In a popular Oscar Wilde quote, the author speaks about knowing and not knowing what it is you want to become. A grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, he offers. How, in knowing, you inevitably become that thing, which is your punishment. How in what he calls the artistic life, not knowing, you’re free to be anything. When Lisa Dengler began pursuing art, she already had a successful photography career behind her. Having worked with brands like COS, Polo Ralph Lauren, and BMW, Dengler’s Instagram has amassed a following of over 146,000. When I met her in 2017, she was deep into the fashion industry. But over the years, I’ve watched her work take on an entirely new form.
“On social media, it used to be about making a brand cool and keeping it on top of mind for people,” Dengler says. “And then it became about analytics. Once Instagram got bought, it was clear we’re all here to sell a product, and that’s all they want. I realized that’s what my job was at the time.” In an effort to cut down on screen time and be more present in other aspects of her life, Dengler took a stone carving class. “Everything changed after that first class,” she says. “I did it, and I became obsessed.”
With a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture, the framework for design, structure, and construction has never been far out of bounds for Dengler. A scroll through her Instagram quickly reveals a sensitive eye for contours, figures, and texture, with herself often as the central figure. So it is fitting that her first collection of work as an artist in 2019 features nine sculptures that explore the conversation of a woman’s relationship with her own body through form, silhouette, and material.
Born in Germany, raised in Canada, and years spent in Los Angeles and New York, Dengler is now based in Mexico City. Having done short residencies yearly for the better of the last decade, Dengler regards the city with great respect. “The architecture is very truthful,” she begins. “Because of the climate, everything is a wild green and full of life. The people are so kind, and the food is amazing. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever been to. I find it visually, very romantic.”
Over the years, Mexico City has become known for its rich arts and culture. It gained widespread recognition for its design and contemporary art achievements, and was once named the world’s design capital by the International Council of Industrial Design. Of course, it should be no surprise with Mexico’s long history of artisanal and ancient craft traditions. For instance, the village of San Bartolo Coyotepec is known for its unique black pottery and in-ground kiln firing technique. “It’s definitely very inspiring,” Dengler says. “I’m innately drawn towards natural materials. That’s why I like stone carving, and that’s why I paint the way that I paint – I want the materials to shine. I think the city and the architecture here speak to that.”
It’s always been exciting to witness emerging artists. But in an age when looking into an artist’s process and access feels unbarred, it’s inspiring to follow along Dengler’s journey. “I think it’s good I didn’t go to art school,” she reflects. “I think I would be much more apprehensive of how the art market works.” Gallerists, press, legacy, and trends – so much of success in art is determined by having the right opportunities beyond talent. “I think to a certain degree we have control over where we go and what amount of success we have,” Dengler says. “I think people limit themselves to some degree, but you just have to go for it and hope for the best.” Ambitious and backed with industrious ability and skill, whatever Dengler is to become will surely, in Oscar Wilde’s opinion, be the reward itself. ■