An Artist’s Journey
Lillian Porter Attinasi – Tennessee, Indiana, Chicago, Mexico, NYC, SoCal, Miller
Lillian Porter’s earliest endeavors in art were similar to those of many young girls in the mid 20th Century: drawing and fashioning paper outfits for her dolls. She developed her skills at Indiana University where she studied in the renowned Schools of Art and Education with nationally and internationally respected professors and artists-in-residence. The IU School of Music, especially the Jazz Studies Institute also inspired her creativity.
Always leading her peers, she was instrumental in the Alpha Kappa Alpha float for the Bloomington ‘Little 500’ parade and tricycle race. The French themed sculpture was a ten-foot-high paper mâché replica of the Paris icon entitled “Ei feel we’ll Tower.” The float accompanied Lillian’s AKA Soror, Nancy Streets, who was crowned “Miss IU.” It was the first time an African American won the campus-wide competition.
With a degree in Art Education, her teaching career began as a roving art teacher, carrying materials to several schools a week in Gary, Indiana. Lillian provided art projects to children in all-white schools. Early 1960s interracial efforts featured a few competent African American professionals being placed in white neighborhood schools, predating student busing and residential neighborhood integration. An interstate expressway, I-80/94, effectively isolated downtown Gary residents from the all-white Glen Park district.
During that time, Lillian developed a painting style using palette knife and light brush strokes, using oils, often Phthalo or Cerulean blue and Alizarin crimson. She calls this her “Blue Period” and produced several abstracts that invoke both calm seaports and bursts of energy. A portrait of trumpeter Art Hoyle and other figurative works also were done in that genre.
Lillian continued her studies in Education, French and Art at Purdue University Calumet (now Purdue Northwest), and traveled to New York and Chicago seeking artistic inspiration.
By this time, interracial marriages were no longer illegal in Indiana and in the late 1960s Lillian married a fellow teacher, an Italian American from upstate New York. Together with her U of Chicago anthropology student husband, Lillian Porter, now Attinasi, moved to Hyde Park for a year then Southern Mexico for two, and by the mid 1970s was living and studying in New York City. During two years in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, she produced several oil paintings in a technique that embodied both European surrealism and Latin American magical realism.
New York City was next, an era of work in a city that always broadens horizons. During eight years in Manhattan at Columbia University, Barnard and Teachers College, she developed several new genres of work: large oils, abstract figure studies, prints in traditional Japanese and western woodblock techniques. Working in a loft space studio in SoHo, Lillian created several abstract landscapes, including four large works: “Barnard Girl,” “The Brooklyn Bridge” and “#6.”
Transitioning in the 1980s from New York to Gary, a new era of work began. Combining several previous themes of work, Lillian produced a large landscape of the Lake Michigan shore, featuring the Chicago skyline and sunset over steel mills. She also was now using techniques of repurposing materials, fracturing and repurposing earlier works in “Woman in the Dunes.” Lillian continued printmaking, including silkscreen, while teaching at Indiana University Northwest. New work was created in several techniques, including redeveloped woodblocks.
Throughout the 60’s, 70s, 80s and 90s, Lillian’s paintings and prints were exhibited in New York, Chicago, Gary and South Bend. A large body of work in all media was shown by the South Bend Heritage Foundation entitled “Crossing Cultural Boundaries” at the Colfax Center in 2001, her previous retrospective exhibit.
In the mid 1990s Lillian moved to Laguna Beach, then Long Beach, in Southern California. The genre of collage-enhanced photography was developed during those years, reaching back to the fashioning of paper costumes from her childhood, now using exotic Japanese papers, then collage on photographs and reproducing prints using an advanced giclée process. Her signature works in the eyes of many viewers are the collage-enhanced works from the 1995-2005 era and the drip landscapes from the 1970s and 1980s.
Not content to stay in one mode, however, Lillian has begun to reach a new synthesis, adding social themes more explicitly in a large American Flag based mixed media work, “Stars & Stripes,” featuring fifty outstanding American women as its stars— mostly African American and women of color. The work features repurposed hardwoods from Indiana and were unveiled at the Miller Beach Arts & Creative District retrospective at the Marshall J. Gardner Arts Center, Gary, Indiana on June 4, 2021.
Another new technique, featuring images cut and repositioned on recycled small boxes, evokes the fractured social climate of the current era. Simply called “The Box Project,” this set of work uses photography, collage and repurposed commercial packaging. More ideas are germinating on Lillian Porter Attinasi’s creative journey, but we will have to stay tuned to see how her images and media bear new fruit.