Q&A With: Brynn & Lisa Of Londubh Studio

Superworld Artists-In-Residence

SUPERWORLD (SW): We have the pleasure of welcoming artists Lisa Donohoe and Brynn Gelbard, the creative spirits behind Londubh Studio (pronounced Lon-Dove and symbolizing a blackbird in Irish Gaelic, a tribute to Lisa’s home country) to our AiR program this month. As we sit down, virtually, with Lisa and Brynn, we are mesmerized and dazzled even from a distance by the extraordinary emotion and power that emanates from the texture of their decorative, yet highly technical installations - works that transcend art and design.

SW: Such a pleasure getting to know you personally and professionally. We are grateful for the opportunity to dive into your imagination so intimately. At first blush, I’m really taken with how your work harmonizes with the notion of a work-life balance. For instance, there is a certain raw practicality to your work - a combination of hard materials like concrete and soft glossy effects. Can you elaborate on your vision, your process, and the outcome you foresee as you work?

BRYNN & LISA: Thank you, Natacha! We have to giggle that you are taken with how we harmonize our work-life balance because many people in our inner circle have talked to us recently about our propensity to overwork and not take enough time off. The self-care quandary is real, especially as a queer woman-owned and operated business in the world of design and construction. Ultimately though, the harmony comes from having so much fun together while also caring so much about seeing the person you love most shine, and so the boundaries between work and play are pretty blurred.

From the start with any of our projects, we brainstorm, ideally when blowing off steam somehow. When we’re connected to wildness, whether it’s on a night out having fun or staying in having fun or out on a hike with our dogs somewhere beautiful, that’s when we get the inspiration for a lot of our concepts. From there, we build upon each other’s ideas. Lisa is a very visual person. I’m a very sentient person. When I contribute my visual ideas, they are rooted in feelings and they come through her visual filter because I don’t have her drawing skills, but she completely downloads my vision from my brain and makes it better in the process, so it’s glorious synchronicity. From there, we push each other until everything’s fleshed out and we always end up going a few steps further because of this passionate nudging, as my nana would call a loving push in Yiddish. We have so much love and respect for one another that we definitely both want to contribute our best all the time in honor of ‘us’ and our unified creative voice.

SW: One of your works entitled Know your Truth further enchants me, as the depth of your work is really boundless. Can you speak about your inspiration behind the symbolism of your art? I’m interested in the messaging behind what the abstract relays…the silent words…because your art evokes a very physical reaction as well, and that’s really powerful.

BRYNN & LISA: Symbols have been how humans have communicated or recorded information since the dawn of time. We love the history lessons you learn when you research symbols and symbolism, and how there are so many commonalities among symbols generated by people across time and space. Symbols supersede language for their universality and accessibility. Knowing you can say something so simple, or put a prayer out there using such a practically generated icon, feels hopeful.

Know your Truth has a lot to do with notions of reciprocity. In the grand scheme of life, where are you on the scale of give and take? The directionality of it challenges you to examine where you are on this see-saw and return to balance, with the ultimate intention being to find joy in the balance. It also was created with the intention of challenging oneself to look inward and really ask yourself “Am I living a truthful existence?” and if not, why not or what steps would it take to get there? We use the symbol of the arrow a lot to convey movement and momentum as we grow and change and journey through this life.

Another symbol we work with often is the Londubh heart, featured in a 5-story mural we did in Hollywood. This shape symbolizes love as the building block of life. We also included this symbol in a very special secret project we’re working on now in a historical mansion in San Francisco as a blessing for the client and designer, both of whom gave us so much creative freedom that we will forever be grateful for.

Many people have remarked over the years how special it is to co-exist with our work after we’re finished. One of our hashtags is #loveisinthework because we believe the intention and energy we put into our work is part of what we are leaving behind as much as the work itself.

Butterfly wings selfie wall / Kindler Hotel / Lincoln, NE

SW: Your studio, Londubh, actually means Blackbird in Gaelic Irish. I can definitely see how the texture and the metallic hues of the blackbird impact your work. Lisa, having grown up in Ireland can you speak about the Celtic and medieval influences that shape your art?

LISA: I was and still am profoundly inspired by the history of Ireland and art there from the Neolithic to the present day. The fusion of organic and geometric shapes carved into the stones at Newgrange (a 5,000-year-old sacred site and burial mound and many others similar across the land) are alive with energy and movement still. It’s like the artist captured the essence of the natural world with line and shape and kept it alive through their representation. The Book of Kells, a highly decorated illuminated manuscript created by Christian monks around 800 CE is packed full of incredibly complex patterns, rich earthy colors, and interlacing strands in the Celtic style. I was mesmerized by it as a young kid and some of my early creative works were reinterpretations of the more intricate pages. I think having that as an influence really inspired me to create highly detailed art and the harmonious exploration of multiple patterns within a single piece of art.

