Lisa Hoke once referred to the process of collecting materials for her large scale cardboard installation pieces as “a horror and love affair.” The New York based artist began seeing materials for her work everywhere she went, in stores, her own apartment building, the homes of friends and family, and it forced her to realize the sheer quantity of packaging we use and discard on a daily basis. “Excess is usually the result of the way I work,” Hoke says. That way is a slow, progressive process much like the way that excess itself tends to build up. Hoke refers to her large murals as “regurgitated mirrors” of the places she gathers materials. Whether it’s Economy Candy Store on New York City’s Lower East Side or from her building super, the acquisition of materials itself has become a part of the larger work.
Art was not always the plan for Hoke, in fact, it dawned on her quite suddenly. With a degree in English Literature under her belt and no prior artistic experience, Hoke became aware of an insatiable curiosity about the creative process. In 1975 she entered art school at Virginia Commonwealth University earning her BFA in art. After that, she intended to go to graduate school but was intrigued by a group of artists and found herself living in Florida where she encountered Nancy Rubins. Hoke describes Rubins as the first “ferocious woman” she ever met. Her time in Florida with Rubins and other artists came to an end when some of them decided to pull up stakes and move to New York City.
It was 1980 when Hoke landed in New York. She lived with a collection of other artists on the fringes of Soho and worked as a waitress. Around 1984 Hoke had her first show at Artists Space after which she was picked up for a group show curated by Ned Rifkin at the New Museum. Following this, Rosa Esman exhibited her work and subsequently began representing Hoke.
Of this time, and her ability to go from a non-artist to an artist exhibiting in New York and being represented by a well-known gallerist, Hoke admits there is a layer of mystery. She goes on to say that in those days as a young artist, she and her friends lived, breathed, and argued art all the time. She attended every event imaginable and moved extensively within the social sphere of the art world. Because of this, Hoke says, it was easy to meet everybody involved in the art world. It was this casual networking that led to opportunities. Despite
Despite her seemingly rapid ascent, it was not always a smooth path for Hoke. “You get as many rejections as successes and that’s the thing that was the hardest to learn,” she says. When things work they’re great but there are twice as many that don’t work, she explains. But as a young artist, her eagerness did not allow her to slow down, even in the face of rejection and poor reviews. After a particularly upsetting review, a friend told her, “you’re not ever going to be OK unless the positive feedback and the negative feedback are equal.” At the time Hoke dismissed this advice as impossible, but over the years she says this has indeed become the case. Those early horrors at bad feedback have faded and she has learned to wrap failures into successes.
In the 1980s she began visiting iron foundries in New Jersey with friends. Intimidated about the idea of casting iron, Hoke was hesitant at first. Eventually, though the art form took hold and Hoke began creating cast iron bookends which she sold in galleries and small boutiques. These pieces became Hoke’s bread and butter for the better part of a decade.
There were other ways she was able to thrive as an artist in New York City, which she does admit is a crazy place to try to get by. Creative living arrangements helped her in the early years. Together with a group of artists, she scraped together the key fee for a defunct building and the collective moved in. Over time they were able to navigate the process of getting the building out of foreclosure and into their partial possession. The other purchaser happened to be a developer so the group of artists found themselves living in luxury lofts. When Hoke built the loft, she included a rental apartment which also helped her live in New York virtually rent free for a long time.
In the 1990s Hoke and several other women visited each others’ studios all the time. They began supporting one another, recommending each other for shows, and before long they were all showing quite frequently. This collaborative effort among artists has been the key to success for Lisa Hoke. She has never looked back, having a career and a family in New York City.
Today Hoke is represented by Pavel Zoubok Gallery and still builds large, vibrant installation murals. More of her work can be viewed at her website.