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For These Two Artists, Getting Outside Is the Key to their Creativity

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Joe Geis and Lisa Solberg are energized by heading outdoors clothed in Uniqlo's new wind-blocking, rain-blocking Blocktech.

Typically, a well-rounded creative life isn’t the result of one path or set of influences, but rather a diverse set of passions that mix together and build off each other. Some artists are inspired by art in other mediums; some by the humans they interact with or observe; some by the outdoors.

Designer and artist Joe Geis is one of the latter. Growing up in New Jersey, he never sat still, and could be found running, playing soccer, and getting lost in the woods on frequent family trips to Maine. Now that he’s all grown up, he is Head of Art & Graphics at WeWork in New York, but he still spends a ton of time outdoors, often skateboarding through the city to create art installations from sprawling outdoors murals to custom neon signs.

Another artist inspired by getting out of the studio is abstract expressionist painter, installation artist, model, and athlete Lisa Solberg. As a kid, when she wasn’t drawing, she participated in competitive gymnastics, where she discovered an affinity and talent for flying through the air. In college, a group of friends introduced her to slopestyle skiing. She took to it, making it all the way to the professional level and competing on the national circuit for two years. After an array of injuries, she was forced to leave her ski career behind, but she never lost her obsession with the outdoors: A constant quest for adventure is something that fuels her creative process. 

We caught up with Joe and Lisa in their New York studios and tagged along with them as they found some time to get outside. Lisa, a lifelong Michael Jordan fanatic, went to shoot some hoops; Joe hit the streets for a skateboarding session. The weather had just changed from 73-degree sunshine to actual freezing snow, so they had to be ready for anything. Luckily, they had Uniqlo Blocktech on hand to block the rain and wind. 

Were you always inspired creatively by being active?

Joe Geis: Early on I don’t know if I took it as direct inspiration, but now I can look back on that and see it. There’s a lot of people who pull inspiration from just browsing through Pinterest and Instagram all day, but I tend to get inspired by just living life, traveling, seeing weird things. Stuff like going on hikes in the Catskills. That inspires me and energizes me and turns into creating better art.

You do a lot of street art. What’s most challenging about working outside in the elements versus working inside?

Having worked here at WeWork for a few years now [my team and I have] been provided the chance to work on some really cool scenarios and have created some pieces around California. We also got invited to be a part of the Murals in the Market festival in Detroit to create something on a 40-foot wide wall, which was probably the biggest thing we’ve gotten to do. Getting the chance to paint in these outdoor scenarios, you get to learn about a lot of different variables. Outdoors you have to think about rain, 90-degree heat, sight conditions, and changes in weather.

You love to skateboard and get lost in the city. How does it connect to your art?

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is to turn my phone on "airplane mode" and go exploring. Exploring a new place detached from the comfort and safety of my phone allows me to be present and fully experience the markets, the food, the faces, the textures, the colors, and the patterns in front of me. Those are the things I pull inspiration from. Actually experiencing the culture of the place I'm in with the people I'm with is also an important reminder of how big the universe is and how small I am. I need that every once in a while.

How important is movement in general in your life?

Movement’s really important to me. I’ve never been one who was able to sit still. What I’m wearing has to be comfortable and allow for flexibility, whether I’m skating or painting on the floor or a ladder. Layering is also important—you can’t always anticipate what the weather will be. Uniqlo Blocktech is super comfortable but also super light, which is key. Their stuff isn't a hassle to wear and doesn’t get in the way of what I’m doing. 

Regarding movement, does that trickle into the playful, freeform vibe of a lot of your work?

Around two years ago I went through a really rough time personally and was dealing with pretty serious health issues, and at that point in my life felt that I had no bounds internally in my world. I found a way to bring out the emotions [I was feeling] through art. I started doing more of my own stuff: drawings and paintings for myself, not clients. I would sit down, pick a few shapes in my head that were line patterns, and stick to [them], and repeat them, making sure the balance between them was consistent.


What is the relationship between the physical and emotional releases you experience as an athlete and an artist?

Lisa Solberg: For me the physical release is parallel with the emotional. It’s why people meditate, I think—they’re finding ways to access their core and inner self and make connections. [That connectivity] is where I create my best artwork for sure. When I’m not thinking, [the emotional and physical release] is just happening. Physicality for me, because I’m an athlete, is extremely important to my process and goes hand-in-hand to allow space for that emotional release in my art. The parallel is crucial.

What does being competitive mean to you as an athlete and as an artist?

It’s a lot more straightforward in sports, discipline- and competition-wise. It’s all very structured. In the art world it’s all under a few layers. I find that I have competitive drive with myself in my art, but not as much with other people. I try to create an arena on the canvas itself, and often will push my fingertips into the paint to leave their mark. A lot of the actions like that exist within the piece specifically.

You often move between different settings, from mountains to studios to city streets. How does Uniqlo Blocktech help you get around?

Sometimes I’ll go up to Montauk to gather stuff from the forest like driftwood, rocks, and whatever else I need to create these sacrificial, altar pieces in my studio. When gathering these materials, it’s important for me to be mobile, and dry, and have the proper clothing. In terms of balancing everyday life and physical activity, especially on hikes, which is big in LA, I definitely need gear that works in those environments, too.

Have the outdoors had any direct inspiration on your art?

The inspiration from skiing and [being] active comes more [through] my soul and spirit; it’s less about trying to “paint nature.” I love depicting the force of nature, but that’s not about just looking at the mountains while skiing. I think I get more inspired by fresh air and being in the elements.

UNIQLO is a global apparel company from Japan. The brand offers clothing that comes from the Japanese values of simplicity, quality and longevity. UNIQLO' s waterproof, windproof, breathable, Blocktech.

David Garber is a writer and DJ living in Brooklyn. Find him on Twitter.

Photos by Mike Skigen