Artist Hilary Lorenz finds inspiration in science

When St. John’s pharmacy and biology majors sit in their lab classes, hunched over the oculars of microscopes and looking at cells and molecules clustered on the stark stage plate, few can see any aesthetic beauty in it.

However, this is exactly what inspires Hilary Lorenz to create her unique art.

“You know, some people are really interested in landscape and in portraits. I’m much more interested in what can’t be seen with the naked eye,” Lorenz said.

Lorenz, 41, is youthful and hip. She wears square, black-rimmed glasses, sports a tomboyish, red-dyed pixie cut, and leads a strictly vegan lifestyle. She currently lives on the Lower East Side, where she shares an apartment with her pet turtle.

Lorenz’s brightly lit studio, located in a rundown brownstone in Brooklyn, is cluttered with hundreds of finished and in-progress paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs, all waiting to find new homes. Lorenz resents the narcissistic idea of being surrounded by her own paintings either in her studio or at home.

Lorenz was born and raised in a typical midwestern town in Michigan. She moved to New York because and throughout her teen years she dreamed of escaping that sleepy suburban life that suffocated her. Immediately after her high school graduation, Lorenz packed her bags and set out to college.

While studying art in the University of Illinois in Chicago, Lorenz fell in love with printmaking, and in 1993 she received an M.F.A in multimedia and printmaking from the University of Iowa. Four years later, Lorenz has received a B.S. in fine arts from the Western Michigan University.

The road to success, however, was not paved with roses for Lorenz: She started out working as an electrician in an Iowa theater, and a sound technician in New York, living on $100 a week, until she finally landed her first teaching job and opened a studio.

In her unique artistic approach, Lorenz managed to fuse two seemingly irreconcilable fields, art and science, and it resulted in a fascinating collection of paintings and prints that are both outlandish, vibrant, and meticulously structured.

“Probably one of my favorite subjects in school, except for art, was biology,” Lorenz said, “and just natural curiously [about] how nature works.”

It is not surprising that Lorenz found her inspiration among the jarring laboratory setting, among tests tubes and microscopes.

In her college years she had worked as a medical research assistant. That experience lingered in her imagination and found its way into her paintings and photographs. Lorenz managed to extract the unlikely beauty and harmony from twisting DNA sequences, diagrams of amino acids, and molecule models.

“I respond to all the things that I’m doing visually,” Lorenz explained. “For example, if I’m growing cells, counting cells, feeding cells, looking under the microscope, I’m very interested in how things shaped geometrically, how they form, how they move, and how they come together.”

In today’s world, when scientific progress swiftly captures an increasingly bigger place in the collective psyche with every new stride forward, especially in the field of medicine, Lorenz’s art is extremely timely.

Don Burmeister is the owner of the Brooklyn- based Safe-T gallery, where Lorenz’s paintings are exhibited and sold.

“As a gallerist, I see a lot of people dealing with imagery that could be related to the body, to medical approach to the body. It’s imagery that people become more and more aware of,” Burmeister said.

Not limiting herself to two-dimensional art, Lorenz had also designed a theater set for a burlesque show, and illustrated a unique poetry book by Elaine Equi, called ‘Fragrance Grifters’. However, she reached a true personal high point when she got the opportunity to design costumes for ‘Split Sides,’ a dance production by the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham, which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2003.

“The night of the opening, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauchenberg were sitting in front of me, and it was the most intense feeling I’ve ever had in any exhibition or anything,” Lorenz recalled excitedly. “And the thing is, the costume designer hired me to do this, so my name didn’t get on it, but knowing those are my costumes in the Brooklyn Academy of Music, completely packed-It was the most intense feeling I ever had.”

Aside of being a professional artist, Lorenz is also a well-respected professor. For the past 10 years, she has been teaching printmaking, drawing, and photography in various colleges, including Long Island University and Parsons School of Art in Manhattan. Lorenz, however, would never exchange her studio for the classroom setting permanently. Her priorities in life are very clear: Art always comes first.

“[Art] is my profession number one, teaching number two,” she said. “Its very important to me to make the work, have it shown, have it in galleries.”

Her fellow artists, such as Maddy Rosenberg, a painter and a curator of Lorenz’s exhibition in LIU, recognize the unique quality of her work.

“I think Hilary is definitely a fabulous artist- she’s the real thing,” Rosenberg said. “She has everything going for her and she’s very driven. She knows her medium very well and the pushes things beyond the medium.”

In her long and prolific career, Lorenz traveled around the world with exhibitions and lectures, and many of her works can be seen in museums in Belgium, France, Hungry, and even Taiwan, where she worked on a Fulbright scholarship.

Lorenz has high aspiration for the future. She plans to continue exhibiting her works at home and abroad, to lecture and curate art shows, and she is even thinking about opening her own gallery in Chelsea- every artist’s dream.

“Its really exciting to have shows in the museums in other countries and other cities and all over,” she said, “but its a real validation about having it also happen in the place that’s your home. You don’t want to be rejected in your own home.”

Despite her optimism, Lorenz is not oblivious to the struggles and hardships that most young artists encounter on their way to the top, which they may never reach. In Lorenz’s opinion, perseverance and drive are the key.

“Being an artist is extremely difficult profession- you have to want it , you have to want to do it,” she said. “When you graduate with art degree, there are no job out there, nobody is waiting for you , and no one says [to] you: ‘oh great, art degree, we have a job or you !’ √¢?” that will never happen. What will happen is that you create your own job, you create what you want, you decide what you want and if a person does not have drive, determination, that’s not a good field to go into.”

In fact, most of her college friends with art degrees abruptly changed their careers, turning to steadier and “safer” occupations in law and business. For Lorenz, however, that was never an option- art is in her blood.

“My priority was, I’m going to do my art work, and I’ll support myself one way or other,” she said defiantly. “This is the number one thing in my life; it is the next thing to breathing.”