Rhapsody in Blue

Lori Axelrod at home with Elvis. 
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Some years ago, Lori Axelrod began noticing that the colorful necklaces and earrings she’d been making for herself were attracting attention. “I knew I was onto something when I wore my jewelry and got compliments when I walked into stores or galleries, or while volunteering at the thrift store,” the Hendersonville artist says. “I think it’s the color palette and the fun shapes that speak to people.”

Today, Axelrod’s work goes well beyond jewelry, in a series of mixed-media pieces that combine handmade paper, polymer clays, and paint.

“My artwork comes from a combination of techniques that I’ve learned from other artists, local artists’ guilds, tutorials, and from workshops,” she says of her unique, imaginatively colored work that combines collage, clay, and acrylics on canvas. 

Sometimes completely abstract, sometimes tending toward the figurative, the unusual assemblages point to a careful eye for both composition and color. Axelrod speaks of the “sumptuous colors and stimulating yet balanced patterns” that distinguish her current body of work. 

“My hope is to make beautiful, bold, colorful creations.”

One of the jewelry-designer-turned-mixed-media-artist’s assemblage pieces.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Retired from a professional background in computer science and technology, Axelrod is entirely self taught in the intricacies of working with polymer clay. It’s a medium she took up 16 years ago, creating a clay-based jewelry line that, despite its bold colors and assertive shapes, was surprisingly lightweight and fun to wear.

The mixed-media pieces came along later, coalescing from a swirl of ideas on how to use the clay for more purely aesthetic work. “My inspiration came from a large piece of clay that I made but that was too pretty to cut into pieces for my jewelry,” Axelrod recalls. “It sat on my bench for months until I put everything together, and my mixed-media journey began — and continues to evolve.”

She follows the same inspiration today, basing a new piece on a particular chunk of clay that suggests possibilities for cohabiting with other elements. Crafting the paper substrate for the clay involves shredding anything from cereal boxes to heavyweight art paper and binding them with a gel medium. 

When the artist switches from making her bold necklaces and bracelets to subtly infused paper-and-ink collage, as with these two untitled pieces, she employs her signature medium, polymer, as an accent rather than as the main event.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

“While the gel is still wet, I’ll apply some additional texture with stamps,” she explains. Paint — sprayed, dripped, or layered — then joins the dried paper. “I cut, tear, crinkle, paint some more, add ink,” she says, “until I achieve the look that I want.”

The clay shapes, unlike traditional kiln-fired pottery, are baked several times in a simple toaster oven at a modest 275 degrees before being attached to the paper background. The whole is then attached to canvas. “The canvas is prepared with layers of fluid acrylics, gels, or tissue paper,” Axelrod says, “and is painted to complement the clay and paper focal point. The piece usually sits on my easel for several days while it’s tweaked and fiddled with until it communicates my vision.”

Surprisingly, Axelrod works direct to canvas, with no preliminary drawing or design work. “I often think I should draw out my designs,” she says, “but I don’t. My inspiration happens during the creative process, and I keep working with the piece until it comes together.”

Photo by Rachel Pressley

Axelrod works from a home studio, purpose-built in a new house she and her husband designed after moving to Hendersonville two years ago. The walls of the studio, filled with light from its two large windows, are fitted with abundant cabinets to hold Axelrod’s collection of materials and found objects that might have potential for future work. “Since I’ve been creating for a while, I’ve accumulated a lot of goodies,” she says. 

Her work is featured in a number of galleries in Asheville, Waynesville, and Hendersonville and will soon appear in an online shop. “I want my art to remain my joy, my therapy,” she declares. “It’s where I can lose myself.”

“The Art of Lori Axelrod,” Hendersonville. Axelrod’s work is represented by Carolina Mountain Artists Guild (444 North Main St., Hendersonville, carolinamountainartists.com). The artist also has work at New Morning Gallery (7 Boston Way, Biltmore Village, newmorninggallerync.com); at Mountain Made Gallery in the Grove Arcade  (downtown Asheville, mtnmade.com); and at the Jeweler’s Workbench (80 North Main St., Waynesville, thejwbench.com). Find her on Facebook — “The Art Of Lori Axelrod” or “Polymer Paradise” — or visit loriaxelrod.myshopify.com.

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