Lizz Lopez

Lizz Lopez


Painter: Los Angeles

The evening was filled with infatuating opposites. There was the genuinely sweet nature and laughter, yet the somber and isolated moments of our conversation; and unforgettably, the dissonance of wailing police sirens and helicopter propellers that seemed to surround the peaceful rooftop terrace on which Lizz Lopez and I spoke.

“This part of Hollywood can never be gentrified. It’s just one of those places that’s so gritty and slimy that it’s been impossible to change. Which is good, in a way.”

     Sounds to me like parts of New York City. A few more hours and there I’d return, not very far from where Lizz’s work first struck me. I couldn’t turn away from her paintings that evening in Brooklyn. Given, it was exciting to finally meet her, a year later.

“It’s always weird when someone sees your work and you aren’t there, and they remember you by your work. It’s really flattering because you never really think that your work is ever gonna make it out into the world.”

     Or that it would even have a beginning.

     Lizz Lopez was immersed in nursing school. An occasional art class was just a way to find a brief escape from the environment. The science. The peculiar language. The stress. But then, an unexpected push.

“In my last year of nursing school I was taking more art classes and I was talking to a girl who was like, ‘Oh, you draw really well. You should paint.’ So she bought me a canvas, she lent me her paintbrushes, and I started painting.”

     And painting. And painting. For 24 hours straight. The result? Her first work: a rendition of La Virgen de Guadalupe. And Lizz knew she’d be painting for the rest of her life.

“I was going to go into anesthesia school after I got out of nursing school but I got side-tracked by art, and all of a sudden I moved to San Francisco and started painting. It was weird because I had just drawn some sketches and sent them to the San Francisco Art Institute, and within two weeks of graduating nursing school I got an acceptance letter and I went straight to art school. I don’t even know how it happened, but I just started having shows and my work just found its way out, like without even intending it. Somehow or another it just escaped into the world and it’s been like that the whole way through.”

     In art school she’d begin to explore the medium and its textures more deeply—and divulge through painting what had for the longest time been closest to her: Religious imagery. A stringent church upbringing and the natural inclination to rebel against it. The brilliance of nuns, and the one-time notion of becoming a nun herself. And the clear link to nurses and their pious figures.

“It seemed like in the old days nuns were either teachers or nurses, and the old nurse outfits were like habits. They had this very clean and sterile look about them. They just seemed really holy to me.”

Dark-Haired Girl
But Lizz’s work is much more complex than portraits of nurses.
     Look at Dark-Haired Girl.

     I mean, just look at it. Her face, her skin. It's white-white. Almost to the point that you can’t make out the features. The roundness across her forehead is hardly there.

     But she's clothed in such a dark-colored costume. Charcoal black? Not the color we associate with a nurse, is it? And that icy steel hair. Those freezing-cold eyes are quietly staring off canvas. It’s a stare that’s almost indifferent. Almost melancholy. Almost nostalgic.

     The chair is where we find all the color. And it's pink. Lively. Is she leaning back at leisure on that invitingly warm cushion? Not really. She doesn't seem completely comfortable. There's something going on here...

“Unfortunately I think…I’m kind of a sad person. I think we all deal with our own demons and our own depression and our own issues. There are cool ways of expressing that, and I think painting is one of those cool outlets where it’s kind of funny. In a way you poke fun at yourself a little bit by doing stuff like that.”

     Lizz thought for a moment; with hints of a shiver in her voice as she continued.

“So it’s really good to be able to create, especially coming from the field I’m in where there’s just a lot of really bad stuff happening and you see it all the time; you see a part of society that not a lot of people have the privilege to see. You see a lot of people dying. You see how violent a city can be. People don’t really know how violent a city is until you work in an emergency room or in a trauma department. You’re like, ‘where is all this happening?’ At all hours, like at eight o’clock in the morning, people are getting stabbed and you’re like, ‘what are these people doing?’

“And a lot of people doing this kind of work I think have a sick sense of humor because you have to kind of laugh at stuff, especially when you’re in that field, otherwise you go crazy. Really. And so a lot of my work comes from that aspect, too. In a hospital there are all these young minds working on really terrible situations, and it’s innocence—if there really is any innocence—it’s innocence vs. the world. I’ll never run out of material, believe me.”

     What’s incredible is that Lizz hasn’t painted in almost two years. She’s re-visited school for anesthesiology. The good news is that she’s almost earned her degree, and she’ll soon be able to transition from the scientific mind to the art mind—strange as that may feel—to paint once again.

“The problem is I’m not really going to be a nurse anymore. I’m going to be doing an entirely different kind of work. I’m going to be putting people to sleep. So, how to portray that?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.”

{july 2009}
(images c/o Lizz Lopez)