Lorna Smith in her Placitas studio
(Above) Two paintings, by Lorna Smith
Signpost featured artist of the month: Lorna Smith
Exploring the maze
For Lorna Smith, geometric patterns run deep. She follows the patterns
through her mind and her eyes, through her fingers and hands, and
also through her art, her personal history, and, indeed, her family
history. It is as if she feels the world through pattern as truly
as the sandhill cranes or other migrating birds know the patterns
and rhythms of the earth and the seasons. Or maybe she just seems
to be intensely aware of the spiraling patterns of her own DNA.
It is odd that a short time after Lorna began reworking Celtic patterns
in her paintings, she discovered that her Scottish forebears had
been awarded clan status by the Queen and been given a tartan pattern
of their very own.
Lorna’s ancestors had been weavers and dyers, first in Scotland,
and later, after they migrated to America, but she shyly reveals
that art and aesthetics had not played a large part in her own household
as she was growing up. And so, as dedicated an artist as she is
now, she took a long path before calling herself such.
The forty-something Lorna just this month brought home a Master
of Fine Arts from the prestigious Art Institute of Boston. She had
been studying, however, for the last two and a half years in Placitas,
thanks in part to the myriad invisible pathways of the Internet
and twice-yearly journeys to the Northeast. The institute offers
a Low Residency Long Distance Learning Program, which allows students
from all over the country and in all phases of life to study together.
One of Lorna’s fellow students was a graffiti artist, whose
studio paintings were in the style of nineteenth-century masters.
“It was quite a lesson when he took me to the Boston Museum
to discuss the paintings, and on the way back he spoke about the
styles and histories of the taggers on the walls,” she says,
with a proud chuckle.
Lorna says she knew as early as the sixth grade that she wanted
to be an artist. She won awards in school contests and later went
on to study in Paris and at the Art Institute of San Francisco.
She worked in art-related fields over the the years, including doing
silk screens for Bank of America and Apple. But as life moved on,
she stayed at art’s peripheries.
Now, her paintings and sculptures fall into three categories,
all centering on geometric patterns. First, the modernist idea of
the grid. Then there are explorations into the order of the random
and chaotic. Finally, and most recently, cultural geometries, specifically
those of the Celts. Lorna is exhibiting a sample of each at the
Range Café, in Bernalillo, and at the on-line gallery ArtHaus66.com.
Lorna wrote her undergraduate thesis on the “Geometries
of Math, Science and Nature” and explains her fascination
with pattern as both intellectual and aesthetic.
She hands me a picture of a Celtic maze and asks me to run my
fingers along the lines. “Sometimes pattern can be very meditative,”
she says, watching me. “When you do that, you have to shift
your focus from talking and doing what you’re doing to just
following the line. That takes you into a somewhat meditative space,
makes your mind open and frees it from thoughts. I also feel I become
connected with the maker of the maze when I follow it like that
or draw one into my own painting.”
I suggest that patterns seem to have a spiritual aspect, but she
quickly corrects me. “These are not sacred geometries like
Tibetan sandpainting or mandalas from India.”
And yet I sense that at the heart of her work there is a search
for a deeper connection between pattern and life. She told me a
revealing story about the months after the tragedy of her partner’s
death. She would take a walk every day along a certain ridge in
Placitas. After a while she found a place with good view of the
sunset. She started to bring a rock from each trip up the ridge
and place it at that place, and then she would walk around the pile
in a large circle. In time, her feet wore a visible path in the
desert. She had made kind of a land-art memorial to her partner
and to her own period of grieving.
Soon after, Lorna decided to reconnect with her own true pattern
and enter the world of art in a more serious manner. Now Lorna Smith
comes home, MFA in hand, ready to explore the maze of the rest of