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Cecil County Life

Joy and beauty and love and light

Oct 31, 2018 10:50AM ● By J. Chambless

Liziris are known throughout Cecil County for their playful projects, which include being commissioned to paint the parking meters in Elkton. (Photo by Jie Deng)

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

During what became a four-hour visual arts performance at this year's Ladybug Festival along Lower Market Street in Wilmington, two artists applied spray paint, latex paint and chalk to the storefront and sidewalk of a LoMa business.

Within that small patch of property, working in the enclosed bubble of their work, the entirety of their performance held the thousands of festival goers in silent appreciation of what they were seeing, because in the space of those four hours, they were seeing that Liz McLaughlin and Iris Dickerson were making every brushstroke they applied dance like a little girl at her first recital, who suddenly and without explanation is given the feeling of knowing what it may be like to have wings.

Over the past 15 years, Liz and iris have defied categorization in the Cecil County art scene by working in several mediums, to the point where a “Liziris” project could place them anywhere: at a street fair performance, a photography shoot or a commissioned work. Liz is a commercial and artistic photographer, while iris' work as a muralist and painter can be seen on everything from traditional canvases to the parking meters along Main Street in Elkton, which they transformed last year from steely black to tubular rows of flowery color.

Along the way, their name is near the top of the local arts scene: Liz and Iris' Magickal Gallery was a two-year installation in Elkton, from 2006 to 2008. Their photographs and paintings hang in several private homes in Cecil County and around the country. They helped to begin the Main Street Art Bazaar cooperative in Elkton, that later evolved into what is now the Palette and the Page.

They have exhibited at several festivals at the Cecil County Arts Council, at several art gallery shows and pop-up shows, and for the past six years, they've taught classes to young people at the Cecil County Arts Council summer camps.

Whether with a camera or a paintbrush or a simple piece of chalk, “Liziris is about joy and beauty and love and light,” iris said. “Liz and I believe that art should be totally accessible to everyone. It should be on the streets, in people's homes and taught in classrooms. We're here because we believe that art should be everywhere.”

Solving the riddle of, “Where does art come from?” remains an unanswerable question, but in the story of what led Liz and iris to share their life and their talents, art plays only a supporting role.

The story of Liziris is really one of destiny.

For several years, Liz imagined an image of what the love of her life would look like before she first met iris, through a window at a bus station in downtown Baltimore 15 years ago. She had spent her life doing everything according to plan; while her early work as a photographer was inspired by the gritty street life she saw while growing up in South Philadelphia, she earned a mathematics degree from Rowan University, and began her career in information technology, a position she still holds as a private contractor.

“I was trying to figure out who I was at the time, which is a different way of saying I looked for ways to try to get through life when you're not like everyone else,” she said. “I wasn't really thinking of art other than being an expression of myself. I was busy being the best at what I was doing, and as soon as I graduated and did everything that I was supposed to do, I was then able to be me.

“I began to know myself as, 'This was who I am, and I am an artist.' It was around this time that I began to create a vision of Iris, this person that I was supposed to meet and fall in love with, but I didn't know her obviously at the time. All I knew that she was smaller than me, that she was also an artist, and she had dark hair. My friends kept telling me to give up on the image in my mind. 'She doesn't exist,' they told me.”

The abstract expressionism that bursts from the canvases that iris makes can be traced to her upbringing in the valleys of the Mojave Desert and in the high hills of Hawaii, where she spent parts of her youth. In a life dominated by landscapes, she was more the observer than the participant, and she could often be found working in a sketchpad or buried in the pages of a book.

After earning a degree in Deaf Studies, complimented by attending Bryn Mawr College, iris moved to Philadelphia, when by accident, her dating profile was received by Liz, who was living in Baltimore.

They corresponded on line and by phone for several weeks, and then iris boarded a Greyhound from Philadelphia to Baltimore. The bus broke down soon after departure, and for the next several hours, while Liz waited outside the station for the bus to arrive, iris and her fellow passengers were transferred to another bus that meandered around Wilmington, and finally arrived in Baltimore at 11 p.m.

McLaughlin and Dickerson first saw each other for the first time through a window at the station, soon after Dickerson arrived. They went back to McLaughlin's home and painted together until morning.

They've been together ever since.

There are several painted portraits of Liz in iris' art studio on the basement floor of the Cecil County Arts Council, and while each is a variation on the same theme, each one finds something new in the subject.

“Liz's features have become probably the most familiar to me, even more so that my own, because I look at her more than I look at myself,” iris said. “It's her brightness, her angles, her intelligence, her humor, her strength, and every mood she has. When I do a piece, Liz rarely sits still, if ever, but with each painting, it's a process of soaking up the moment, in little memories.”

Liz and iris will be the first to say that beyond the colors and textures they have given to the Cecil County arts community, the most lasting manifestation of their gifts is seen in the classes they teach at the Arts Council.

“It's always much more inspiring for us than it is for the kids,” iris said. “We always leave inspired by their creative thinking, their perspective. They continue to teach us that we're all more alike than we are different. They teach us that art is a thing of nature, and we never want it to stop. We flit and we fly, and it's always something a little different, and it's always something a little similar.”

“And we go with it,” Liz said. “We ride it and we move with it. All we know how to do is to continue keeping the joy, continue to build on our art, continue to say 'Yes,' continue to show up, and continue to enjoy the adventure.”

To learn more about the work of Liziris, or to arrange an artistic performance, art installation or a purchase, visit www.lizandiris.com.


To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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