Lou Storey the Storyteller
Updated: Dec 17, 2019
By Margaret Goddard
This studio interview is part of the new series "Studio Spotlights." These profiles were born out of curiosity about what goes on behind the scenes at our artist members' studios. We look at the tools they're using, the objects they keep around for inspiration, and their current projects.
Lou Storey is a psychotherapist who explores theories, stories, and treatment methods through art. We visited his studio in Long Branch to see his process and hear about the inspiration behind his work. For him, making art always relates to childhood, to pleasure, and to playing, even when the issues he is confronting are complicated.
We asked Storey about the connection between narrative and healing, elements that form the basis of his art. According to him, it is pretty much understood in the psychology field that the creative process is a healthy part of the psyche. Making art is putting yourself together in relation to the world. It is doing something, and “doing” is a crucial part of a patient’s recovery and therapy. Whether or not you make art for your own healing, it has that healing effect.
Why do you make art?
My earliest memories of art making are of using my fingers on mist-covered bathroom mirrors and rain-soaked windows to draw faces, landscapes, and imaginary beasts; and of diligently forming mud pies and miniature twig villages in my backyard. The process of making art gives me a feeling of joy and a sense of purpose, the likes of which I cannot seem to match in any other part of my life.
How does your medium influence the art you make?
I am drawn to the visual-tactile sensation of dimensional shapes and tend to delight in high key colors used in patterned repetition (I can get transfixed by wallpaper, which is why I can’t have it in my house) so in that regard my medium dictates what I produce in the studio. Resin molds can be used over and over again producing the same shape every time.
Where do you find or look for inspiration?
Inspiration for my art-making is directly connected to whatever the focus may be in my life. If I am learning new psychological theories in my practice as a therapist, my paintings will reflect those constructs. If my pets (dogs, cats, chickens) are being particularly charming or a pain, that’s what ends up on my canvas. My art becomes a kind of visual diary. I can look at past series of work and know exactly what was going on in my life and in my head at that time.
What do you wear to the studio?
I was recently in a documentary where I was filmed working in my studio. “Wear what you’d normally wear,” they said, so I did. Later when I saw myself on the big screen, I was a bit taken aback seeing what a mess my paint-splattered dark blue jumpsuit actually looks like. Until that moment I’d never seen myself in it. I look a little ridiculous, but, since I always end up covered in paint, it will have to remain my studio uniform.
Do you work in silence or with music or the radio on?
I tend to prefer silence if I am in the early stages of creating in the studio, while conversely preferring music if I am well into the later stages of finishing an artwork. I’ve tried talk radio, but I find myself putting down the paintbrush and just listening, especially in cases where the topic is compelling or surprising, so I’ve banned talk radio from the studio.
What have you been thinking about/obsessing over recently?
My friend Eileen Kennedy, a fellow artist that I went to Pratt Institute with way back in the 1970s, recently asked me if I’d like to show with her at Stephen McMillion’s FrameWorks gallery in Red Bank in the spring of 2020. Her theme will be The Seasons. I got to thinking about how I would approach that topic and remembered the story from Greek mythology of the harvest goddess Demeter’s daughter Persephone and her marriage to Hades; a story that provides a vivid narrative of abduction, love, perseverance, and deliverance as an explanation for the change of the seasons. I am now elbow deep in research about this tale and am fascinated by its many twists and turns, the richness of symbols, as well as the various interpretations. I am calling the series “Climate Change: Demeter’s Dilemma.”
Who’s on your radar right now?
My heroes are the women and men in the field of psychology and sociology. Many of their theories and ideas find their way into my artwork. Currently I am preoccupied with Imago, a practice created by Helen Hunt and her husband Harville Hendrix. Curiously, I am finding unexpected parallels in the story of Hades’ abduction of Persephone and their difficult marriage to current work in couples therapy. I find myself wondering what the outcome might have been had they had some good counseling.
Do you have an object or reference that you keep around to inspire you?
As I am working on a series of paintings I will fill the walls with what I am working on. Each piece seems to want to converse with the other, and seeing them together side by side allows for inspiration and for new ideas to present themselves.
What is your quirkiest studio habit?
It would have to be my tradition of performing a little tantrum when I first enter the studio. This tradition began many years ago when, on entering my studio to do work, I found myself often unable to free myself from the concerns of the day. Finding myself unable to relax enough, I got so fed up one day that I had an actual temper tantrum with foot stomping and fist shaking. I felt great after the little fit, and decided I would ritualize it as a regular practice. To this day my stylized tantrum at the threshold of my studio still helps me shake off the world so that I can feel free to create. I suspect I am inviting my inner child to come out and play.
What three words would you use to describe this studio?
What’s a piece you’ve made that you’ll never get rid of or sell?
Rarely, but every now and then, I will finish a piece and realize that it is has to be ‘mine all mine’ — I don’t know why that happens, but when it does I don’t even document the work or show it publicly, I just find a place somewhere on the wall of my home for it and head back down to the studio to make more art.
What’s one thing you wish you had known when you started?
In my twenties, living in California and making large-scale paper artworks, I had marketplace success: exhibitions; gallery representation in San Francisco, New York, and San Diego; and lots of sales. It was great at first, but quickly became burdensome when the “gallery artist” obligations of product consistency hobbled my freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. After a decade of doing it their way I rebelled and rejected the marketplace to figure out my own way of being someone who makes art. I guess that if I’d known then what I know now I’d have skipped that first decade, despite its benefits.
You can see more of Lou Storey’s work on his website. He has two paintings in Out of the Blue at the Bungalow Hotel, on view through January. Keep an eye out for his show at Red Bank FrameWorks in the spring of 2020, which will include the mandalas covered in this interview.