, and is she feeling a bit reluctant about this change? Because if we look at the face’s expression, the eyes give us a hint of apprehension. So perhaps Larissa is trying to tell the audience she fears this change she is about to undergo.

In terms of what her art means to her personally, Larissa states her art allows her to grow as a person and tell her story, “With my art it allows me to show the many layers of who I am – it reveals my vulnerability; I discover things about myself and accept those things that are revealed to me through the art. Once I’m done, and I get the chance to show the art to the world, it’s as if I’m telling the audience, ‘This is me! Take it or leave it!’. So, yeah, the work is personal to me – it’s my preferred language, and I love it”.

Topic of Religion (painted 2019) and Promises (painted 2021) perfectly encapsulate this statement.

Topic of Religion (painted 2019) [Oil on Canvas, 48 x 60inch]

Topic of Religion is a piece that delves into Larissa’s relationship with religion, as she states: “This painting came about from a conversation that I was having with my mom through FaceTime. I was in the shower, and we were talking about religion”.

As a child, the artist grew up in the church. Her mother was a singer at the church, and her father was a pastor for a period. To add to that, her grandparents had a church, and they were pastors too. So when the conversation steered towards religion, in the words of the artist, ‘it was like opening Pandora’s box’. “The conversation with my mother didn’t really go anywhere. I didn’t feel listened to, and it was because of that, this painting happened a couple of days later. It was basically me drowning in this bathtub; drowning in my sins; drowning in who I am – my present self. But it was also me opening the door, or this portal to an image of the church that I grew up in”.

Just by looking at this piece, we can see a massive difference between the bathroom and the church. What I also find fascinating is the flaps of this portal are held to the wall by Sellotape/scotch tape, and I think it is symbolic of how she sees this church. If you wanted to ensure this portal was held wide open, you would use something more adhesive, but the fact Larissa uses strips of Sellotape/scotch tape is an indicator of how indifferent she is to the church. Although you could argue, it is an attempt to see her mother’s view, so she is trying to keep this portal open.

Moving on to the bath, we can see a variety of items such as trainers, a lanyard which is in fact her MoMA lanyard, a cell phone containing a pornographic image, a credit card, and a credit card reader. Larissa stated that these items were a representation of who she was at that moment. But the most captivating feature of this piece is the snake holding a brush covered with red paint. “The snake is the ultimate representation of sin, it’s a classic symbol. And yeah, at that time I felt sinful, I felt like an irresponsible person, and because I was talking about religion with my mom, she made me feel guilty about the decisions I was making”.

One feature you might have noticed, which was partially alluded to in Dark Times Ahead are the water droplets, Larissa explained their origin and meaning within her work: “The droplets started from these dramatic faces that I was doing – they had lots of tears. As a child, I was drawing lots of anime characters, and in animation, you have to be very expressive. So from that, I learnt you had to make the tears really thick – so I started doing that, and this idea of water meaning fluidity started to develop within my work – the meaning of water started to mean this idea of being able to work through things and flow through things. So that’s how it started, and it then became this stabilising element in the works, especially in compositions like this one where the water almost works like a paperweight to like… Balancing the painting. So the water itself, and its three-dimensional aspect create this interesting effect for the eye”.

Promises (painted 2021) [Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 30 x 40inch]

Promises is the final piece within this memoir, and it was done using both acrylic and oil. Larissa titled this piece Promises because at the time of its creation she was thinking about the future. “I was thinking a lot about the future, and stuff like marriage, and you know, weddings”.

In this piece, we can see a female figure with a gold neckless, and its presence represents prosperity. “I was thinking about being prosperous, and you know… The promises you make to your future self to just be… Successful. It’s a painting that is talking about this ambition that I have, and these promises that the future holds for me. Well, I hope that it holds for me (smiles)”.

Larissa further stated this figure is reflective of her: “The figure you see represents me, and here is the thing, I use my work a lot to be present, and to understand what I’m thinking about right there and then. If I’m thinking about marriage, or if I had a discussion about marriage, and that’s what’s going on in my head, then that’s going to come through my work – whether I like it or not! (smiles). And if I feel like I have too much control of what I’m painting or like… It is very defined… Or whatever, then I lose interest”.

Another excellent feature about this piece is its rawness, the female body is naked and endowed with these droplets of water, and as Larissa stated in Topic of Religion, the water represents the fluidity of thought and clarity. So the fact we can see so many of them is reflective of that state she was in when she created this.

