“Nature is a source of beauty…”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Lorien Suarez Kanerva
Paul Zimmerman: You are a bi-cultural artist. Does it have any impact on your work?
Lorien Suarez Kanerva: A love of nature and a deep appreciation of cultural diversity were two sensibilities that my Venezuelan childhood experience, alongside my relocation to Oregon during my teenage years, rooted deeply into my psyche. Myriads of multi-hued birds flocked and nested in a Guama tree in my countryside home in San Antonio de Los Altos. Vacations snorkeling in the Caribbean amongst colorful fish and coral furnished further opportunities to explore and discover. My time hiking Oregon’s trails through forests, waterfalls, lava formations, and coastal landscapes opened my senses to its distinctive ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere. The linguistic and cultural differences between these worlds were challenging and enriching.
PZ: Why colors and geometric patterns are important for you?
LSK: Today, I recognize in living forms, landscapes, the forces of nature and their workings, along with Cosmic, atomic, and microscopic worlds, their rich dimensionality and underlying geometric structure. This patterning is endlessly displayed in a flower, tree, star, erosion, and the passageways of streams, bubbles, and molecular bonds. Most, like our fingerprints, are unique to each living form or landscape while still comprehensive of a much broader, shared, and universal set of governing natural laws and principles. Similar to and because it’s an aspect of nature, colors’ visual effects on forms and other hues can also have universal properties. I am fascinated by colors’ unending range of tonalities and tints and appreciate it as the prismatic array of wavelengths refracted in light along with color theory and aesthetic principles.
PZ: What is the significance of nature in your paintings?
LSK: Nature is a source of beauty. It’s even more deeply grounded for it’s in a sense for me of it being “sound” – healthy, balanced, and reliable. Thoreau described it as “All good things are wild and free.” I sense this intuitively every time I am in a natural setting, like being in a garden or hiking in a forest. I feel alive, renewed, and revitalized back into a sense of wholeness and well-being.
Nature is also continually amazing me, and I cherish those moments of discovery. I have created in my various homes gardens that I have tended to enter a space of contemplation – observation and communion with the fruit trees, rose and flowering bushes, aromatic herbs, and the birds – roadrunners, wrens, mockingbirds, sparrows and hummingbirds of today, along with lizards, rabbits and my family including my German Shepherd Stella.
PZ: Do you have any particular goal in mind when your start a new piece?
LSK: Yes, I am usually caught up with a subject that compels me to understand it in new ways.
I typically do research – locating primary and secondary sources for background information. I can spend time studying it – working with a compass and ruler to craft the curvature of a nautilus shell, the intertwining curved passages of a multi-chambered shell, and the intriguing waveforms that appear in storms as a Kaman Von Vortex stream. Where possible, I do my best to immerse myself as I prepare and form my composition for a respective painting. Intellectually, spiritually and at sensorial and even emotional levels, I want to engage with the essence of what’s conceptually significant in a particular subject, be it a tree, a flower, water, or a crystal, and dedicate time to appreciate its uniqueness, and also the more universal geometric pattern from which it’s formed.
PZ: How do you know when the painting is finished?
LSK: Usually, I have an intuitive sense of completion that comes as a painting reaches that point. At the same time, each painting I work on is a part of an ongoing process of discovery that’s building upon the prior one. An inner dialogue is present in each artwork and in my creative work as a whole.
PZ: Has your practice changed over time?
LSK: As an undergraduate student in history at UC Berkeley and later in the broader European context of graduate school at the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain and the Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium, I came to appreciate the value of research towards furthering knowledge.
As such, I have a conscious understanding of the philosophical, metaphysical, and theoretical dimensions that place my creative work in a larger context historically and hopefully as a legacy for future generations.
These last 4 years, I steered organically towards interlacing abstract geometric fractal-like patterns with representational elements seen in nature and brought these strands of expression within the contemporary art world together.
PZ: Which artists are you most influenced by?
LSK: I have found myself while researching subjects, sharing a kindred regard for subjects other artists have explored. I appreciate Mondrian’s work with trees and appreciate how he transitioned compositionally toward his later “Boogie-Woogie” painting. As a child, I walked through Jesus Soto’s “Penetrables” and the sculpture’s colorful strands. I jumped around playing a hopscotch-like game following Cruz Diez’s colorful linear artwork that spanned the length of the Maiquetía airport. While working with floral geometries, I connected with Georgia O’Keefe’s work. Sonia Delaunay’s geometric works and Joseph Stella’s use of abstract elements alongside the representational rendering of his subjects have more recently been of interest.
PZ: How would you define yourself as an artist?
LSK: I am a researcher and explorer seeking creative discoveries. I am grounded spiritually as a contemplative through a process of meditation and, in essence, observation of nature.
PZ: What are you working on now?
LSK: I just completed a new painting that I titled “Beholder.” It’s a composition that dialogues with geometric forms and representational drawings of subjects like “Darwin’s orchid” alongside the hummingbird-like moth that feeds off its nectar and subsequently appeared as the pollinator that Darwin had envisioned would need to exist. Years later, the moth was discovered, supporting Darwin’s observation. An eye is part of the visual conversation alluding to this process of observation and investigation to which Darwin dedicated his life. It’s also bringing the subject of the observation of nature to the viewer and how observation of the effect – geometric patterning in natural forms – can also evoke a mystical sensibility towards matters, alluding to the cause of these universal patterns. In this sense, I would mention Teilhard de Chardin’s “Hymn to the Universe” as the spiritual reveries of a scientifically well-versed and grounded mystic. My intention is not to move to any foregone conclusion but instead to make the process of pondering an endless quest toward the depths of understanding that will enrich our appreciation even further. It also reflects my love and unending sense of awe before nature and our cosmos.
PZ: What is the role of art in our society?
LSK: Art is closely attached to creativity, discovery, invention, and communication. Over time artworks have become conveyors of humanity’s historical evolution. Art is a highly personal expression influenced by the artist’s social context and time. So the value of art is multifaceted in that it can speak to several issues, be it economic, political, psychological, scientific, religious…
My hope is that my work communicates and inspires an appreciation and respect for the natural environment in which we live. The environmental challenges facing us today are clearly daunting concerns. I feel that the closer we come to being responsible and taking care of our natural world, the “sounder” we will be as human beings.