Q&A: Mary Lattimore

Harpist Mary Lattimore will perform within ICA’s Becky Suss exhibition this Wednesday evening. We spoke with Mary about her artistic relationship to Becky Suss’s paintings, the Philadelphia arts community, and how visual art inspires her music.
Portrait: Mary Lattimore (2014)

Portrait: Mary Lattimore. Photo: J. Makary.

ICA: Becky Suss has created album artwork for you on several occasions. How did you learn about her work, and what drew you to her painting? You each work with deeply felt senses of place and memory, it seems.

Mary Lattimore: I met Becky through her husband Micah, who was one of my first friends when I moved to Philadelphia. When it came time to figure out the artwork for my first solo record, I asked her if she had thoughts about paintings that would work nicely with the improvisations and she sent me several ideas. I immediately fell in love with the unique style, colors, and kind of un-precious nostalgia in her work and the fact that she painted her grandparents’ home from memory. With my playing, I’m also working to translate little snippets of memories and feelings from the past, sometimes hazy and sometimes vivid, into something concrete and tangible and recorded, time-capsule style. I am so honored that Becky lets me link her work with mine and feel like it’s such a special match. I have an upcoming album to be released next year and Becky’s art is featured once again.
Mary Lattimore, *The Withdrawing Room* album cover (2013)

Mary Lattimore, The Withdrawing Room album cover, 2013. Courtesy the artist.

ICA: Could you describe how Becky’s interior/exterior painting on your solo debut album The Withdrawing Room (2013) resonates with the sounds that await us on the record?

ML: The Withdrawing Room was originally meant to be music to draw to. I was trying to speak to quietish people who like to sit in the evenings after work and draw or write, for people who appreciate an alone zone to make stuff. I was thinking of “furniture music,” Music for Airports, and the idea that music in the background can be enriching to what you’re doing—and can be enriched by what you’re doing, too. I think Becky’s painting works well with the sounds on the record because both are attempting to capture something that’s fleeting—a feeling from an important room that’s been demolished, an improvisation from a time in your life that will never happen again. It’s all so personal, this documenting. Making visual art alone and playing a solo instrument seem so kindred to me. Aside from the documenting, her greens and unusual sculptures and huge windows are gorgeous and collector-y and strange, and hopefully you can find a similar strangeness in the music too.
Becky Suss Installation 8

Becky Suss, 2015, installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. Photo: Aaron Igler/Greenhouse Media.

ICA: You’ve worked on film soundtrack projects, including Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, and accompanied a performance of Nick Cave’s stunning sound suits. Do you draw inspiration from visual art?

ML: Constantly. My bandmate in my duo project (Jeff Zeigler, who plays synthesizer/guitar/melodica) and I have been performing a score we wrote to Philippe Garrel’s silent film Le Revelateur recently and I think it’s really fun to write music that corresponds with striking, striking images. Definitely inspiring.

ICA: As an internationally renowned artist, what keeps you in Philadelphia? How would you describe the community here?

ML: The community here is really creatively pure and supportive, and I’ve made a bunch of important, weird, cool, thoughtful friends here in Philly—and have been involved in great projects that have led to other projects. I really love it here, although changes are coming so rapidly these days. There are a lot of venues and opportunities for collaboration. Philly has been nurturing and challenging for almost eleven years now. I’m grateful.
Becky Suss Installation 3

Becky Suss, 2015, installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. Photo: Aaron Igler/Greenhouse Media.

More ICA Interviews

Q&A: Becky Suss
Q&A: Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere
Q&A: Anthony Campuzano
Q&A: Keenan Bennett and Kirsten Gill
Q&A: Charlotte Ickes