Interview with Laura Kimpton

Image above: ©Peter Ruprecht. Myths, Words and Fire. Burning Man. “DREAM” (welded steel, plaster cast trophies, paint), 2015.


KELLY KORZUN: Having a Masters in Psychology, you worked as an art teacher for 15 years. How do you integrate this experience in your work?

LAURA KIMPTON: All my work is about psychology and about teaching a message. When I build my large sculptures either at Burning Man, other festivals, or even at the Miami Basel SLS Hotel, I’m putting out a psychological message. As a teacher of 15 years, I’m very good at public speaking. Also, I’m dyslexic. Being a dyslexic person, you’re very aware of how important words are to people, so I do these very large monumental words. I’m constantly talking about how right brained dyslexic people are not inferior to the left brained people. Besides being born as an artist, I think psychology is the most important thing in my work.

KK: At the opening of one of your recent shows, Buck $hot to the $oul, you shot some of your mixed-media artworks with an air gun. In this series, money, drugs, religion, guns, and flags are major role players. Why did you choose these themes to play around with and what was the intent behind shooting your pieces?

LK: Buck $hot to the $oul has two S’s as money symbols in it. Coming from inherited wealth, I was playing with how money controls our society and and how people believe that owing is a really weird thing that happens with money when you get inherited wealth. The whole show had a carnival feeling to it; I wasn’t really playing with any gun and political actions, I was playing with a carnival theme. I grew up loving carnivals, loving shooting and I’m a perfect shot, so I was playing with the idea that art can be playful and political at the same time. I shot at my art, because as Burning Man artists one thing we believe in, is that art isn’t sacred, that art can be affected. Maybe me shooting at my art makes it even better instead of making art pieces so sacred that they have to be held with a glove.

I’m an earthist, so I believe that we’re on one planet and that the flag and us breaking out borders is one of the reasons our earth has problems. I was playing with an American flag that was made out of whippets, a drug that people use. I got a lot of leftovers, because I like to use junk for my art. So I was playing with the idea that sometimes people are drugging themselves to not deal with the earth and the environmental problems.


©Peter Ruprecht. Myths, Words and Fire. Burning Man. “EGO” (welded steel, plaster cast trophies, paint), 2013. 


KK: You are a six-time recipient of Burning Man’s Honorarium Grant. What has that experience given you?

LK: The way Burning Man works is that everybody can bring art. There’s no judgement on anybody’s art. Back in the day, when I got my first Honorarium in 2006, they chose 25 artists and they gave them money, tickets, heavy equipment, they publicized them and gave them PR. They pick the best art pieces, so being an honorarium is a big deal. I probably could’ve been more years, but I decided to take a break to let other artists come in. I’m kind of a grandfather of the honorarium at this point. This year, I applied again for the first time in three years because I want the publicity.


©Sidney Erthal. Wearable Art. She's Got Wings. Laura Kimpton Fashion. (left) Cap and Jewelry, 2015; (right)  Outfits with Top Hats, 2015.


KK: During this year’s Miami Art Basel, you launched your ready-to-wear clothing line, She’s Got Wings, which you designed in collaboration with JenJen Patten of Warrior Within Designs. What type of woman you are designing for and how did this project come about?

LK: I have dreamed about having a clothing line since I was a little girl. At Burning Man you make clothes for your crew to wear, so I made hats, sweatshirts, t-shirts, and necklaces. I met with JenJen through my friend Daniel, and he started playing with my little oil paintings on the computer and showing me how they can be made into patterns. So this year I made a pair of pants just for me, they were made out of one of my oil paintings. I wore them at Burning Man all the time and I had people literally following me down the desert to find out where they can get them. When SLS Hotel suggested to set up a pop-up store, I was like “oh, this would be so much fun!” So we made pants, t-shirts, necklaces, hats and scarfs. It was very well received. The person I’m designing for is a 40-year-old and older woman who needs comfortable wear, but also wants to be a little funky. While most of the clothes are made for skinny young models, my clothes are made for more of a menopausal woman, a slightly older woman, with a wider brim around the belly. Everything is breathable, because as a menopausal woman, you get hot flashes all day long. Nobody has ever come up with a clothing line for that type of woman. She’s Got Wings is something you can wear out to yoga or a festival, or when you go shopping.


©Jaz Fabry. Myths, Words and Fire. Art Basel Miami Beach. SLS Hotel. Laura Kimpton Activation. “LOVE” (welded steel, red patina, with bird cutouts), 2015.


