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Webb hosts resident artist

Looking at Lori Larusso’s bright, colorful paintings that line the walls of Webb School of Knoxville’s Upper School Gallery, it’s hard not to be struck by their simplicity and beauty.

There is, however, a subtle, but deliberate undercurrent of unease in her work.

Larusso’s “Neat Mess,” for example, shows a contemporary suburban kitchen, but the spilled coffee on the white kitchen counter, the charred toast in the toaster, and the displaced dinner napkin seem to be at odds with this otherwise flawless domestic scene.

In another painting, “More Stuff,” four brown paper bags sit precariously close to the edge of a kitchen’s white counter top.

Larusso’s exhibit in the Upper School marks the conclusion of her five-week tenure at Webb School as the Spring 2009 Artist-In-Residence.

Webb’s Artist-In-Residence Program is a four- to six-week, on-campus teaching and learning experience for Webb students, featuring nationally and internationally acclaimed artists. The program, which takes place every fall and spring, provides students with a view into the real world of art by exposing them to professional artists and inspires them to explore their own creative abilities.

Larusso holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, and earned a Master of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Currently an instructor of drawing at Eastern Kentucky University, Larusso has participated in a variety of group and solo exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, and has received numerous awards for her works. She has been a visiting artist at the Caldera Artists Residency in Caldera, Ore., and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Neb.

Many of her paintings revolve around the idea of stereotypical Middle America, Larusso said, and the contradictions that lie within. According to one of her artist statements, her works consider “issues of contradiction in our present-day systems of belief . . . every system has an inherent flaw, and we cannot avoid contradicting ourselves.”

Her artwork has been described as a commentary on “the influences and demands that society has on an individual. Her work depicts intimate household and backyard scenes of relative comfort, with clues that hint at the instability of the situation.”

Working with enamel and acrylic paint, Larusso creates hard-edged shapes to define her images, and together with her expert use of color and overlap, she provides a three-dimensional quality to her pieces.

While working with Webb fourth-grade students, Larusso demonstrated the idea of overlap and helped with a project using masking tape to create straight edges. “We also dealt with issues of perspective, opacity and transparency,” added Larusso. “Pretty advanced stuff for that age.”

She also worked with Webb Middle and Upper School students, helping with student projects as well as providing advice and critiques on student work.

Her residency at Webb was the first time Larusso had the opportunity to teach and work with younger students and she said she was surprised by how much she enjoyed the experience, particularly with the elementary grades.

“I like the way kids that age respond; they’re very honest,“ said Larusso, who had a temporary studio in Lower School art teacher Brad Cantrell’s classroom.

She told how the students in the Lower School would freely offer their advice about her own artworks.

“The kids would come in and see changes to what I was working on,” chuckles Larusso, “and they would offer their advice about where I should put some of the images in my work and what colors to use. It was fun.”

In addition to working with Webb students and completing some of her own projects, Larusso participated in the ARTXTRAVAGANZA art show and sale, hosted by Webb School. Larusso was among the 60 local and regional artists at this year’s show.

Proceeds from ARTXTRAVAGANZA support Webb’s Artist-In-Residence Program.

Larusso’s paintings will be on display in Webb’s Upper School Gallery throughout the month of March.


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