Open Water | February 2021

Lena Gustafson is an artist from San Francisco, California, who’s living and working in the East Bay. Between her multidisciplinary art practice and Night Diver, the collabo- rative press she runs with her partner, Peter Calderwood, Lena keeps pump- ing out incredible work that touches upon transformation, the body, the environment, and connects herself to her community.

She has also been producing a series of artist interviews in a volume of books called Practice that she publishes under Night Diver; Lena photographs artists in the Bay Area and they answer questions about what it’s like to pursue a creative path here. The series was one of the biggest inspirations for bringing Plunge to life – it so simply and beautifully elevates the work and voices of emerging artists.

Q & A With Lena Gustafson

PLUNGE: Did you go to art school?

LENA: Yes, I went to the Art Institute of Boston, which is part of Lesley University; it’s really small. Most of my friends were at Mass Art and the Museum School at the time. I lived in Cambridge for four years and then worked seasonally on Martha’s Vineyard for a few years after graduating.

What did you study?

I went for Art Therapy and Illustration. I had a teacher recommend printmaking and became really interested in intaglio and relief printing. During my third year of school I met my partner Pete through some mutual friends and we started collaborating on a lot of screenprinting projects together.

That’s obviously carried through to your practice now.

Totally. That’s how I learned how to paint - by creating images for screenprint. It takes me a long time to feel like I totally understand new techniques in image making. So about four years into screenprinting artwork regularly I was like, “ohh, I think I finally get this” and now it informs the way I approach painting.

Something that I’m really interested in is how to be an artist out in the world and I’m interested in how you got to the stage where you are now. Did you get what you wanted out of art school? Did you create your own path that to followed?

I was pretty deflated about continuing to pursue art in any real way about 5 years ago. I feel like I wasn’t getting something that other people were getting. I didn’t understand how people got shows or were able to afford studio space on top of rent. Around that same time I started the first issue of Practice magazine. I started by reaching out to artist friends or people who I admired online and asked if I could photograph them in their studios and have a mini interview. I think subconsciously the project came from wanting to show other people that I’m excited and inspired by what they’re doing and in the process it became encouraging to myself to continue pursuing painting. Relationships with people and building community has been the most important thing.

What about art and making and your process makes you feel good?

I get most excited by what happens when I let drawing lead mento new directions or concepts. I try to now get too fixated on one style or way of making -I get excited by the act of drawing and how it can lead to new ways of thinking. I feel like it mirrors my personal life and how I am develop ing as a person in the world. Drawing and experiencing life are kind of like two parallel tracks that are influenced by each other, and that’s what I get most excited about, the evolution of those two things feels like a lifelong endeavor. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense to me why I still want to make images, but I think of it as mirroring inner and personal worlds. 

Listen to Lena's Playlist on the Plunge Spotify Page ~

Find more of Lena's work:

Lena's Instagram
Lena's Website
Night Diver Press