What do a doll collector, world traveler, gardener, knitter, and jewelry designer have in common? Each one of them describes visual artist Lannie Hart. A sculptor and painter based in Sleepy Hollow, New York, Hart has explored many areas of creative expression throughout her life, the traces of which are still present in her practice.
Hart originally began her career as a graphic designer for large cosmetics corporations. This position sent her traveling all over the world on marketing campaigns. And yet, always a staunch supporter of the merits of traditional craftsmanship, Hart never abandoned her admiration for ceramics, an appreciation that was instilled within her when she began to collect precious dolls as a young woman. Her passion for skilled handiwork is the driving force behind her current sculptural rendering of the female form in clay and bronze. Although the walls of her studio are adorned with several of her paintings, Hart identifies primarily as a sculptor, claiming that the sculpting process permits her greater control, allowing her to truly, “get her hand in it.” Ever eager to acquire new skills, she considers learning to be a lifelong pursuit. And that is not to say that she only values endeavors within the scope of the visual arts. She also enjoys writing poetry.
Hart encourages her viewers to be equally inquisitive. Her sculptures depict the fragments of the female body: isolated faces, torsos, and legs are decorated with jewels, found objects, and other products of her metalworking techniques, skills acquired during her days as a jewelry maker. When asked about the significance of her embellishments, she responds enthusiastically with a big smile, “Because it’s pretty!” But after we laugh together, Hart continues to explain that she intends for her pieces to be more than just objects of aesthetic pleasure. She hopes that her work will be a stepping-stone for viewers to embark on their own explorations and discoveries.
After being drawn to her work for its visual interest, Hart knows that viewers will be confronted with questions they hadn’t anticipated. She explains: “I want people to go, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ . . . I want to surprise people into seeing something differently than they did before . . . into getting them to think about things they wouldn’t think about otherwise.” Hart’s dismantling of the female form is just one of the ways in which she compels others to raise questions about gender, class, and race, as well as about traditional systems of power, most notably religious and political institutions. Hart’s upcoming project will involve a series of sketches made to resemble comic strips. Relying on their immediately playful appearance, Hart wants her viewers to approach ready to laugh, as she instead confronts them with images of tragedies rooted in the failure of the United States government to execute effective gun control policies.
Not completely satisfied with her cozy studio tucked away in the basement of her charming home, Hart often retreats to a bustling metal fabrication studio in New Rochelle, where she welds the metal components of her works surrounded by a community of other artists. It is during my visit I noticed a few exchanges that nicely sum up Hart’s character. As we are about to leave, Hart notices a fellow artist she has not met before. Formalities are exchanged, and Hart eagerly questions her new acquaintance about their work with greatest interest and enthusiasm. On the way home, Hart is so eager to learn more about me, from my studies at the university to the details of my romantic relationships, that, lost in conversation, she takes many wrong turns on a highway that she has traveled too many times to count. For sure, her curiosity and ingenuity are just as striking as her artistic creations. Unlike her sculptures that ultimately must crack, fade, and wear away, as I leave her studio I am confidant that Hart’s industrious spirit will never falter.