Art Work #9: Liz Dosta, Artist and Writer

Liz Dosta works with both words and images, a combination that both delights me and makes me jealous. Maybe it's too obvious of an observation to even put here, but lately I've been feeling a lot like the very important flip-side of writing is making something tangible with your hands (and/however/anyway, I can't draw to save my life). 

Liz is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, whose writing and artwork has appeared in The Atlas Review, The New York Observer, Pank (Queer Issue), and most recently on Lenny Letter's Instagram feed (!). Follow her on Instagram for more access to her work, especially her paintings. 

Here, she answers a single interview question from the Art Work series, but her answer delves into a lot: how she began to paint, why she paints herself, and the seeming impossibility of a woman leading a "solitary but creative life."


What is most terrifying, to you, about what you’re trying to accomplish?

When I was a child, I remember becoming transfixed before the mirror by the sight of my own hand. It was a small pale thing, a hand like any hand, with five fingers, five knuckles, five fingernails with little pale moons and a jagged thumbnail for my perpetual need to gnaw on it. The more I studied it, the less it seemed to be a hand. I waved my fingers rapidly in front of my face: a blur of fluttering paper. My hand, I felt, was no more than a shape realized by flesh. My face, too, a shape realized by flesh. My body, a larger shape realized by flesh and bone and blood. To study myself was to lose a sense of my selfhood. I was having a Lacanian moment, at the age of ten.

I think I am terrified of that loss, its eternal ramifications. It’s not death that terrifies me, but the idea that the world could go on as if I’d never existed at all. This is the second death that no one tells you about, that no one explains is the true source of one’s anxiety with regards to one’s existence, or lack thereof. There is death, and then there is the death of death. I am terrified of that death, the death that says: “You were never here.”

To study myself is an impulse. I can’t help but push myself into this space of non-existence. It is out of this space, however, that I choose to create, to make art, to paint faces and bodies, to paint the same face and body (mine) over and over again. This choice (this sometimes compulsion) has been made all the more palpable given my potential inability to have a child. Procreating was never a priority, but to know that such a path is not a likely option makes all other paths harshly illuminated. There is nothing like being told you cannot do something to make you crave the impossibility of it. Or, as David Foster Wallace wrote: “It's weird to feel like you miss someone you're not even sure you know.” Painting is what I know, or what I feel comfortable pretending I know. Painting is far more forgiving of my weaknesses than poetry could be, so I have stopped writing poems. Who knows, I might return to them one day, but for now, I don’t write them. I make pictures instead.

Sometimes, I am terrified that I am not trying to accomplish anything at all.

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I am against ambition, but for the perpetual need to make things. I admire Joyce Carol Oates, but relate to J. D. Salinger. I always seem to relate more to the eccentric father in Disney movies who spends his time in his cramped office overladen with books and maps and wood carvings, hunched over some ornate birdhouse, or carousel, or sailboat, than I do to the Disney princess who invariably gets whisked away by a prince from her father, and thus her fate from spinsterhood (I'm thinking of Beauty and the Beast here). Why is it charming when a man leads a solitary but creative life, but threatening when a woman traverses a similar path? Why was there such urgency to uncover Elena Ferrante’s identity? In this sense, I am terrified that I will not be allowed to accomplish the things I want to accomplish in the way that I need to accomplish them: in private, and apart from the expectations of the present digital age (which requires one to be highly, sometimes crudely, visible to the world).

This is the least I can say about what terrifies me with regards to what I am trying to accomplish: I am trying to be an artist; I am terrified that the world won’t have me.

Thank you, Liz!

Art Work seriesTori Telfer