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Painting, Collecting, Hanging Out with Lisa Congdon

At one point, artist Lisa Congdon found herself facing an existential crisis, and decided that she needed to quit her day job and be creative for a living. Since this epiphany, Lisa has been directing her mostly self-taught talents and energies towards painting, collecting, and curating from her San Francisco studio and home in the Mission District. A long time friend and Poketo collaborator, we are thrilled to have Lisa on board the Poketo for Target collaboration.

What were you doing before deciding to become a full-time artist?

I was working in education, first as an elementary school teacher, and then for 10 years at an education change organization. I worked with teachers and principals to help them improve their teaching practice. At some point in there, I began simultaneously painting and drawing regularly and by 2007 I was leaving my job to pursue art full time.

You have gained some notoriety for being a collector of curiosities. How do you find these objects? Where are your favorite places, flea markets, and hidden secrets to shop in San Francisco?

I don’t have much “free time” these days because I’m busy working quite a bit. But when I do have free time, I do like to be an explorer for new and interesting additions to my collections. I go to all the usual spots, including flea markets and thrift stores, but I also scavenge at salvage yards and places that give away stuff that no one wants. I think the more challenging the find, the more fun!

Vintage bridge tally cards

Babydoll hands

Could you tell us about your home and studio?

My home and studio are conveniently about 3/4 of a mile apart. It’s a perfect distance for me. Far enough away and yet close enough too. I live in the Mission District of San Francisco in an apartment that I bought 7 years ago. It was built in 1906, right after the big earthquake. It has lovely features and details from that era. My home is a delicate balance of finding and organizing enough space for my partner and I to live comfortably and clutter-free, but also finding and organizing enough space for my art collection and some of the other collections that I display. It’s a hard balance in a small apartment!

Most of my collections are housed at my art studio, which is also in the Mission, in a historic brick building that also houses an art gallery. I have most of them organized in files and manila envelopes (most of what I collect is some form of ephemera or small vintage objects), and they are not on display. This is where I photograph my collections for my Collection A Day 2010 Project. I share my studio with another artist and it’s also a pretty small space. I feel like I am constantly trying to keep the space organized between my art practice (and all the materials and messes that come with that) and my collections storage. I do love my studio so much, though. It’s a really nice light-filled space (half of the ceiling is a sky light!) and most days I listen to music or NPR and just sit and paint or draw. It’s really a wonderful way to spend the day.

What books are you reading/looking through/collecting right now?

I love to look at New American Paintings every year, and right now that is on my bedside. I’ve just started to read United States of Americana by Kurt B. Reighly. I’m fascinated by American culture.

We see your birch trees recur in your work. What’s your relationship to the forest, and nature in general?

I have loved the forest since I was a kid, and the outdoors in general. My parents took my brother and sister and I out into the outdoors constantly as kids. We are all three heavily influenced by it in our work (my brother is a landscape designer and avid outdoors person, and my sister is an artist and photographer). I have always been fascinated by both the order in nature and alternatively, the chaos. I love both the order (fractals, for example) and the chaos (so much in nature is so idiosyncratic). I think I am constantly trying to show the tension between the order and chaos in my work somehow.

(Her beloved birch trees have graced our wallets)

Lisa has several Poketo for Target pieces available, and all of them are awesome! Available exclusively in Target stores nationwide.

Check out for more work, and, a blog that documents Lisa’s collected treasures.

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