Studio Visit: Lori DamianoJun 08, 2018
We met up with Lori Damiano, prolific artist, muralist, and educator at her sweet house tucked away in North Portland. Here are my coordinates, come to the house with the crooked front steps, she says.
Lori has been a friend of Stumptown for years now, and recently was part of our crew of stellar humans who went to Guatemala earlier this year. Traveling with old friend Rick McCrank, and new friends Ray Barbee, and Stumptown Quality Assurance manager Jim Kelso, she went with the mission to paint a mural at the non-profit Fundación Educando a los Niños. On this trip they got to know Antigua, revelled in the beauty of the landscape and the community that occupies it, and spent time with our producer partners who grow coffee in the region.
After climbing the crooked front steps, we ascend into her work space. Her studio is cozy and den-like, with artifacts and memories spread around her for inspiration. Art supplies sit in waiting near works in progress. It’s one of the first warm days of the spring, and we sip water to the sounds of the neighborhood.
Stumptown: You’d mentioned knowing Rick for years, but Ray was a newer buddy. You're all so ingrained in the skate community - it's incredible that you all stay in the same orbit and get to keep working on projects together. How did you meet Rick and Ray?
Lori: I think I met Rick at the White Rock skatepark in Vancouver, BC in the late nineties. We just kept hanging out in Canada, California, and Oregon over the years and since have collaborated a lot on skate graphics and projects for Girl Skateboards and Antisocial Skate Shop which he owns with my one of my besties Michelle Pezel. I have been a longtime admirer of Ray’s fancy footwork, music, and photography and although we have many mutual friends, we only just met for the first time at LAX on our way to Guatemala. He and Rick have been friends for a long time though.
Stumptown: Can you tell us a bit about your background in the skate community? We loved how you said when you were a teen, you and your friends used to squint at skate videos,and pretend all the skaters were women since ladies didn’t have the best representation in the community during that era.
Lori: When I was a kid I was riding in the back seat of my mom’s car, and I overheard a conversation between her and her cousin. She was talking about this skateboarder boy who was friends with her daughter, and was always making things for his friends as gifts, like lamps and art and mixtapes and stuff. I fell in love with this idea of making art with the intention of giving it as a gift. In my young brain, I thought that in order to be this kind of person, you also needed to be a skateboarder.
Skateboarding, creativity, and generosity became linked in my mind, and I decided I wanted to be that kind of person too. The weirdest thing about this story is I later figured out who that skateboarder boy was and it was Johannes Gamble who went on to work with Girl Skateboards and now is basically a video/animation sorcerer. Without even knowing anything about his life path, I basically ended up following his footsteps for 15 years before I even knew his name.
I didn’t start skating until I was 16. I had never seen a woman or girl ride a skateboard. I used to go to the donut shop where our town’s finest red curb was and watch all of my friends skate. One day one of my friends pushed his board over to me and said “Why don’t you try it?” I thought he was crazy. It sounds impossible but it had never occurred to me that I might be able to learn how to ride. This was a million years ago. It’s hard to imagine thinking that way now. There were women and girls skating then but I never saw them represented on TV or in the magazines I could get at the store. Those were my only windows to the outside world from the small town I grew up in.
When I moved to San Diego to go to college I met these identical twins, Tiffany and Nicole Morgan who were making a skate zine called Villa Villa Cola (named after Pippi Longstocking’s house). It was a zine that was focused on representing female skateboarders. We were painfully aware that there wasn’t much representation of females in the mainstream skateboarding media and wanted to document the amazing female skateboarders that we were meeting.
Skateboarding has been such a powerfully positive force in my life and has helped me get stronger, trust myself, and it has introduced me to the greatest humans and experiences. Pretty much all of my art jobs, even to this day, have come my way because of friends I met skateboarding.
Stumptown: How did you prepare for the trip to Antigua? We heard about your beautiful inspiration board, your thoughtful art and music research, and also how you only had 3 weeks to get your mural plans together. Can you speak to what pieces of inspiration you corralled?
Lori: I found out about the trip about a month before it happened. I prefer to paint images that are rooted in reality and experience, but I’d never been to Guatemala before, so I just started poring over everything I could find online. I spoke with friends who had travelled there, and did research on the school where I would be painting. My mom was actually in Antigua for a Rotary trip the week before I arrived, so she sent me photos, and answered questions I had. I became especially enchanted by everything I could find on the weaving styles there and also with these videos of all-female bands playing folk music at local cultural centers. I was also really curious about the local myths or legends that we reconnected to the incredible landscape there. I’m still enjoying continued research around that.