SW: Some would say decorative arts/ surface design is just that, but I don’t think “it’s just that” for you. Can you describe and define what decorative arts are for you - What does it appeal to for you?

BRYNN & LISA: If art evokes an emotional response in you then we don’t think it matters if it’s decorative or otherwise. For us, decorative arts in an architectural setting provide an opportunity to exist within the art and not just observe. Art can become an active part of your surroundings and has the potential to nourish, inspire, calm, heal, excite, and more. Prior to any design work, we have in-depth conversations with our clients regarding their specific needs for that space, so we design and create specifically for that purpose.

The whole process can be quite an adventure. We end up having really special bonds with some of the designers and clients we’ve worked with.

SW: Alright, so it’s no secret that there is a boom in digital art, and naturally your connection with us at SuperWorld is a transition for you to explore and go beyond digital arts and translate or transport your vision to non-fungible tokens or NFTs. Can you walk us through your vision and how you got here?

BRYNN & LISA: To be honest, it’s been several years now since we’ve been having visions of technologies that will revolutionize interior design. We can’t wait for the technology to actually exist to the capacity we envision it. It’s such a passion for us that we’ve connected with other like-minded people, one of whom is Krista Kim. We’re really inspired by the work she is doing as NFTs. As a woman in the arts, seeing her getting her work out there while also educating people about the technologies is so inspiring. She’s putting out well-thought-out work that makes the most of the technology while empowering others to innovate and collaboratively push the technology forward for the common good.

SW: Tell us more about the tools you use and your canvas. Your craft/trade is so physical, so material whilst digital art is so abstract, so fleeting, so translucent in a way. I’m interested in the marriage of the two and how you’ll complement and leverage both worlds. Can you elaborate your hope for or share your vision - what will take the place of your magical, crystalized colored dust or your stencils in the digital world?

BRYNN & LISA: In the physical world, we work on any surface that will stay still long enough for us to do our thing. We’ve done everything from diving boards to bathtubs to pool decks to decorative screens, headboards, and whole houses. We work with decorative plasters, metal leaves, paints, and glazes. We extensively research the best materials for maximum durability in every project. We painted a mural on a houseboat deck in Sausalito and it took weeks of investigating to find the perfect product for that application, in the right colors and sheen that was legal in California and would last a minimum of 10 years in such a harsh environment.

Before we do anything physically, we create it digitally, so working in this realm is not new for us. We look forward to presenting works digitally that also have a physical component.

Custom mural based on Londubh’s ‘Disco Biscuit’ pattern / Downtown Los Angeles, CA

SW: Lisa, I know you have a background in art history so your work with Venetian plaster and gold leaves speaks to me. Can you talk about your background and how it inspired you through the ebbs and flows of your journey so far? How about you Brynn? I would love to learn more about how you not only inspire others but each other and how you complement each other too. Who’s the dreamer, who’s the engineer in your collaboration?

LISA: I’ve been an artist ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil. In school, my copybooks were always covered in drawings of flowing patterns and graphic shapes. Growing up in Ireland the connection to the past, both recent and ancient is so tangible. I’ve always been extremely interested in Art History so when I got the opportunity to work at a creative studio specializing in using these classical materials I was very excited. I was even more excited at the prospect of utilizing them in different ways to complement a more contemporary setting. When Londubh was just beginning I experimented in the studio constantly, exploring and pushing the limits of how they could be used in different and exciting ways. I went back to school to study Interior Design and Architecture at UCLA so I could understand how our work would ultimately work in harmony with the overall design of the space and be appropriate for the architectural style. At the same time, I was still creating graphic illustrations and patterns of organic and geometric shapes. It was really the coming together of these creative paths along with Brynn’s punk rock and wild aesthetic that fused together to create the Londubh Style. As we grew and completed more projects, designers and clients gave us more and more creative licenses. We proved ourselves over and over again in the field. We do extensive research on the materials for each particular project so they will last for years and years.

