Painting as Excavation

By Lydia Gralla | February 27, 2021

As a life-long artist,  most of my time has been spent in isolation; working alone in my studio is a necessity. So when Covid lockdown was first imposed it did not appear to have a significant impact on my day-to-day life. But after a few months I did sense a difference; I realized that my isolation now is no longer one of choice. And so many other things have changed–worrying about how to get food, learning how to keep myself from getting the virus. It was not possible to deny that life had changed dramatically.

As Covid was unfolding I was distracted from my usual routines, and when I would go into my studio I found that what I wanted to do was to look at earlier paintings. I wondered if they would look different to me now, if they would be relevant to this new normal we have been forced to adopt.


L.R. Gralla, Excavation with Mask, oil on canvas, 30”x36” 2019


The subject matter of my paintings has always contained autobiographical elements. A memory of a place, an experience, or even an object would be the trigger, a starting point. What would appear on my canvas as I worked was often as much of a surprise (or mystery) to me as it was to a stranger.

A common thread in how I begin a painting is a desire to create an environment on my canvas that does not exist in “real life.”  I avoid creating visual space that implies a routine three-dimensional world in both landscape and depictions of interior settings. I have found that this has given me greater access to exploring ideas/images that only exist in my mind.


L.R.Gralla, Do I Know You?, watercolor, 9”x 12” 2018


I judge a painting as “successful” if it continues to provoke questions no matter how much time has passed. My paintings have a different meaning to me on different days—and after many years.

When I started looking at these pre-Covid paintings I was surprised that they still feel relevant. In fact it became clear to me that long before the pandemic lockdown my paintings were dominated by the exploration of different types of isolation as experienced throughout my life. Several years ago I began one series of paintings that used landscape and the visual element of an “underground room” as a particular way of exploring the feeling of isolation. Periodically I continue to explore this series.


L.R. Gralla, Excavation II, oil on canvas, 20”x 24” 2014


L.R. Gralla, I Closed My Eyes, oil on canvas, 30” x 36” 2012


L.R. Gralla, Layers of Time- II”, oil on canvas, 22” x 28” 1995


L.R. Gralla, Almost Lost, enamel powder heat melted on copper plate, 5”x 7” 1984


L.R. Gralla, Layers of Time- I, oil on canvas, 24” x 29” 1982


Copyright © 2021 Lydia Gralla
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