Artpace: What mediums do you typically work with?
Liz Shepherd: I tend to dance back and forth between sculpture and printmaking, but when I am thinking about a project I don’t think in terms of mediums. I think about the best way to express the idea. So, either the idea and the medium evolve at the same time, or I get an idea and I take it through a wide range of media. Very often this entails learning a new skill. For instance, I learned how to use Photoshop because I was doing cut paper collage and I wanted to eliminate the cut lines. From there, I started making photo-intaglio prints (etchings) using the Photoshop files. Then, I wanted to make color versions of these prints, so I learned how to do four-color etching. A few years later I was working with appliquéing fabric (really another kind of collage) and I decided that it would be interesting to cut the fabric with a laser. Learning how to use the laser on fabric took me to cutting out wallpaper and cardboard, also using the Photoshop imagery.
AP: How would you describe your subject matter?
LS: The subject matters usually come from something that I am struggling with, but I don’t use art making as personal therapy; it’s more about taking an idea like “how can I (or anyone) cope with all of the pain and drama of having a family member who is an addict?” This is where the staircase idea came from. I was trying to learn how to rise above the inevitable entanglement that comes with trying to help or “fix” an addict. I had to learn to let go of trying to fix someone else and do my life from another perspective. It is a winding and difficult process.
AP: What inspires your approach to making work?
LS: I think the fact that my father is a World War II disabled veteran influences my work a lot. One side of his body is paralyzed from a wound he sustained at the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. I went to the Ardennes a few years ago; images of the forest have shown up in some recent work, but I think that growing up with someone who is damaged has influenced some of the split and dysfunctional pieces that I have made.
The ladders came from an idea that I had when someone I love was under a Baker Act, which is a “means of providing individuals with emergency services and temporary detention for mental health evaluation and treatment when required, either on a voluntary or an involuntary basis.” She was detained in a mental health facility for 48 hours. I imagined her in a locked room with no way out. It was a very painful thought and I yearned to help. I imagined that she would have access to paper and that she could make ladders and somehow climb out a high window or skylight. When I think back on it now, I was trying to empower her to help herself to find strength and ingenuity.
1. The Baker Act is Chapter 394, Part I, Florida Statutes