Meet Lauren: New York-based visual artist, sculptor, and deep thinker. She’s one of our March Meet Series finalists, and her winning submission, Rainbow in the Dark 2, is a graphite and mixed medium work on silk and polyester thread with graphite drawn wood frame. It is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Lauren’s laborious process explores depth and shadow, light and dark. She speaks of—and creates—layers of graphite and meaning. In her own words, “through darkness, there is a rainbow.”
LAB: You work primarily in graphite and paper, correct? Has this always been the case (if so, why? If not, what drew you to these materials)?
LS: I’ve used graphite as my primary medium for the last eight years, but before that I was trained as a painter. When I painted, it became clear to me that my favourite moments were the gestural pencil markings and shading before I added the paint. The pencil is just a better or more natural extension for me to get my ideas out there. To me, graphite is limitless, and I’m constantly finding new ways to apply it (both conceptually and physically). It’s also embedded in art history as a tool at the foundation of every artist’s studio practice, yet is usually considered a secondary (less important) art practice… I find that fascinating. I really want to bring drawing to the forefront by redefining its terms, expanding on the conventional notion of how it can be transformed, presented, and perceived.
LAB: What compelled you to expand your work to sculpture? What do sculptures have the graphite doesn’t (and vice versa)—or, if you rather, how do these mediums complement each other?
LS: I constantly strive to push my chosen materials beyond their preconceived capabilities. In the past two years I have developed a new body of work, applying graphite in unconventional ways to a variety of unexpected surfaces (such as thread, marble, liquid and metal). These works have become increasingly free-standing and sculptural while still thematically linked. A heavy application of graphite connects and questions the concepts of “drawing.” These works create a balance of strength and fragility, allowing for necessary manipulation of the material to maintain stability; an equilibrium of loss and gain within the transformation; capturing fragile, temporary moments trapped in stasis. These sculptures create an environment of suspended time in which materials defy the movements—falling, collapsing, crunching—that natural forces like gravity should propel them into. These moments are juxtaposed against a labour-intensive practice of hand-drawn pencil, forcing a dialogue between process, time and (in)permanence.
LAB: If someone came to visit NYC for the first time, where would you take them? (Describe “A Day in the Life.) From your perspective, what is the quintessential “New York” experience?
LS: Ha, well, I think a day in my life would consist of waking up, drinking too much coffee, and going to the studio—but if I was to show someone around NYC for the first time, I would spend the day taking them to museums and galleries (New York has the privilege of culture and history). I would take them to the MET, perhaps have a drink on the roof, then walk through Central Park and make our way towards Chelsea for some gallery hopping so they could see how art is contextualized in a show. I would probably end the day in the Lower East Side for some friends’ art shows and taking them out for food and drinks. I had a studio on the LES for years, so I would love to show them the streets I walked every day and talk about how the area has changed. I would do my best to present NYC as a story through art, I guess. Also, I would invite them to get lost a bit and aimlessly walk about… explore for themselves and allow that to navigate the day. I would love to come to New York and have everything be new!
LAB: How much of your work is about technique vs. emotion? Do you find that you gravitate towards one more than the other—and are you happy with that balance? Why or why not?
LS: I think the technique is learned through emotion. Often that emotion is patience, motivation, and endurance—lots of trial and error to push through the doubt, and persevere to find the “result” and master a technique. I have been compelled to move through an idea by emotion (confidence and conviction), seeing how my process can develop through a specific concept (and vice versa). Perhaps “instinctual” is a better word than “emotional.”
The precarious nature of these materials allows me to inform myself as I create. I rarely seek a specific outcome, so my hope is always to start, work through the struggle of ambiguity, trust my technique, and learn from all my mistakes… then I know what Ii’m making. I know a work is complete once it has its own presence without further interruption from my hand. That is when it is free… and that balance is satisfying.
LAB: How physical is your process? Could you describe what goes into a single piece—and how you feel, physically, through the process? By the end?
LS: All of these sculptures have a heavy physical process: a personal dance with materials, exploring the essential elements of process and materiality through an intuitive and intimate graphite layering— breaking down or building up the surface to transform those materials into a physical, textural, and structural form. Each work is a fairly labour-intensive. Many of these works exist at human scale or just beyond it. The larger the work, the more physically demanding it is. Graphite pervades every surface—drawn into the grains of marble, floating atop a liquid pool, coating threads, and delicately spanning the webs of steel mesh. As these materials transition, they masquerade as something new. With the paper works, I move from the front and back of the piece, pushing, kneading, and sculpting it into my desired form. For the thread works, I create the composition, “freeze” it by saturating each thread with a mixture of mediums, then each strand is drawn on with pencil and polished with my fingers.
LAB: What rejuvenates you?
LS: Good conversation! Also, listening to my music on shuffle and not knowing what mood it will take me to.
LAB: What is your biggest fear – as an artist? As a person?
LS: My biggest fear as an artist is the same as my personal fear: that I won’t allow myself to be present in a moment… and perhaps that the overwhelming world issues and everyday minutiae make it difficult to focus on what is most important to me. The studio helps me with these anxieties by providing me the space to work it out through my creative actions. At my best moments, being in the studio allows me to feel fearless.
LAB: Could you say more about your winning work (Rainbow in the Dark 2)? What are the key similarities (and differences) between working with steel and thread vs. paper and graphite? What do you enjoy most about working with each material?
LS: Rainbow in the Dark 2 consists of graphite and mixed medium on silk/polyester thread with graphite-drawn wood frame. Using common malleable materials (like thread) and inviting gravity to subtly shape the outcome (while existing within the restraint of a frame) is a concept I’m excited to further explore. My paper works are situated not as a medium of preparation or provision, but as a final form displayed atop wooden stretcher bars—further expanding upon the notion of drawing as painting and painting as sculpture. Similarly to my paper works, I create the composition and use mediums to freeze them in place before applying graphite. With both series, I use my fingers over the pencil to push the graphite into the pores of each surface, so they meld into one. With this specific piece, the graphite lives within the frame and bleeds into colour as it falls out of frame and onto the floor… as if the rainbow is escaping the formal structure holding it captive.
As with the paper, my intention with using thread and steel is to push beyond the limits inherent in the material’s natural state. Although drawing is investigated through some traditional/some unconventional materials, these works conceptually maximise the use of graphite by showing the physical properties of my actions left on the surface. These sculptural forms present a manipulation of materials and transform these materials into objects.