Laura Hohlwein, artist-of-all-trades

PHOTO Courtesy of laura hohlwein

The eighth annual Davis Jazz and Beat Festival takes place Friday, October 16, and Saturday, October 17, at the John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 First Street in Davis. Laura Hohlwein performs 1-3 p.m. Saturday. More at

Painter, poet, photographer, filmmaker and Sacramento artist-of-all-trades Laura Hohlwein will take the stage this weekend for the Davis Jazz and Beat Festival. While jazz groups improv, she’ll improv her brush strokes on canvas. Observers will get to see an abridged version of Hohlwein’s creative process, which to her, is everything. She says putting a painting on the wall is kind of like having a concert where the audience just hears the last chord of a song. Meaning comes from the process of painting, not the finished painting itself. Makes sense coming from Hohlwein, whose work often deals with the experience of consciousness and other heady explorations. These days, she teaches full-time at the Art Institute of California—writing, drawing, art history, design—as well as digital video editing at American River College. Hohlwein took a few minutes to chat about stage anxiety, existentialism and colors.

You’re performance painting—

(Laughs.) I have to laugh out loud. It just cracks me up that I'm even talking to you for that.

Why is this so funny?

On every level. Because I'm a spectacularly introverted person, so that I would ever do anything like this just cracks me up.

Do you have much experience with performance painting?

No, I don't. The year before last, I was part of the Jazz and Beat Festival [for the first time] … I just did it, and I had no idea how I thought I'd survive. Really, no experience whatsoever—not even painting for friends or family in my studio. I'm very very private. I don't share my art-making with anyone. Ever.

What was that like for you?

First I think I was just afraid about not hurting myself because the stage was really shallow and 3-and-a-half feet off the ground. There was no backup room. It's kinda good, I think, when you're nervous about something to have something you're more nervous about, like falling down.

Someone says, “I don’t get abstract art.” You say …

(Laughs.) Gosh. Well I guess my answer would be, “What do you get about music?” I think they're very similar. I think people are really comfortable listening to music, and I don't think anybody just stops a CD and says, “Well, what does that mean?” But with art, they just can't get past that. It takes people a long time to accept the dynamics of the composition, the color, the space.

Do you relate to existentialists?

I do. … Understanding the world, and how we process it, is of endless fascination to me.

Through art, have you gotten any closer to finding out what it means to be alive?

I find what it feels to be alive when I do it. When I'm in my studio and painting, I just feel really vividly alive. Whether I know what that means any more deeply, I don't know. It's very much an experience of the present that's pretty undiluted—and really, really fun.

Have you ever tried an art form that just didn’t connect with you?

Besides the domestic arts? (Laughs.) I don't think I'm very good at ceramics, that sort of thing. Terrible at sewing. But I just love working with all different mediums—there's so much to do and so much to work with, and when you mash them together, that's another interesting thing.

What’s the best color?

I'm trying to close my eyes and see the best color. I can tell you the best compliment I've ever gotten about color. A dear friend of mine I just trust so much said, “When I see the red in your paintings, I know that I'm alive.” I just loved that. But what's the best color? Isn't that funny, it's like if I had to answer that question to get into heaven, I don't know if I could. They're all so beautiful, they're all so different. Just looking at the blue sky, there are so many different blues. You can't just say blue is a particular color—there's just so much there. I'm just totally avoiding the question.

That’s totally fine. I was just having a conversation the other day about how, after a certain age, we’re never asked about our favorite color.

That's true. I think when I was young, I said brown just to be different.

Were you an eccentric kid?

Probably, yeah. I've always been kind of a misfit, kind of a loner, but happy. … I think I've always just been fascinated with puttering around in life. It's just amazing to me. It's funny, you really are always the person you've always been.