Stumptown: You have this really special thing that you carry with you everywhere- your Creative Activity Kit- this is just the most charming and inspiring thing! Can you tell us the history behind it?
Lori: When I was a kid, my mom used to pack a little bag that she sewed for me full of books, toys, and things to draw with so that when she and my dad took me on adventures, and I would always have lots of activities to keep busy with. I have always been very content to sit by myself and make up stories and draw and make things - Now as an adult I still always pack myself a little activity kit to take with me wherever I go. One of my favorite things is knowing I’m going to have uninterrupted time waiting around our hanging out somewhere and bringing lots of things to work on. My regular kit includes watercolors and a water brush, some kind of knitting project, a stack of postcards (including stamps so they are ready to mail from anywhere), a sketchbook and my favorite pens, a book to read, maybe a pile of index cards to animate on, and often some kind of beverage and snack to enjoy, like a thermos of tea. I recently got a portable electric blanket so I can be extra cozy even in the winter with my activities anywhere. I do also like to swoop up kits and half-finished projects from estate sales and try to complete them. I just started a little cross-stitch kit in my activity pack that is in another language. I found it at a thrift store in Cottage Grove Oregon. I’m not sure what language it is; it might be Malay?
Stumptown: Near the end of the film, there’s this really beautiful moment with the Antigua town elders playing music in the woods. You mentioned for you it was the most profound part of the trip. They describe the knoll as a place to make cosmic music, and clear bad energy. Can you tell us more about that day?
Lori: Ray wanted to play traditional music with some local musicians so we travelled to a town near where they lived. The town turned out to be a place where a lot of skateboarders lived. There were even skate stickers on the tuk tuks. The violin player met us in town and took us back to his home out in the hills. It was so beautiful there. When we got there, they decided the best place for his band and Ray to play would be a place where they go to play music together in the woods. We hiked up to it and when we arrived they each bent down and kissed a small rock on the ground. They explained it was a meteor and that this was a Mayan altar that is known to have very strong powers to extinguish bad energy. He said that local people visit this site to burn away the negative energy. There was a little post sticking out of a charred patch on the ground where the meteor was and this was the altar. They told us they had never played for people from another country before as a band. The musicians were so generous to invite us, a bunch of strangers, not only to their home but also to take us to a sacred site and play music with and for us.
Stumptown: In speaking about your work, you said how you aim to "make the ordinary feel celebrated". Can you speak more to that?
Lori: I love people watching. I love people. Even though there are so many ways to live a life, there are some common threads that we all share, no matter where we come from, or what kind of resources we have access to, that are relatable to everyone. Things like trying hard to be our best self, taking care of each other in the ways that we can, family, mentorship, ambition, loss, resilience, etc. The way these common life quests manifest externally really captivate me. I like observing and representing all of the activities us humans pour our life forces into and the various costumes we wear. I like representing moments in the space between intention and reality. I try to paint pictures that celebrate good intentions even (and maybe especially) when they fall short of societal expectations or standards. There is a field of study called visual anthropology - visual culture is something I have been naturally drawn to for as long as I can remember. Because most of my experience people watching has happened in my home country of the USA, a lot of my work is centered around themes of American subcultures, or passing trends. I like learning more about what us humans gravitate towards in different time periods and places, what traditions we sustain, and how we choose to present ourselves to each other.
Stumptown: What are you working on next?
Lori: The graphic family memoir about my family’s farming history is my main focus now. I also might do an animatic music video for a friend soon. My partner and I are also in pre-production for a weird short animated film that we have been talking about for a while.
Stumptown: One last question- we gotta know- where's your favorite place to have a cup of coffee?
Lori: My favorite place to have a cup of coffee is on a camping trip or when you go to visit an old friend and they serve it to you in one of their favorite mugs from their cupboard.
Watch the trailer for Flower of Flowers here.
All proceeds from ticket sales of our film Flower of Flowers will go toward Guatemalan relief efforts in response to the Fuego Volcano eruption, in collaboration with the Bella Vista Coffee Mill.