Meet the Artist: Larassa Kabel

Meet the Artist is a series of interviews with the Iowa Arts Council Artist Fellows.

DEFT, 2015

Larassa Kabel of Des Moines is a visual artist who uses photorealistic drawings, paintings and prints to address issues of loss, fear, gender and feminism. Larassa’s work has been shown nationally in galleries and museums including the Des Moines Art Center, The MISSION Gallery, PEEL Gallery, Karolyn Sherwood Gallery, exhibit 101, Visions West, and Moberg Gallery.

Where are you from?

I’m originally from Michigan, but I’ve lived in Des Moines for so long that I consider myself an Iowan by choice. It’s been a great place to live and work.

Where do you make your work?

I have a studio in the Fitch Building downtown. It’s a great spot close to the sculpture park with nice tall ceilings for large scale works and a North window that provides perfect light for painting. It also allows me to bring my dogs to work which means a lot to me. I work alone, and even though they don’t really do much except sleep on the couch all day, having them there keeps me from feeling lonely.

Hazards of Love, 2009.

What is your artistic medium of choice and why?

I paint in oils and do lithographs, but for the past 4 years or so I’ve worked almost exclusively in colored pencils on paper. It started out as a way to bring art home to work on while I watch TV in the evenings. Colored pencil drawings can be very small and portable and don’t really make a mess the way oils do. However, I enjoyed the medium so much and found that it was the perfect vehicle for some of the work I was doing. It eventually took over as the main medium of practice.

What themes does your work deal with?

At the root, most of my work is about compassion. Sometimes, it’s about the compassion you need to sit with someone when they are experiencing the worst moments of their lives. Sometimes, it’s about the active form of compassion that recognizes one another’s humanity regardless of gender or shape or life choices. I think that people have the ability to connect and help one another on such a deep level, but that takes so much work to actually practice that most of the time we move through our lives fairly unconsciously. People are often lazy and afraid of being uncomfortable. Art is a good way to remind people to be conscious. Really conscious.

The Fallen, 2011.

What are you currently working on?

The newest work is about the prevalence of violent crimes against women. A shockingly high percentage of women and girls are victims of sexual assault and violence, and yet it is something that has become an abstract concept for a lot of people, especially men. Women don’t often share those stories. They are too personal and raw and often are accompanied by a feeling of shame, so usually they are only told in confidence to someone who is absolutely trusted. I think this makes it hard for men to really understand what women’s lives are like. I don’t blame men for not knowing, but I want to show them what is happening in plain sight. What is strangely visible and yet invisible. I made paintings of victims of rape and murder and had them printed onto fleece blankets, and then I photographed women and their daughters interacting with the blankets in their homes. It is a pretty direct exposure of the knowledge that women live with, and it addresses this phenomenon of woman to woman teachings about how to be safe. How do we educate our daughters to be wary without making them frightened to live their lives? And how do we live with this fear that no matter what we teach them, we can’t necessarily protect them from harm? The fact that we are more likely to be hurt by someone we know and trust makes women’s lives incredibly complicated.

What do you enjoy about being an artist in Iowa?

Iowa is such an easy place to live. The people are incredibly warm and helpful and supportive of other Iowans, no one is a snob, and the cost of living is incredibly affordable.

All This So Far From Heaven Installation, 2011.

What is one thing you would like to see change about the artistic field in Iowa?

I would love to see the government be more active partners with the arts community. I get the impression that people think that arts spending is like flushing money down the toilet, but it’s actually some of the best bang for the buck a government can get. It is a huge economic driver with a six-fold return in tax revenue. If state and local governments included the arts community in their planning, I think they would be amazed at the vibrancy and money that would collect around that community. It happens over and over in cities across the country. Artists move into an economical neighborhood, it becomes interesting and more valuable, and then the artists get priced out by developers. If a city were smart about it, they would leverage that. They would start arts districts and create studio space in areas that need an economic boost and just let the artists change that neighborhood. It would be such a win-win.

See more of Larassa’s work at