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Interviews

Spontaneity and Storytelling in Art as a Medium

Interview with Lee Willett

By Co-Editor-in-Chief Ashley Hajimirsadeghi

“My ultimate ambition is to inspire individuals to engage with nature, appreciating its inherent beauty and fostering a deeper connection with their surroundings through my work.”

–Lee Willett

Each of these pieces combines different elements: landscape photographs, object photographs, distance, time, etc. Tell us a little about your creative process when coming up with the idea and executing it for this series.

The pieces are inherently self-generating; there isn’t a predefined “idea” awaiting execution. Essentially, I possess a toolbox comprised of elements such as run data, landscape photos, and object images. Using these components, I craft each piece without a predetermined vision of its final form. Throughout the creation process, many elements I gather don’t ultimately find their way into the finished artwork. This iterative approach involves constantly adding and removing items until I achieve a composition that feels optimal. My focus remains on avoiding repetition; thus, I am more mindful of what I aim to avoid creating than what specific outcomes I pursue. Before, during, or after each run, I’ll take photographs and collect objects to use. The elements used in each piece are sourced that day so that I’m limited by the conditions of the sky, the ground, the light, and what elements are available to photograph. The winter months yield a different aesthetic than the summer months simply because the conditions and elements are varied.

According to your bio, you began this series in 2023. Has it changed since you began creating these pieces? Has it taken on any new meanings personally or artistically?

The series continually evolves. Initially, I dedicated months to exploring the visual language I was developing while constantly assessing its complexity. While the early pieces may have appeared more rudimentary, they occasionally sparked promising ideas upon which I later expanded. The most recent progression involves integrating drawing and painting elements into the photographic composition, imbuing the pieces with a more textural and organic feel. Furthermore, I’ve begun collecting and preserving elements for future collages within this ongoing creative journey.

You have a fascinating background—teaching, studying in both the US and Switzerland, running. How has your craft evolved with each new stage of your life?

My professional background lies in design, and you can discern its influence within these pieces. I’ve consistently felt at ease crafting designs or systems that effectively communicate for clients, resulting in work characterized by thoughtfulness and logic. However, transitioning into the realm of art introduces a new dynamic for me: the creation process is largely intuitive. While I adhere to specific elements, formats, and structures of my choosing, these pieces don’t stem from a predetermined communication challenge awaiting resolution. Instead, I focus on exploring how the diverse elements at my disposal interact, concluding only when I achieve a satisfying outcome.

Has the meaning of art changed with it, too?

Over time, the structure of the work has evolved, yet its underlying meaning remains consistent. Each piece serves as a visual journal entry, documenting a specific trail run and capturing the events of the day. The latest pieces are more textural and include more hand-drawn elements so I am always evolving the style. For the more epic runs I have planned, I’ll develop multiple pieces based on a single run which is a change for me, though I’ll wait to see what I have as source materials before determining how that pans out.

You’ve now made over two hundred of these pieces. Do you see yourself continuing to make more in the distant future?

I aim to continue for as long as possible. Given that I typically cover over 2,000 miles annually through running, I anticipate creating many more pieces like these in the future and branch out to more diverse locales. Additionally, I am developing another series that shares a similar visual language but does not hinge on running. My intention is to unveil some of these works within the upcoming year.

Let’s talk about storytelling; you’ve described this series as a visual journal of sorts. How has an interest in storytelling impacted your work as an artist?

Storytelling lies at the core of both my art and personal identity. During lengthy runs, recounting tales and exchanging experiences proves invaluable in passing the time. As my daughter grew up, I crafted stories for her every bedtime over several years. While I aspire to publish these narratives someday, they represent a distinct form of storytelling altogether.

The “All These Miles” series vividly captures the narrative of my adventures through a captivating visual lens. As the inaugural year of this series concludes, my ambition is to compile these visuals into a limited-edition bound book, transforming it into a tangible visual journal of my journey.

What’s next for you?

I plan to continue the “All These Miles” series for as long as possible. As the director of SundayRuns.org, a local trail running group, I anticipate having numerous companions on the trails. This year, I have scheduled at least one adventurous run: a rim-to-rim-to-rim traverse of the Grand Canyon. From this experience, I aim to produce several pieces inspired by the journey.

I aspire to undertake more adventurous runs in diverse locales to explore how varying landscapes and settings influence the visual narrative of my series. Notably, numerous pieces from the series have garnered acceptance into both local and international exhibitions. My goal for this year is to secure a solo exhibition, pending finding a suitable gallery.

Ultimately, I aim to leverage my teaching expertise by leading walks or runs. During these outings, participants can explore intriguing objects and landscapes alongside me. I intend to share insights into my creative process, detailing what I seek and how I capture my chosen subjects through photography. My ultimate ambition is to inspire individuals to engage with nature, appreciating its inherent beauty and fostering a deeper connection with their surroundings through my work.

By Ashley Hajimirsadeghi

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an Iranian-American multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Passages North, The Cortland Review, DIALOGIST, RHINOSalt Hill, and The Shore, among others. She is the co-editor-in-chief at Mud Season Review and a contributing writer and critic at MovieWeb. She is a six-time Best of the Net nominee, two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and runner-up for the Arthur Flowers Flash Fiction Prize. Her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com.