Unconventional Wisdom: Printmaker Laurie Sloan

Printmaker Laurie Sloan’s enigmatic work encourages contemplation about the inherent uncertainties of life.

Laurie Sloan is gracious and talkative as she offers a visitor a fresh cup of coffee in her cozy kitchen. “There’s no rush,” she says. She’s always more than happy to talk art. Her art, and art in general. Also, politics—and tangentially, the importance of a social conscience.

She leans into the island, cradling her cup and talking fast, even as she keeps apologizing for it. Small and unassuming, she looks as if she could be a student herself, but Sloan is an accomplished printmaker and, for the past twenty-seven years, a professor of art and art history at the University of Connecticut.

Her work is admittedly unconventional, blurring the lines between painting, cut-paper collage, and digital printing, now her medium of choice. Sloan’s semi-abstract prints are visually complex: a ballet of shapes, lines, dots, spots, dabs, and fragmented forms. They reflect her fascination with the natural world and the “uncertainties of life science research.”

Sloan explains that, as humans, we strive to categorize and compartmentalize information all the time. And yet, she says, “We are ultimately faced with a reality that we can never completely grasp.”
Uncertainty is reflected in her work, as she is continually moving, cropping, and reconfiguring forms “caught up in incomplete or shifting narratives beyond their control.” There’s passion, meaning, and emotion in every iota of ink.

Her latest prints are informed by politics, recent events, and the state of the world. “It has been very hard to make work in the current environment,” she admits. “It’s been hard to get out of bed. . . .”

Sloan doesn’t make “activist art” that tells you what to think, preferring instead, she says, to “bring people in to contemplate,” and decide for themselves what to do.

She studied zoology as an undergraduate student, but always had a strong interest in art, so earned her M.F.A. from the Tyler School of Art, at Temple University in Philadelphia.

She met her husband, Frank Noelker, when he was a student at RISD. They moved to Storrs when Sloan was offered a position at UConn. Noelker is a fine art photographer whose own work is designed to create awareness of the complex issues surrounding animals in captivity. The couple works together in an open studio at the back of their charming farmhouse. They enjoy views of a pasture across the road, and Sloan says she often takes her kayak down to the nearby river to paddle and commune with wildlife.

Her inspiration comes from the natural world, from a menagerie of metal toys sitting next to her home computer, and from the worn, stained pages torn from a book of specimen drawings. She says that everything she does is based on observational drawing, and all of it, past and present, is connected. “There’s no distinct line to be drawn between now and then,” she says. Her current work is more chart-like and less textural than some of her earlier work, but she likens it all to a rebus-like puzzle, for which there is no one right answer.

Her art has been exhibited widely in the United States and abroad; her prints are in more than twenty important collections, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California. She has won several grants and honors, among them a Connecticut Commission on the Arts Individual Artist fellowship and numerous juried exhibition awards.
While she admits to a luxury not many artists have (as a tenured professor, she doesn’t have to show in commercial galleries to survive), she truly loves to teach. “With printmaking, you have to want to be around people,” says Sloan. “It’s a communal activity by its nature . . . we gather around the press to see how something turns out.”

Although her work calls attention to our fragile place in an unpredictable world, the tangible process of printing itself keeps her going. “There’s something very human and physical about using metal and wood. About the art of making an impression so many times over,” she says. “It’s like creating evidence . . . I like to say where there’s metal, there’s hope.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: To see more of Laurie Sloan’s work, visit lauriesloan.com

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