News / first friday Oakland

Do what you Love: Q & A with artist Lisa Congdon

Catch up with Lisa Congdon at work in the studio...

kerri johnson
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Behind the Scenes with Artist Peter St.Lawrence


These speakeasy-esque flasks are one of our favorite items in the shop, and their creator, Peter St.Lawrence, is sort of a mad genius. Since getting his BFA in sculpture from CCA in 2001, he's been making his mark here in Oakland through designing restaurant interiors, founding FM gallery, and releasing his storied ceramics. We caught up with him to ask him about his artistic vision and to find out what projects he's currently working on.


How did you get into ceramics?
The craft of ceramics is one where the more you learn about it, the more you realize you don't know. Ceramics can be as simple as an ashtray or as advanced as the tiles that allows space shuttles to reenter the atmosphere. Anything is possible with clay if you have the patience to figure it out. I love the challenge and the satisfying nature of the materiality.

Your flasks that we carry in our shop have such a storied past. Can you elaborate? 
I was inspired by a prohibition era whiskey bottle that someone dug up in the Oakland hills under what must have been a speakeasy. I wanted to cast that beautiful bottle back into the world and give that history a second life. Having hand-built flasks for many years, my craft has more recently crossed a threshold with the advent of slip-casting. Using a plaster mold and liquid clay allows me to make the flasks lighter and able to hold more liquid, and therefor more functional.  






What other artistic endeavors are you up to these days?
Actually, I'm really excited about working on a ceramic jewelry line in collaboration with a friend of mine. I'm not ready to get too specific just yet. But I have been obsessed by the quality of the porcelain in the shapes I've been casting.


We heard you had a hand in the restaurant design for Duende in Oakland. Can you tell us about your vision?

"Duende" loosely means having soul, and is an extremely rich concept that guided our visual decisions. It is described as the difference between a technically proficient dance and one that is expressive and emotional. Because there is something inherently genuine about duende, we tried to only use materials that are being shown for what they are: rusted metal and burnt wood with touches of gold. 

In literature, duende is not clearly a force of good or of evil: It's both. Therefor creating intentional areas of darkness and lightness with textured shadow play became a theme. We tried to reference history while staying true to chef Paul Canales' Spanish-inspired innovative cooking and love of contemporary music.







What's it like being an artist in Oakland, and how can local folks support you?

I am fortunate to be the member of an incredible community of artists at FM on 25th street. Our studio has a diverse line-up of talented artists that generate limitless inspiration and cross-pollination. We open our doors to the public every first Friday from 5-9 and EVERY Saturday from 1-5. Visiting FM is a great opportunity to find some hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind items while supporting local artists.


Photos by Marion & Rose, CCA, and 

Nicole Grant Kriege
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Get to Know Artist Lisa Espenmiller

Letting that go; keeping this, Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted over panel

Here's a little Q&A with Lisa about her art-making here in Oakland.

Your paintings have such lovely use of color. What are they inspired by?
Typically what happens is that a color starts to nudge me, appearing at random times in my mind's eye competing for my attention. At times the inspiration for a color is clear – a yellow leaps out at me from our native garden, or from a pale, oceanic blue scarf wrapped around a woman's neck as she walks by, or orange just seems to be filling me up and wants to pour out onto the canvas or paper. Other times I have little inkling as to why a particular green calls me, or why I'm suddenly attracted to a particular soft, warm grey.

Can you tell us a little bit about your meditation practice?
I sit zazen, a form of Zen meditation, twice a day with my husband. The first thing we do each day upon waking is to sit for 30 minutes. The last thing we do before going to bed is to sit for 15 minutes. In zazen, one sits on a meditation cushion facing a blank wall with eyes open. You stare at the wall with "soft" eyes and breathe, letting thoughts arise and fall away, trying not to get caught in them; when your attention inevitably gets snagged and you realize that it has, you let the thoughts go, and return to breathing and focusing on a spot on the wall. We've been doing this every day since December, 2008.

To live till you die, Acrylic and ink on canvas mounted over panel
What's it like to be a practicing artist in Oakland, and how can we support your work?
I've lived in Oakland for 16 years. It's exciting to be a part of the emerging art scene as it grows and matures. I feel like there's an openness, a willingness to experiment, a fresh excitement about art and artists, a friendliness within the developing art communities. As far as supporting my work, showing it here at Marion & Rose is a great form of support. Part of being an artist is getting one's work in front of folks with whom it resonates. The more opportunities I have to show my work, the better chance I have of finding those people.

What else are you up to these days? 
I recently acquired 4 different translations of The Tao Te Ching, bringing my total to 7. Having 7 different versions of one book appeals mightily to the nerd in me. All of my paintings and works on paper (except the groundless ground series) get their names from The Tao through a process in which I enter into a dialogue between the piece and the book. My study of The Tao underlies the lines and washes in my artwork. I can't wait to find time in the coming weeks to sift through the 7 translations of this ancient text on how to live to see what I learn and discover and how this study will shape new work to come.

We can't wait to hang Lisa's pieces! Everything shown at the shop will available for sale, and the show will be up through June 23rd. She'll also be joining us here at the shop in person for First Fridays in June.

Artwork courtesy of Chandra Cerrito Contemporary
Nicole Grant Kriege
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