These days, forgetting to take it easy feels more effortless than rest and relaxation itself. And though times remain tense, this year, we’re setting out to approach things differently—making conscious choices to not only listen to our own needs, but the fresh perspectives of those with whom we build connections.
And, in a true Lunya fashion, we also seek ease through the things we wear: comfortable loungewear, or confidence-boosting undergarments. Here, we speak with Brooklyn artist Lisa Dengler, whose sculptures appear on our Insta feeds as thought-provoking abstractions in a fog of viral cats and TikTok dances. Between sculpting, painting, and curating the perfect digital aesthetic, she found some time to sit down with us to detail her creative process, inspirations, and style in spaces of work and leisure.
When did you begin carving and what made you start?
Funnily enough it was because because my partner Caylon, who shot these photos, gave me a stone carving class for Christmas one year. He was more in love with rocks than I was at the time. It was a one month class, only once a week, but I went in as often as I could during open studio hours to keep working. It was exactly what I needed to get away from all my devices and the fast consumption lifestyle I had found myself in. After 4 weeks, I took my [very heavy] sculpture home in a backpack on the subway. Because stone carving dust gets everywhere, not to mention how loud it is, you can’t do it in an apartment. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. That one class was all I needed to know how much I loved it. Eventually I found a shared studio space in Red Hook in Brooklyn right on the water, and it’s been the best investment in myself I’ve ever made.
What's the creative process like?
It depends on the piece. Stone carving is interesting because you chisel away material instead of adding it, so you have to think backwards, and in 3D. Many times I’ll just start chipping away until a form reveals itself. Or sometimes after looking at a piece of stone for a few days, you can see the starting points - where the sculpture will reach out towards, where it will curve, where it will have negative space. And then sometimes right in the middle of it, the whole piece will crack in half. So you have to take a deep breath and revaluate. But actually one of my favorite pieces I’ve done is from a piece breaking. Now it’s two separate forms that intersect.
I’ve also modeled forms in clay first to get a general shape, which then makes the stone carving process faster, but I still let each individual stone guide the actual size or angle of the curve, the length of the line, etc.
How would you describe your state of mind when you’re carving?
It’s like meditating! It’s very monotonous hitting a hammer on a chisel to very slowly shape hard stone. I truly recommend it to everyone. Even just using your hands on raw materials is so soothing. But then sometimes I do need to release all my pent up raw emotion which is when I’ll pick up a paintbrush and throw some paint down on a canvas. I read once about how Picasso liked painting during the day, which was very free and emotional, and then etching his lithographs at night, which was very slow and relaxing. I relate to that so much.
What inspires you to get dressed in the morning, and how does mood affect what you’re wearing?
I’m a bit of a creature of habit when it comes to what I wear day to day. I used to wear an oversized black cashmere tent dress every day at home but recently I switched it up for a new floor length ribbed cotton dress with matching sweat pants for when it’s a little chillier in the mornings. Coziness for me honestly equates to happiness. There’s nothing better than drinking tea, hot baths, wool socks, a fresh face and messy hair. If only I had a sauna at home! I did spend a few weeks steaming my face every morning with a pot full of hot water and a few drops of essential oils with a towel to cover your face, and that was really quite perfect.
But I’m getting off track. This aspect of having a uniform allows me to focus by entirely removing the process. I have one pile of cozy at home clothes and one pile of studio clothes that I rotate between. I think a lot about getting rid of all my clothes. But then I remember that I actually do also love getting dressed, dressing as the person I strive to be. Which right now means a neutral color palette, natural fibers, interesting shapes and varying lengths. Clothes that are both functional and unique.
How does your style change between work and leisure?
I would say these days the line is almost non-existent. I used to get dressed up for meetings or to attend events, but that’s very different now. I do have my studio clothes, which are very functional and can get as dirty as they want to (and they do). My studio is in an old brick warehouse on the waterfront which means it gets very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer, so that very much defines what I wear. Winter time means jumpsuits! I think I have 5 now but that’s probably too many.
In terms of my style changing, I would say that as time goes on, I’ve really learned myself and my own style. Materials are very important to me these days. And the effect the clothes I buy have on the environment. I think that’s something everyone needs to be thinking about.
What rituals have you created for yourself during this time? What do you do to relax?
I truly think my saving grace has been plants/minerals like st. john’s wort, valerian root, garlic, seaweeds, various mushrooms powders, hops, etc. In March I spent a lot of time researching natural medicines and made a long list of ingredients that helped for specific things like anxiety, depression, immunity, and it’s been hanging on the fridge ever since. A sort of go-to guide if you’re feeling any sort of way.
Books have been the other huge part of my life. Every morning I’ll drink my green tea and look through an art book/magazine and that really sets me up me for the day of creating ahead.
I wish I could say that I kept up my ritual of yoga/stretching and working out in my living room but that only lasted about a month. I’m hoping to get back into it a little during the holidays, but I also might be too busy eating cookies and doing puzzles.
Who or what inspires you now?
Art books and other artists I follow on Instagram. There’s so many talented people out there in the world and it’s so wonderful that we have access to what they create even in times like these.