Gutwrench Journal conducted this interview with artist and letterpress printmaker Lennie Gray Mowris in December 2018. Mowris’ work is available at lenspeace, and she is also the designer of the Gutwrench logo.
GW: Hey Lennie, what would you say the highlight of your year has been?
LM: The highlight of 2018 is that it totally took me by surprise. I started this year with a whole plan, and then had every intention except for one derailed. This year the AIGA National Design For Good Task Force, which I have served for the last three years, published The Path to Impact. It is a social impact framework that guides the creative process from 0 to sustainable & socially responsible design. Our team won a $30,000 grant to continue developing the work, and it took off in ways I never expected. I started traveling to chapters to talk about Design for Good and combating social bias. I found myself on a platform for every philosophy I’d ever built my studio or artwork around, and I was leading dialogue, facilitating strategy, inspiring creativity. I fell in love with my strategy design career all over again, but it came with some sacrifices to my print studio for the sake of time.
GW: Tell me what keeps you passionate about your art.
LM: Art for me isn’t about passion, it’s about process. I never considered myself an artist until I found printmaking, which is the foundational craft for graphic design. It’s an intentional communication to an unknown person in an unknown environment, in order to motivate an outcome or change human perspective and behavior. The print studio was always a way to do that by my own hand. I want to facilitate the communications that resonate with diverse groups of people and physically hold on paper the intention I put into the ideas. So for me, it’s problem solving— an exploration in how words, pictures, and colors bring us closer together or drive us further apart. How sensitivity to the nuances of each culture can strip communication of inherent violence and foster inclusive peace.
If passion comes into it, I’m passionate about the people who help me understand humanity better by way of their vulnerability with me. I care. Deeply. About all the humans. I feel honored to have been trusted with so many people’s grief, pain, trauma, relationship woes, and also their hope, love, resilience. Humans are complicated but amazing nonetheless. I cherish my community and my relationships that live from their heart.
GW: What I love about your work is that it is creative, beautiful, political, hand-crafted and timeless, and that seems like an incredibly difficult balance to maintain.
How do you start something new?
LM: It’s funny you ask this because right now everything is new – but also old. Since my work is about process, it’s always in a state of becoming, just as I am. It’s organic and alive. It informs me as much as I inform it. At first I was a sustainable graphic designer, I made logos and flyers, but that was the surface. Then, I built the print studio, and I was a letterpress printer… and graphic designer then came second. The public persona built ended my identity there. But those things were just the steps I needed to take first in order to build the studio into what it was always meant to be. Path to Impact is the strategic process I’ve been using and refining with other industry leaders in impact design, I’ve bet my entire career on the strategy work, my presses were always a tool for that goal.
Reconciliation is my favorite word, my whole life is about finding that sweet spot in complicated problems & systems so they flow better with less violence in the process. I’ve learned a lot along the way, I’m about to let some of the ways lenspeace has been before go. My print work is going to become more fine art and mixed media, and less production art. I’m about to disrupt my whole process as I bring in new people to help. Everything is new to me right now, and I’m learning every day, but I’m terrified. That’s the long answer.
The short answer is, time. I start something new when what is old isn’t working anymore, or when opportunity defines my path forward for me. I commit, but I’m not afraid to cut ties and pivot into something new if it isn’t working.
GW: When we last spoke, you were asking ‘What are you made of?’ In what ways are you still addressing that? Are any other questions on your mind now?
LM: Well, I never addressed it in the art I intended to create this year. I hope to correct that next year. I was hoping to have a discussion about what it means to be human through art, instead this year was literally about what I’m Made Of.
I’ve been pushed to every emotional extreme and had to not to lose my chill. I’ve had to heal- unpack the social problems we’re complicit in during one of the most troubling political periods of my life. I’ve had to find flow I never knew I had. Master the 24 to 48-hour trip to new cities. I crawled out of the collective depression that has befallen society the last three years. Being an empath doing empathy work is a lot of emotional labor, and staying in touch with joy is an interesting exercise. Whatever I’m made of, it’s a beautiful blend of rage & love, and I’m OK with that.
I’m still exploring this question, but I want to make a switch in the language as I focus more on the idea of WE.
“What Are We Made Of?” I want to explore what happens when people come together to achieve common goals. Because life isn’t about any single one of us, it’s about making it work for all of us.