Interview with fine artist Heidi Lanino
What was the idea behind the cover?
Gary Bilezikian, the President of Guidecraft, asked me to create a series of collages to try to show the correlations between fine arts, geometry, and Guidecraft’s toy systems. He wanted to move away from standard marketing concepts (toy in the foreground, smiling child as the backdrop) on the cover of the catalog as the company is moving towards a larger subset of systems in their toys, and he wanted to focus more this year on the geometry of the systems, as well as give a child’s perspective as creation, at its heart, is an experiential process. As a fine artist, I’m used to pursuing my own themes and body of work, but occasionally I like an outside challenge and take on commissions. I ended up creating a variety of pieces as it was a process of defining a feeling or a story in the collage that wasn’t representational, but lent itself to a larger conversation around color, shape and form. These three work in tandem to create a feeling that is open to interpretation, but also made up of forms reminiscent of Guidecraft’s toy systems.
During the process, I would lay out six to eight collages at a time, and Gary and I would discuss the feeling of each. If it became too heavy or silent or representational we put it aside. Ultimately with the one we choose, it had the right balance or asymmetry to create something that could stand on its own as a piece of art. It was fun, but was definitely a process to find the balance between my artistry and what the cover wanted to be, and to ensure it didn’t get too didactic or serious.
Tell us about the Art Lesson
The idea was to see how a child would interpret the same concept, and to see how their sensibility would interpret the idea. To begin the lesson, I gathered the students on a rug and showed them a book about shapes and geometric abstraction titled “???” by Sonia Delaunay, which got them thinking more abstractly about shapes and form. Then we moved to a table and I introduced PowerClix and IO Blocks separately, and worked on patterning first, and then building three dimensionally to get them into a more fluid approach to design. The problem sometimes with a piece of paper and paint, or markers or crayons, or whatever the medium may be, is that if you jump in too quickly with permanence, it tends to limit a child’s creativity. So I used the toys to help the students build their vocabulary around shape and form and color, and create, destroy, and recreate their own work. Next I passed out painted paper cut into geometric shapes, white format paper and glue sticks and gave the students time to choose their own shapes, or create new ones, and they began to build their own collages. Some children are natural storytellers and begin to use the shapes and collage to tell their story.
What do you think the student ultimately got out of the lesson?
Well, they definitely enjoyed the process, which for me, aside from building creative, independent thinkers, is the goal of anyone in the arts. Creative process is everything!
I don’t think I taught them anything radically new, but by building the bridge from verbal and visual (reading a book, looking at artwork), to working three dimensionally, to building back into a 2 dimensional space, but with the tactile and less permanent form that is collage, I was able to help them make the connections between 2d and 3d geometry, and to help them craft their own narrative in the final collage.
What’s inspired you to become an artist?
I never thought to become an artist. I just always made things and naturally expressed myself visually. Creativity and art were always a part of my life and who I was; it was my way of expression. I grew up in Long Island, New York and was exposed to travel at a very young age. My parents are from Europe so we would visit our family often which expanded my sight and view of the world. It really was the beginning of my art and design education. My father grew up in New York City so we would visit often. We went to musical events and spent a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The journey alone to the city was full of culture, design, and architecture. The Met has been an immense influence on my aesthetic and art education. I learned what art was through these visits as a child. My most recent body of work is connected to that memory, emotional space, and response I felt from the master paintings at the Met.
Where can we see more of your work?
What was your favorite toy when you were their age?
I had so many I loved to play with. I tried to bring a bunch of toys to the first day of kindergarten which did not go over too well. It was a shock when I realized that school was not playing all day. Building toys were my favorite, we had Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs. I really enjoyed building three-dimensionally. Another favorite toy was my Fisher Price Barn. I still have it!