Artist explores a "futuristic utopia" in new exhibit

Implicit in the title “Universe Tribe” is both commonality and distinction. Not just a name for an exhibition, it's what Lisa McLymont calls her “ongoing body of work.”

For McLymont, it's about unity and togetherness without ignoring diversity and uniqueness.

“‘Universe Tribe' is sort of like the futuristic society or utopia that I'd like to see us grow towards,” McLymont said. “The core message of ‘Universe Tribe' is to live and love. What that means is different things for different people, but [it's] pretty much positivity and love for everyone. … Where there is someone in need somewhere, you're going to reach out and help because you care about people in the world.

“I'd hope everyone recognizes the need for balance. Rather than [being] colorblind or [advocating that] ‘All Lives Matter,' I want to work to celebrate the differences in people and their experiences and not gloss over their existence. We need differences. The work that I'm doing is a small, hopeful part to trigger each person to get into that without making them feel guilty or berating them.”

Looking for a fresh expression, the longtime graphic designer and metalworker/jewelry maker “returned to my artistic roots,” as she termed it, and began painting.

“It was pushing myself to work on my expression and voice, to find out what makes my heart sing and to give myself a new challenge,” she said.

Her first thought was to paint images portraying black women. She had intended the tribe to eventually include women of all colors, as well as men, but for right now, “the Universe Tribe is woman strong.”

“I wanted to paint women of color in a positive light, to show positivity for people of color,” McLymont said. “My first body of work had a lot of dark-skinned women, because I feel light people are drawn to lighter skin and darker-skinned women get overlooked. I was just seeing what attracted people, what drew people in to get a new story and maybe walk away with a new thought.”

The subjects of her paintings are not specific individuals but rather composites that present characters as every-women, although perhaps evoking someone in particular among viewers. McLymont said painting specific individuals ends a potential discussion at the outset.

“I want to remove all that and focus on the theme of the piece [and] the atmosphere I'm building around these portraits,” she said.

McLymont builds that atmosphere by applying layer upon layer of color, using Neocolor, graphite and acrylic on birch wood panels, eventually sanding and scraping away at the layers to reveal grains and textures. She has also worked with silver and copper leaf for a few pieces for the OSU Faculty Club exhibition, which she said is her largest set of work created for any one show.

Making a body of work that was ongoing meant allowing for a change in perspective, and McLymont has more recently been making art as a response to current events.

“Ultimately, with each and every piece, I look at it as you're on this path, and there's a desired destination, but there are these turnoffs you could possibly take and you have to decide in the moment where you want to go,” she said.

The election and the proposals of the Trump administration, the rise in hate speech and the ongoing incidents involving police and black men (specifically, McLymont mentioned the recent viral video involving security guards outside of Grant Hospital) have McLymont making art as a form of therapy.

“After I get really upset about a news article, I go and I try to find peace,” she said. “My reaction is to focus on what we can do, and that really is to have love and patience and compassion. A lot of the expressions in this show are more of a contemplative, peaceful sense.

“Three pieces I went in looking to [paint a] more cantankerous face ended up being more soft and peaceful. My tendency is to want to look at the world in that softer way even though I'm reacting in an angry way.

“Right now, we should all be angry, but not so angry that we're not productive in making change. I'm not trying to avoid anger or strife, it's just we can't accomplish anything when we wallow in it. [We need to] acknowledge it and then move on to, ‘What are you going to do about it?' For me, I can make art and use that as an avenue to talk to more people.”