BRYNN: I’ve been a storyteller ever since I was old enough to write letters but not spell words. As a kid, I was such an avid athlete and a tomboy and I always kept a journal to tell my innermost thoughts to. I was aware from a very young age that I was attracted to girls and that this was a thing that many people in society, including in my orbit, frowned upon. Being different made me curious rather than afraid of people who were also different. I went to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where I majored in Environmental Studies and Psychology. I remain passionate about how storytelling and communication are key to inspiring people to be active agents of positive change. After college, I came out and moved to San Francisco where I worked various jobs, traveled, and blew off steam experiencing the world and where I fit in. When Lisa and I moved to LA, my intention was to write for the screen as I had studied at the UCLA Screenwriting Professional Program, but together, we ended up creating 30 short raw film portraits of people from various walks of life who were somehow swept into the LGBTQ rights movement. In the last year of this project, I traveled around the country with an immigration lawyer who specialized in representing same-sex binational couples like myself and Lisa who were not entitled to immigration rights even if we were married because of the Defense of Marriage Act. With the fate of DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 headed to the Supreme Court, we focused our videos on their stories and debuted them in the Huffington Post. When the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, Lisa was starting Londubh and I just needed a break from the emotionality of the project that I had just wrapped. She invited me to help her get her business off the ground. I knew how unbelievably talented she was so I wanted to support her. Right away the universe made it clear this was what was to be and we’ve never looked back.

That should tell you that Lisa is the engineer and I am the dreamer. Our work is very much a product of us being together for 19 years since we were pretty much kids still. Our love and communication, which we work on harder than anything, bolster our individualities and evolutions. This openness, trust, lack of ego, and the fact that we have the best time together, make brainstorming an adventure and everything that comes after residual treasures of this amazing life we get to live as creators together.

SW: Can you speak to us about your passion for the environment and sustainability? I do feel like nature comes alive from your murals, rugs, or design…almost like you’re presenting the environment to the eye of the holder. Can you elaborate on that exploration of bringing the outdoor environment inside and perhaps vice versa?

BRYNN & LISA: Thank you. We do our best to use the greenest materials possible for each job and are endlessly inspired by nature. The intricate and detailed patterns in snowflakes, honeycombs, mushrooms, and crystals as well as incredibly colored bird feathers and fish scales have all influenced our designs. We endeavor to infuse our art with harmonious patterns derived from nature so that the end-user can benefit from that natural energy tucked away within the designs. Spending time in nature always relaxes us and lifts our spirits. By bringing the outdoors indoors in this way we try to use our work to benefit the client and improve the quality of their lives.

SW: What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken for a client?

BRYNN & LISA: Taking a job because we wanted to accomplish the high visibility challenge while knowing the client was a very abusive personality who rarely paid his balance. This really taught us how important it is to have boundaries, how tangible toxicity is, and to not let this toxicity in. As artists, we do our best work for clients we vibe with and who see us and value our visions. It’s okay to say no.

Also, the opposite of that, saying yes to a client who wanted to have zero input, and for us to stay on her spectacular property while she vacationed with her kids and create a 40ft long floor mural for them. We did of course initially worry that she would come home and not vibe with what we did for her, but as the design began to flow and we drew inspiration from the natural surroundings, we surrendered ourselves to the process and it ended up being quite a magical creative experience. She loved it and it remains one of our favorite pieces to this day.

SW: Who are your mentors? Who’s secretly (or not too secretly) guiding you, inspiring you, supporting you in the background, or sitting on your shoulder?

‘Born to Ride’ / Londubh Studio re-mix of the original design by Marwan Shahin

BRYNN & LISA: Right now, we are most inspired by all the activists on the front lines all around the world demanding justice for one another. Seeing all these people from across the world reaching out to one another and finding commonality makes us so hopeful. At the end of the day, all these labels and boundaries put upon us are nothing more than imperialist designations that have been used to define and divide us at best, pillage and exterminate us at worst. We are one global community. Seeing ourselves this way is critical to our survival and the human in-habitability of earth.

SW: One of the many things we appreciate about your work is your collaborative spirit. Just as you combine art and design, you play with geometric forms and linear shapes. You have worked with a wide array of designers. What’s in store next from you, creatively speaking?

BRYNN & LISA: We’ve been working very physically for the last 10 plus years on what have, for the most part, been pretty exclusive projects. We’re nearing the end of a secret historical mansion project in San Francisco with the amazing Nicole Hollis team that has been a dream for us and taken up pretty much every day of the last year and a half… so worth it. It is a massive tribute to maximalism, which the interior design world so desperately needs right now, especially with all these new technologies on the horizon.

People tell us so often that our work is so magical to co-exist with, and it’s become very important for us to find ways to make our work more accessible and also to expand the ways we use our voice. We just dropped our first wallcovering collection with Circa. We’re of course excited to incorporate new technologies into our array of offerings especially as we’ve been fantasizing about how these will revolutionize design for years.

And also, as women and queer women who have very much had to fight extra hard to be taken seriously, it’s really important to us to shine the light on voices that need to be heard, that are too often overshadowed if not ignored altogether. Art is a powerful tool for storytelling and historical preservation but if only some peoples’ voices are given platforms to exist, then we don’t get the whole story.

SW: Can you give us a hint as to either what your SuperWorld project will entail, or where it might be located?

BRYNN & LISA: Does it only have to be one project? That seems unfair when the possibilities are so vast…!

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