Lastly, if we focus on the nipple, we can see small hairs and tan lines, Larissa explained she wanted the figure to be a realistic depiction of the female body: “I felt like I had to paint the nipple with hairs; I felt like I had a duty of portraying what a real female body looks like. Also, the tan lines were important too, as they allowed me to talk about home, because every time I go home, I come back with a tan line (smiles)”.

Since this is Volume III: The Maverick Series, I asked Larissa how her work is different to other artists. In her response, Larissa boiled it down to her work relating to herself and her mental health: “There’s so much art out there, and there are so many artists talking about lots of topics. But I feel like my work stands out because I talk a lot about mental health, and I also talk about meditation and introspection, and how they link to growth. I mean… There have been millions of artists that have talked about mental health. But I don’t know if there are artists who are talking about those kinds of topics the way that I’m talking about it necessarily. But here’s the thing, I don’t really believe in this concept of originality because I’m very aware that I take from artists and that artists take from me. I’m someone who is influenced by the world around me, from Instagram to just everything, and I can’t deny it. But I guess what makes my work unique is that it is connected to me, and it’s connected to who I am and how I grew up. It tells the various stories of my life”.

Speaking of influence, if we look at artists who have inspired Larissa, starting with the past, the artist stated names such as Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. “Art history, in general, inspires a lot of my work from Dali, Frida Kahlo and Caravaggio to even Pop Art. I think it plays a role into the imagery I make”.

If we look to her contemporaries, Larissa stated names such as Bony Ramirez (Memoir VIII) and Puerto Rican artist, Alejandro Sacarello. But it goes without saying, she considers her art professor her biggest influence, “Artists like Bony Ramirez and Alejandro Scarpello are just amazing – I love their work. If you look at New York, there are so many artists! There’s an energy here, and you can feel it! It’s on another level! But for me, the biggest influence comes from this professor of mine at art school, his name is José Luis Vargas, and that man! (smiles) Like wow… His work definitely influenced my work. And his philosophy! That really influenced me as an artist”.

If we look beyond art, Larissa stated her inspiration comes from her daily life, and the struggles she has encountered – both past and present. “I think my daily struggles are another source of inspiration. Whether that’s fighting with my partner about the dishes, or talking with my mom. For example, during last year’s quarantine period, we were all forced to stay indoors, and those struggles became intense, so that leaked into the work. Memories from my childhood are another source as well. A lot of things happened during our childhoods you know – all of us have traumas. So when it comes to myself, I know there’s no escaping those memories. So I use them, both good and bad”.

When it comes to her art’s overall message, Larissa stated she wants her work to be remembered as this entity that reflected our current times; she wants to transport the viewer to the moments of her life where she struggled; she wants her work to act as a guide through our current times, and ultimately, act as a form of support: “I want my work to do a lot of things. So in 100 years, let’s say somebody sees my painting, I want my painting to talk about today; I want them to be transported into this moment in time – so like a time machine. I want the work to tell a story about this individual that lived during that time”.

So, what can we expect from Larissa? Starting with exhibitions/shows, Larissa has group shows with both Unclebrother Gallery and Kravets Wehby Gallery, New York. If we move to the west coast, Larissa has a group show in In Lieu Gallery, Lost Angeles. And in terms of London, in July, Larissa has a group show with Guts Gallery, and in January, she will be participating in London’s Art Fair with Eve Leibe Gallery.

With regards to what is next for her practice, Larissa said in our interview, she has a residency in Puerto Rico, in June and during this residency, she will be producing works at a much larger scale: “Because I’m going to have a bigger space, I’m going to be producing larger-scale works. What’s good about this residency is I’m going to be on my island, and I can’t wait to see how my island influences me while I’m there”.

In addition to this, Larissa also said she will be creating smaller pieces on paper: “I want to create works on that scale so I can keep my work affordable, and you know, reachable to people. Because I don’t want to be that kind of artist who just sells these huge paintings, I want my practice to be flexible, and I want to be able to change mediums and sizes”.

Within this memoir, we have examined what it means to explore ourselves and the past. To create art that candidly explores your life is something that only a maverick can do. So with that being said, I definitely consider Larissa to be a maverick. Effervescent with existentialism, Larissa’s work gives us a window into her life and her daily struggles. So make sure you follow the journey of the talented, Larissa De Jesús Negrón.

To see more of Larissa’s work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram at @ldjnegron

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