Life is Beautiful with Weedmaps and artist Laurie Shapiro

Laurie Shapiro is a visual artist specializing in installations, paintings, and mixed media work. Her immersive installation presented by Weedmaps, “Flowers Are Not A Crime,” can be seen at the Life is Beautiful festival starting September 17, 2021. The fantastical piece features the cannabis plant incorporated with vibrant colors, patterns, and other natural elements. Amongst the bustle of the festival experience, “Flowers Are Not A Crime” offers a space for mental peace and contemplation. 

To better understand her creative process, we sat down with Shapiro to discuss art, cannabis, and the inspiration behind her latest work.  

Laurie Shapiro on becoming an artist

WM: Tell us about your journey as an artist. How did you get here?

Shapiro: I grew up on Long Island, New York, and I live in Los Angeles now. I realized I wanted to pursue art as my career and be a visual artist when I was a teenager. That led me to going to college at Carnegie Mellon for art, which is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After I graduated high school, I moved to Pittsburgh, and it wasn’t until I was in college that I realized I could actually be a visual artist as my career. I knew I wanted to do that, but I didn’t know how it would work. I just felt like I had to. 

A lot of what [that school] gave me was that recognition that I could pursue this as a living and it was a very valid career to choose. After college, I moved to Oakland, California, and I lived there for five years, and in 2017 I moved down from Oakland to Los Angeles to further pursue my art career, and I’ve been living here since.

WM: There’s one line you landed on that I want to revisit. You said, “I felt like I had to.” Can you describe what that feeling was like? It can be different for everyone.

Shapiro: When I was a teenager it became very obvious that people were starting to go to college and figure out what they wanted to do with their life, and I was very aware that whatever career you choose — at least in my life — that would be the majority of my life. And I wanted to have a meaningful life. So, I don’t know. Somehow I was just like, “I need to pursue visual art. This is the most meaningful thing that I do. When I’m making work I feel so connected to something greater than me.” I pursued that because I felt in my soul that was what would be the best thing that I could do for myself, and for my being in this world.

WM: How would you describe your work?

Shapiro: My work is often composed of many floral and natural elements. My work is colorful and vibrant, it ranges from big immersive installations that you can walk into to stand-alone paintings. What connects everything in my work is nature and flowers and different plant life. And that’s the constant reminder in my work, that nature is what connects all of us, we’re part of nature.

On the inspiration behind “Flowers Are Not A Crime”

WM: Tell us in your own words about your Life is Beautiful installation, “Flowers Are Not A Crime.”

Shapiro: Cannabis is a plant and a flower, and partnering with Weedmaps for this installation was very exciting because I always use flowers and nature in my work. It’s the main recurring theme in all of my work, that nature’s a part of it, we’re connected to nature, we are nature, we need to respect nature, you know, and be in awe of it, and see ourselves in it. 

For this piece for Weedmaps, I was very interested in doing research and documenting the weed plant, the flower, the different processes of the plant’s growth. The name of this piece is called “Flowers Are Not A Crime” because it is just absurd to think that in this country we’ve had so many people in and out of the prison system for a plant, which connects us.

WM: What has been your process in creating “Flowers Are Not A Crime”? 

Shapiro: For this piece, I visited a [cannabis] farm up in northern California. They let me tour the whole facility and document their plants at different stages. I took actual pictures and then I drew in my own style the plant at different stages, and then that plant [drawing], along with flowers and plant life that’s not weed-based, was used to create this installation.

For [Flowers Are Not A Crime], I am making five different paintings flat in my studio in different shapes that are pre-measured, they fit on a metal truss to form an installation. I’m also making custom lighting that goes in the installation to form this cohesive weed flower jungle that I hope brings people together, and makes us happy to celebrate the flowers.

WM: The Life Is Beautiful festival is day and night. How does daytime versus nighttime affect your installation and what do you hope to experience from that?

Shapiro: During the day, the sunlight will be lighting [the piece] heavily from the outside, during the night, it will glow from the inside. Both ways that the piece can be seen should have a similar effect on people, I hope. This installation can be somewhat of a peaceful space, some peace of mind, and feeling connected to nature, even though we are in downtown Las Vegas. 

I hope it just helps people feel centered and connected, and also reminds them that flowers are not a crime, we’ve come a long way, there’s still a lot of work to do and a lot of justice that needs to be done for people who have lost their lives due to a flower.

On cannabis and the creative process 

WM: How has cannabis inspired you for this project? Has it been any different working with the cannabis flower over other floral images?

Shapiro: This is the first time that I’ve used the cannabis flower and plant as repetitive designs in my artwork. Even though cannabis has been in my life since I was a teenager, there have been a lot of connotations with it, you know? For instance, “People who smoke weed are lazy” — I’m obviously not lazy, I work all the time. This project makes me feel more comfortable embracing cannabis. There has been lots of stigma over it, but really, at the end of the day, it’s a plant that can be relaxing for people and has a lot of health benefits. 

Many people, regardless of what you look like or what you appear to be like, so many different people enjoy it. [Cannabis] can bring people together, it can open doors in our mind, and this project has really helped me embrace that, and I hope to share that with other people.

WM: In general, what is your creative process like? How do you get from start to finish with a new piece?

Shapiro: The process in the studio involves a few different techniques. I will draw images from different plants that I find. For this project, I visited a farm in northern California. For other projects, I’ve gone to Hawaii and documented plants or gone on trips in California and documented plants. And then, either from life or my own images, I’ll make drawings of those plants. Those drawings then become screen print, which I make myself, and then I use them as repetitive images in all of my work. 

My installations are all composed of different segments that are all paintings. They’re very much made in the same way that a painting would be made, it’s just not stretched on wood. For this project, the material that I’m painting on and using is heavy-duty PVC vinyl. It’s the same material that’s often used on boats to keep the boat weatherproof, so it’s really made to withstand a lot of weather.

WM: How do you navigate creative blocks? Any advice to overcome them?

Shapiro: I think that creative blocks form for a lot of people because you might get anxiety or overthink what you’re doing. You’re being too analytical when you really need to be creative and let things flow. 

When I was in school, there was a lot of analyzing work, and it could be hard to make something because you feel like, “Is this important enough?” You’re overthinking it. But, whatever you believe in spiritually, we are creative beings and one of the best things that we can do is create beauty, creative love, create joy. Because if we don’t we can also become very destructive as humans.

My best advice for a creative block is to do whatever you can to get out of your own head. Maybe go on a trip, maybe go for a long hike, maybe, enjoy some weed. Do something that stops you from analyzing things and just do it. Meditation is a great way to let go of your thinking brain and get in touch with just being. 

If I’m feeling stuck with painting, I might try something else too, like, if I’m not sure what topic I want to paint about, I might start working on a completely different medium. I might make a sculpture, I might make something with clay because I’m gonna be creative and get that part of my mind flowing. 

WM: How do you feel when you’re creating? Does the process of making art contribute to your wellness and your wellness routine?

Shapiro: When I’m making work, I feel somewhat similar to what people might feel if they don’t create art as well, like, when they’re meditating or when they feel very centered and in connection with something greater than them. As an artist, I love that feeling and I live for it because it’s just … the joy is really in making the work. The joy is in creating. It keeps me centered, it keeps me feeling purposeful in my life. That’s all part of wellness, you know, being connected to the work that you do.

Featured image by Weedmaps

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