KK: Besides launching your apparel line, you presented the installation, Myths, Words and Fire, at the SLS South Beach Hotel this year. How do you feel about your debut at Miami Beach? 

LK: It was amazing! It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I shipped my ‘art truck’ with 35 art pieces, 13 sculptures, 15 painting, a couple of video pieces, and a crew of fifteen. We came to this very upper class high-end hotel with Burning Man art. There was a big sculpture of a mermaid made from scrap culled from cut-up old tool boxes that have been welded together, a six-foot-high LOVE sculpture, installations in the lobby, huge video of my EGO burning project, my self-portrait… It was hard work, nine days of interviews. It was definitely worth it, but I’m exhausted! It was a great exposure opposed to displaying just one art piece on the wall at the art gallery, which is not me.


©Laura Kimpton. Myths, Words and Fire. “White Bird Self Portrait” (90 x 60 x 5 inches; found objects, photograph, resin), 2014.


KK: Let’s talk about your White Bird Self Portrait, in which you portrayed yourself as a white bird, breaking free from a cage. Being typically considered a symbol of freedom, renewed life, or even a transition between life and death, bird is a recurring element in your work. What’s your personal attachment to this symbol?

LK: The first attachment to this symbol was my father, Bill Kimpton. He was a very prominent man. He died of leukemia in 2001. When he was in the intensive care at a cancer hospital, I noticed thousands of blackbirds landed on the hospital. I decided that blackbirds represented someone’s death. After that, I felt like birds were following me, in a shamanistic way, so I started using this symbol in my art to represent my dad, who was also severely dyslexic. I don’t believe in superiority, but if I had to pick an animal that’s superior, I would pick a bird – it walks, it flies, it swims. We don’t do that. Little by little, the bird became my symbol at Burning Man. I’m a big meditator, my father was a big buddhist, so in my mind the bird represents living without your internal negative voice and living free from neurosis. Now, I don’t have a single piece of artwork that doesn’t have a bird in it.


©Peter Ruprecht. Myths, Words and Fire. Burning Man. “Pyramid of LOVE” (welded steel, bird cutouts), 2015. 


KK: What impact would you like your massive word sculptures to have on a viewer?

LK: I want to take worry away from people. LOVE is about being free and being loved. EGO is about human ego, because, as humans, we’re constantly thinking that we’re superior on earth. I did BELIEVE, when my daughter was 14, and as a mother you just have to believe you’re kids are gonna be ok, otherwise you’re gonna lock them in a closet. Before your kids become teenagers, you feel in control of their lives. So I put up the word BELIEVE to help people believe that they’re gonna be happy, loved and be ok. I believe that worry creates the problem. LIVE, DREAM, BE, OK is about allowing people to be free and believe in their dream: if you want something, you must dream it up and stop worrying.

KK: Looking back, how do you think your childhood formed your artistic vision?

LK: Being dyslexic, I didn’t do very well at school. I was kind of told I was retarded and left alone, but when I was free from adults, I was always outside playing, making art, being creative and playing sports. I had a double life: one life was telling me there was something wrong with me and then I had the other life, where I was succeeding. My art is a very meditative thing for me. I make art every day, because it quiets my mind: I sit there, I draw, I paint, or I collage. It’s important to have practices like these to keep yourself sane, especially when you have teenage children. It’s my way of keeping me at peace and that’s what I did as child – I just needed peace. I do suffer from post-traumatic stress from non-family abuse, so a lot of my art is talking about how to calm your internal voice and post-traumatic stress. I do a lot of work with organizations about post-traumatic stress and mindfulness, so my art is about quieting the mind, finding peace, and focusing on the art.

(left) ©Sidney Erthal. Myths, Words and Fire. Laura Kimpton. SLS Hotel Front Facade, 2015; (right) ©Jaz Fabry. Myths, Words and Fire. Laura Kimpton Activation.  SLS Hotel Front Facade, 2015.


KK: What projects are you working on right now? What mediums would you like to explore in the future?

LK: I’m working on many projects. I have about six projects out there, but I can’t specifically name these people yet, because it’s all in conversations. Right now I work with stainless steel, so I’m hopefully gonna be making these giant umbrellas and cutting out birds and words – they gonna fall out of them from the ceiling. Clothing is hugely new to me. I’m also new at oil painting, so I’m constantly working on my oil painting skills.


Snappy Slumbers

Snappy Slumbers