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Feeling the Movement with Local Artist Laina Terpstra

We caught up with SF-based painter Laina Terpstra, whose striking oil paintings were recently featured in our home staging project at 12 Skyland Way in Ross, CA. The San Francisco native sat down with us to share some thoughts about her art, her influences and the inner-workings of her mind…

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‘Untitled #3’, Oil on Canvas, “60 x 48” 2019 by Laina Terpstra

Study Laina’s paintings even briefly, and you’ll find that movement itself is an ever-present theme which pulls you through her work. In a 2015 interview with gallerist, George Lawson, Terpstra explains,

“…It feels like when I’m painting, there are two modes of thinking, almost like the two sides of my brain having a conversation. One wants to describe form in terms of structure – breaking apart the image in terms of a grid, and the other wants to describe the more internal energy of the form through movement and gesture. I used to feel that these elements distinguished themselves as organic / figurative vs. inanimate space / architecture. However, even within the human body both modes exist – there is a mechanical aspect present too. This conversation or balance between structure vs. fluid movement, control vs. release/ chaos is a theme I notice in so many contexts/ disciplines in life. You can try to create systems of order, but as soon as you think you understand something, an entirely new element will interrupt/ throw off the equation forcing you to reevaluate. Too much of either one will throw off the composition, so it’s this push and pull between the two modes that propels my paintings forward.”

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‘Untitled’, 48″ x 60″, Oil on Canvas, 2018 by Laina Terpstra

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‘Untitled’, 36″ by 48″ Oil on Canvas, 2018 by Laina Terpstra

The product of this internal conversation: Large, abstract oil paintings with wide, dynamic brush strokes that sweep across the canvas in equal parts grid-like precision and raw, untamed emotion. Unique pieces that seem to pour out from a singular point of view, and somehow feel (much like Terpstra herself), expressionistic and quiet all at once…

studio D: There is so much fluidity and movement in your work. Can you talk about the actual physical process of painting and how physical (or not?) it is for you?

Laina Terpstra: My process is very physical, unplanned, and intuitive. I am looking at old masters paintings for their dynamic use of space and light as something to grab onto and channel for compositional cues, but I don’t have any plan going into a blank canvas. I start by visually grabbing onto some form or moment in the composition I’m looking at, and then I let the trajectory of the brush move in space in a way that corresponds to the architecture in the image. It is a moment of presence and empathy with what I am seeing and taking in visually from the original image, and simultaneously responding to what is happening physically on the tip of the brush. With the longer continuous strokes, I tap in and out of moments of control and release, harnessing onto a grid or architectural moments from the composition, and then letting the brush fall under it’s own weight and momentum just loosely guiding it, until I regain control and tap into some other geometry.

SD: How does living and/or having grown up in San Francisco affect your art (or does it affect your art at all)? Do your paintings have an identity beyond, well… Themselves? Or do they exist on their own world without identifying with a sense of place, or with you as a human being with your own unique history?

LT: My work is definitely influenced by having grown up in the Bay Area. What initially sparked my interest in painting were the Bay Area Figurative painters — Deibenkorn, Elmer Bishoff, and David Park whose work my mom introduced me to in high school. I took a class at the Art Institute, where the movement originated in the 50s and 60s, and I spent the whole course emulating those painters’ use of abstraction and color. You generally see a lot more abstract/ figurative type work in San Francisco, more than in New York at least, and I think there is a link to that tradition. I eventually arrived at a language of my own with the brush, but my palette, and the technique of wet on wet colors mixing on the brush are elements you also see in those bay area painters. My new work is more abstract and calligraphic, but they still stem from a figurative tradition, and to me they will always be rooted in real space.

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‘Untitled’, Oil on Canvas, 36″ x 48″ 2018 by Laina Terpstra

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Terpstra’s work hung on the ‘Cigar Room’ wall at studio D’s staging project in Ross, CA, 2019

Learn more about Laina online at her website, or follow her on Instagram at @L_Terpstra to keep up with her latest work.

Don’t miss her paintings featured in studio D’s staging at 12 Skyland Way– currently up in Ross, CA. Click for more on home staging, interior design and turnkey furnishings in the San Francisco Bay Area and NYC…