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Create the Presence You Think is Missing — Betsy Lohrer Hall

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Betsy Lohrer Hall received her M.F.A. from California State University, Fullerton. She is an instructor at her alma mater, teaching writing and art history. She has taught studio classes at El Camino College, Santiago Canyon College, and Fullerton College. She has been making and showing her own art for many years.

After a brief stint doing program management at Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, Calif., Betsy painted murals for a living. She began teaching in 2004, and later became part of a Long Beach artist collective, FLOOD, helping to produce multi-sensory art events. In 2018, she opened Flux Art Space in a storefront on a residential street in Long Beach, Calif., adjacent to other single-story shops. When asked how she became an artist, Betsy told us how her upbringing influenced her.

I grew up in Southern California, with family roots in New York and Boston. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, walking by the ocean and exploring tidepools. I’ve visited many of the great art museums on both coasts. While I feel a reverence for nature, I also live near one the largest ports in North America. The natural environment and the urban experience both influence my work.

As long as I can remember, my mother has been concerned with social justice issues. Both of my parents have been active in service to the community. This drive has become increasingly strong in me. Flux Art Space is one way I can extend my studio practice and engage with the public. At Flux, I enjoy creating a setting in which people can make connections with each other and make new discoveries. I aim to encourage cross-cultural and cross-generational dialogue and celebrate creative expression as an integral part of life.

A Changing Long Beach: Studio Practice (2001-2018)

Flux is in the front of what used to be my private studio. When I moved in, the street was quiet and low key. There’ve been many changes since then. The new shops have increased foot traffic. I used to work up near the window, in the front of the space. I realized, “That’s not going to work anymore. But I don’t want to leave.” I love the space; it feels like the right place for me. I also felt that if I moved it would be one more art experience tucked out of sight. The general public doesn’t always know where to find little pockets of artists’ communities, so I thought, “Why not leave art here? Give art more of a presence on the street.” Besides, I’ve got friends who live in the neighborhood and I know the local store owners. We get along well; we watch out for each other. It’s a great community.

Building Visibility on The Street: Gallery

It all came together sort of fortuitously. We needed some repairs in the back of the building, and I said, “Let’s change the whole space.” We took the ceiling up, knocked out a wall and put in the little half wall so that we could have the project space in the front. I moved my workspace to the back.

 The back of the space is where Betsy spends time working on her own art. It’s her studio, where she keeps carefully chronicled journals and inspirational clippings filed away in cabinets, drawers and containers or neatly indexed facing out. In recent years she has developed her own method of combining collage with painting and printmaking. She uses thread to join hundreds of pieces of paper into larger forms that take on a sculptural quality. She also makes installations, like her project, “Shelter,” part of the Nomad Art Show, produced by the Torrance Art Museum in August 2021. Viewers could participate by stepping into the space Betsy created with “canvas, paper, paint, graphite, and time.” It functioned like a refuge — a place to sit and look out the window, to enjoy the trees and afternoon light. When viewers sat down, they discovered the words “you are breathing” on the glass — an unexpected invitation to contemplate the depth of this simple statement and recognize that breath can’t be thought of as a “given”.

While seated outside Betsy’s studio under a ginkgo tree, I read from Emma Rose’s (our art section editor’s) questions. “How has the pandemic affected Flux Art Space?”

In some ways, it’s been a drawback, but it’s also a creative challenge to be solved. Just before the pandemic, we had the biggest show we’ve ever had — the most community engagement and the most sales. It was a fun show. Come to think of it, we were wall-to-wall people, with no masks, but it was pre-pandemic. That kind of event came to a halt when everything closed down. During lockdown, I did a mail art project, where people mailed things in, and I mailed something back. I either mailed their own work back to them (if they wanted it back), something of mine, or something else that came in. I was putting works up in the window before mailing them back out. Having a shifting display of artwork in the window was fun. The whole project felt like a positive resource in a difficult situation. I chose not to board up my windows, I chose to leave them open, so people in the neighborhood could walk by and peer in. It seemed more reassuring.

Creativity is about finding a solution. I don’t like to think of limitations so much as parameters — these are the parameters within which we have to work. Now that the pandemic is coming under control (hopefully), we’re carefully opening up.

Where Are the Women Artists?

Emma’s next question: “How has your identity and experience as a woman affected your path as an artist and decision to open the space, if at all?”

In terms of being an artist, for me personally, it was a little confusing to be a woman making art. In my immediate family, there weren’t any artists. My mom has been creative as a homemaker and mom. My dad was a successful businessman. My brothers are creative but sought different ways to express it. My cousins are creative but live far away. It was important for me, when I was an emerging artist, to know that there were other women making art — to go to their shows, to learn from their dedication to their work and practice. Eleanor Diehl was an early inspiration for me. She made art right up to the end of her life. Her last show was in a storefront right in this block, in a shop that’s no longer here. This led me to wonder, “Do you feel that’s why you’ve been drawn to other women artists up until now? It seems that, at least academically, we’re taught about male artists more.” She agreed. “Yes. The art history books I read as an undergrad focused almost solely on white men.” Betsy addresses this issue in her work as an educator: “I just started teaching a History of Women Artists course, specifically addressing the lack of women in the written art history. It doesn’t mean there weren’t women artists, it just means they didn’t receive much recognition until the 1970s and on forward. I wouldn’t say that I think about an artist’s gender first when I look at artwork. I look at the work itself. In terms of being a woman opening a project space, I don’t know if my being a woman entered into my thinking. It just seemed like Flux needed to exist and I helped bring it into being.”

Conversations with Emma Rose & Jess Lo. Written by Jess Lo. Edited by Emma Rose & Eugenia Macias.

Cover Art by Sarah Emory. Brand Design by Meghan Hricak.

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