We first learned about Maureen as fans of her artwork, which our friend Jodi Balfour turned us on to. Upon learning that she lived a few hills over from us in Silver Lake, we reached out to see if we could come over for a coffee, inviting our friend Serafina Logiacco to join and shoot some film.
To our delight, our first meeting with Maureen revealed her to be as lovely and interesting as the art she creates. Kind and down to earth, she welcomed us into her and her husband’s beautiful home. Transplants from New York (they came to LA in 2015), we enjoyed learning how the move prompted a shift (return?) in Maureen’s focus to art.
With her careers in design and, subsequently, art, she’s someone we both relate to as a professional and are inspired by as a creative. We really enjoyed having a coffee with her and learning more about her story, her process, and her morning ritual, and hope you do too:
You moved to LA from NY four years ago. How do you like it so far? What brought you to LA?
We moved to LA for my husband, Nathaniel’s job. He started a music company in 2010 and by 2015, the majority of his clients had shifted from NY to LA. He was taking red eyes roughly every two weeks, and we were all exhausted. We had two little girls by that point, and I was ready to bid farewell to New York and its dark, icy winters. Los Angeles felt ideal not only for the climate, but also for the fact that we could both continue to grow our careers in the arts here. I wish that we were closer to extended family, but aside from that we love life here— it feels slower, brighter, fresher and somehow just easier. We live in bare feet and can take day trips to the mountains or the beach on any given day. Having said all that, we live in Silver Lake, which is literally full of ex-New Yorkers. So we were hardly unique in our decision to make that move.
As an artist who's had a career in design and branding, it seems as though you've always had a penchant for working with the visual. Is that true? Or, what was your journey into art and design?
I was an artist before I was a designer (growing up and in college), so in a way I have come full circle. When I started graduate school for design in 2001, I recall the realization that I was never going to “be” in the world in the same way again. We were taught during those two years to observe more closely— something as simple as a billboard with no hierarchy felt aggravating, while a chair that was designed 100 years ago could still feel completely new, based purely on its lines and proportions, for instance. It was illuminating and transformative.
The design program at my school was based on the philosophies of Walter Gropius, a German architect and co-founder of the Bauhaus. There was a lot of focus on human consideration and meaning, versus aesthetics— how to reach people through stories and relationships, as opposed to “design for design’s sake,” as our director used to say. We were taught to look and think deeply, to develop a point of view based on our own values and experiences, and then communicate those ideas effectively using the principles of design. This education became the foundation of my life, both personally and professionally.
But, after working as a graphic designer in New York for 12 years, I had grown restless. By the time we left four years ago, I was frustrated and found myself at odds with clients sometimes. The constraints of commercial relevance (ie, how designs translate to sales) and- quite frankly- clients’ arbitrary opinions— had begun to wear on me. It took less than two years of living in LA before my yearning to create things in a physical capacity became irresistible. I had more space- both physically and mentally, so I learned to weave, picked up a paintbrush and began experimenting with collage. Things have slowly evolved from there. And even though I’m starting over in many ways, I am really grateful to be on this new course.
Where or how do you find inspiration for your creativity? Do you have a process for this? Or is it something that's more of a natural flow?
It’s hard to point to one, but if I’m looking for a common thread between all the things that excite me and get my mind going, it’s always very unexpected and thought-provoking juxtapositions. This could involve ideas, people or visually interesting clashes of color and form. Sometimes that’s another artist’s work, typically from the past. Milton Avery’s highly unique use of color within otherwise traditional settings, Etel Adnan’s simplistic landscapes that glow to the point of spirituality… and of course, Agnes Martin’s obsessively intricate yet beautifully serene grids. I am fascinated by the early works of an artist, to see what they were doing before they were known. I am moved by the experiments and failures.
I am also inspired by fashion— the innate sense of theater is so visually stimulating and conceptually interesting to me. There are culturally relevant stories happening in fashion all the time, and the beauty sometimes takes my breath away. At the moment, I am intrigued by Daniel Roseberry, the newly appointed creative director of Schiaparelli who just released his first collection. Again here, the juxtaposition interests me— a guy from Texas who has managed to conjure the irreverent spirit and idiosyncratic style of Elsa Schiaparelli, the young Italian artist and dressmaker who opened her first small Atelier in 1927.
Finally, I listen to books all day long when I am at the studio. The stories keep me company and the characters give me ideas.
As an artist and designer, we imagine you are responsible for giving your day structure. Do you have a morning ritual to start your day off right?
Oh yes. My family can vouch for the fact that coffee is the very first thing that I am focused on when I wake up. I will admit that there is a practical element- ie, I’m so much nicer after a cup of coffee… but I also find the sensory aspects- the smell, warmth and taste- to be a comforting way to start each day. If we can spare a few minutes, Nathaniel and I have begun to sit down together to finish our coffees before he and our girls leave the house. Each day varies from there in terms of balancing my time in the studio versus time spent managing parent and household responsibilities, but having that ritual each morning has become really grounding for us both before we start the day.
What's one of your favorite pieces you've made, and what do you love about it?
This (still untitled) work is probably the one I love most. There is a soft tension between rigidity and spontaneity that feels like a very close portrayal of who I am, as both a designer and an artist.