Louise Ingalls Sturges: Chameleon
Like A Trampled Daisy, Mixed-Media, 2016
By Wendy Plump
Art courtesy of Louise Ingalls Sturges
So, you can add agility to Louise Ingalls Sturges’s list of avowed qualities. On her website, a photograph features the artist precarious on an apartment roof in the city, flanked by window frames painted all the colors of the rainbow. Sturges painted those window frames, climbed up and slathered them with lush color because she wanted to, and because, after all, who wants to live in a monochromatic building?
he same could be said about her life as a visual artist, which is nearly as variegated. Photographer, painter, designer, event planner, set stylist, internationally-trafficked blogger, Instagram star, and movie producer for the critically-lauded documentary The Wolfpack, Sturges typifies the new generation of artists who are so broadly, exuberantly creative it is hard to pin them to one brandable identity. She does what she feels inspired to do. And whether it’s painting or photography or film, it almost always starts with color.
“I’m completely obsessed with rainbows,” says Sturges, who grew up in Princeton, New Jersey and who now lives in Brooklyn with her artist husband Tyler Brodie. “It’s sort of how I exist in the world as much as possible, rainbows and sparkly things. I am just so excited by color.
“And then of course there is the philosophical idea of rainbows, that you can’t get them without storms, which I think is a statement about life. You can go through it focusing on the clouds and then the sun comes out and you get this beautiful refraction of light. That’s my number one goal with my paintings, getting the pieces to help you look on the bright side. They tend to be very layered. There is darkness in there, but you don’t want to lead with that. And it gets brightened up.”
As for the collaborations that have come to define her artistic life lately, she says simply: “Well, along with rainbows, I like working with really nice people.”
Sturges—the daughter of Caren Sturges and Sheldon Sturges and the step-daughter of his wife, Tatiana Popova—is fresh off of an exhibition at the Showboat Gallery in Los Angeles where she saw most of her color-drenched paintings walk out the door with collectors. This was a first for her, of sorts. In the past, she predominantly exhibited photography, with shows in Manhattan, New Mexico, Maine, and several group exhibitions abroad, in Tokyo, London, and Australia.
Determining the worth of her paintings for the exhibition was a challenge, she says, particularly since some are finished in a day and some can take up to 10 years. Brodie, who apparently has a keener sense of completion than does Sturges, has occasionally taken a canvas directly off of the wall while she was working on it. This is allowed simply because he is her first, most valued critic.
Figuring out which paintings and how many of them to fly across country was also part of the learning curve of the exhibition. Sturges wanted to appeal to different collectors for a more diverse ownership. Not every collector, she explains, has a rainbow palette in the home. In the end, measurement, canvas, and calculation came together to fill the Showboat walls perfectly, another of the exhibition’s surprises. Says Sturges: “Artists are not known for their math skills.” Which probably means she has a talent for geometry along with everything else.
FOLLOWING THE ‘A’
A chance photography class taken while Sturges was a student at Princeton Day School in the mid-1990s led to her first calling. She describes herself as “not much of a student,” and was awakening as an artist even as she realized that the learned, lofty atmosphere of a university town was not really for her.
“Picking up a camera and having ownership over my life in a visual way was thrilling,” she says. “I took photography as a major and I got an ‘A.’ So I thought, this is one thing I can get an ‘A’ in, so I might as well follow it.”
Follow it she did, straight to The College of Santa Fe, to which she was recruited by an administrator who told her the Princeton sky, beautiful though it may be, “had nothing on Santa Fe.” Inspired as much by the piercing light of New Mexico as by old photographs of the American southwest and those who peopled it, Sturges pursued her photography there until she grew tired of being “in the middle of nowhere.”
Eventually, she landed in New York, putting down roots just before 9/11. Like many a photographer in the city that day, Sturges grabbed her camera and headed out into the chaos. “It felt like Armageddon,” says Sturges. “It felt like war photography. I understood why people do it. I didn’t feel like I had a choice but to walk towards it.”
Now that she has been through 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and two city blackouts, Sturges appreciates the way New York in general and Brooklyn in particular seem to convert to a large village whenever there is a city-wide emergency. “The whole community gets really friendly. People come outside and get together and hand you dishes of mozzarella,” she says. “And then you realize that everyone here is from some little town, someplace in New Jersey or Missouri.”
The apartment she shares with Brodie is located in Clinton Hill, a neighborhood in North-Central Brooklyn near the Pratt Institute. Her favorite coffee shop, Tilda All Day, on Fulton Street, is currently shuttered because of an owner’s dispute, but Sturges wanted to give it a shout-out just the same. She and Brodie like to eat at the Finch, a farm-to-table restaurant a few blocks from their apartment that won its first Michelin star last year. They can also be found frequenting The Metrograph, an arthouse theater on Ludlow Street in Manhattan that has opened with a restaurant and a bar onsite. “That way, after premieres and screenings, you don’t have to mission to some other location in order to talk about them.”
Gun Shack Garden, Mixed-Media, 2016
WHAT’S IN THE BACKPACK?
Sturges’s involvement in the movie industry seems to have started more as an impulse of activism than of artistry. Crystal Moselle, an Instagram friend, was directing a documentary called The Wolfpack and sent Sturges a rough cut. Sturges was blown away by the story of the six Angulo brothers, whose father essentially detained them in their Lower East Side home through most of their adolescence. Sturges got onboard as executive producer. This turned out to be a prescient decision, as the film won the prestigious Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was a critical success.
“I ended up putting in some money, which is basically what being an executive producer is. I realized that the director was a woman, both producers were women, the editor was a woman, and then all the money was coming from guys,” says Sturges. “I thought, let’s get this feminist thing further along. So I ended up supporting it. And it was an amazing success.”
Today, Sturges is involved in a new movie project called Uncle Silas, a short film partly inspired by the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. When she was brought in as a consultant, Sturges used an almost literary pack of skills to determine what the main character’s home setting should look like.
“It’s about a woman who has a baby, and her brother is a famous actor and comes to visit. But he has a drug problem, and she doesn’t want him around the baby. It’s that complicated feeling between having this perfect, untarnished human being around this successful, handsome person fraught with pain and struggle.
“I took a lot of notes while talking to the director. What would the brother have in his backpack? Is he carrying a script or a celebrity magazine or an army jacket? Does he like hip hop or Leonard Cohen? What about the slouch of his pants? When you’re developing a character you want to think about all of their influences, and then in terms of the visuals, how that gets played out with the character.”
The movie Uncle Silas is expected to launch this year.
When asked what lies ahead, Sturges, not surprisingly, had a colorful answer. “My loftiest ambition is to get into a museum before I die. Or after.”
She hopes to do more “democratic” work; furniture design, for instance, and other domestic objects that touch the lives of those outside the art world.
“I’m gonna just keep trying to do great stuff, and say yes to projects that mean something. And definitely, helping women is high on my list,” she says. “But in terms of the day-to-day, I just want to figure out how to communicate to a wide range of individuals.”
Louise Ingalls Sturges’s work can be viewed on her website, Casualrainbow.com, or through her Instagram account at @besosyfotos.