Unreally Real: On Ryan Fontaine’s The Utmost Natural
by Brooks Turner
To the right of the entrance, Five Candles, a chaotic painting with sculptural attachments immediately catches my eye. Resin casts of belts growing into cartoon hands cross each other like hands of a clock. Wires keeping the clock/arms in place flutter slightly as my movement through the gallery displaces space. Above the canvas, a piece of metal weighs down a length of thin wire that travels over a small support structure and down to a drooping belt. Initially it appears gravity is at play: the weight of the metal is just enough to hold the weight of the drooping belt but it is not gravity. The wire crossing the support is not hanging perpendicularly; gravity is not at work, but rather magnetic attraction. The metal is a magnet that pulls the wire a degree or two away from 90, just enough to trick a quick-moving eye. The realization throws off my balance; this subtle shift of architectonic regularity seems to warp space, and I am unsure of my physical reality for a moment.
To see Very Body after is no comfort. Initially abstract, a psychedelic image forms: it is as if I am looking down at the ground, but the ground is wrinkling and pooling into mercurial puddles. Reality is liquid, and once again my spatial sense is shifted, this time by 90 degrees.
Trapp Star is momentarily grounding; it tells us what it is through long repeating lines of stackstrapstackstrapstackstrapstackstrap: stacked stackstrapstackstrap text is ratchet strapped around the wall. Behind the wall a staircase leads down. The stairs alternate one step in white, or a very light grey, one step in black, stacked in the same colors as the text, and the breakdown of language revealed by the repetition (trapstacks rapstackst tackstraps) becomes the physicality of my descent. And so step after step I descend . . .
Red fluorescent light and hanging black furs signal the entrance to an underworld. More subtly, a white insulated pipe snakes from a rectangular hole in the wall, across the ceiling, and then drops alongside a fur. But I’m not sure it’s really an insulated pipe after all; it might be a feature of the basement or it might be a feature of the installation. Still unsure and still staring at this form, the features of the basement become facets of the art. I know I’m in a basement, but the basement knows something I don’t.
Through the fur curtain I am met by Bristling Cuboid #1, #2, and #3 placed on a painted black floor amidst painted black walls. Light from elsewhere floods into this otherwise dark space. The wormy bristles sprouting from liquid black pedestals squirm with potential energy, as fragile in their potency as they seem in their materiality. This space is a body buried underground: the darkness of death but the potency of a cadaver to fertilize new life.
An uncanny table, Flourishing Friend (The Holman Table), hides behind a water heater. At its center a timelapse video plays on loop. A grid of plants sprout and begin to grow before a red light flashes on and the plants die and fall away. Then time is reversed — the plants reanimate from death, slink back into the ground, and the cycle starts again. I am reminded of zero. We often think of zero as the result of a negation, the merging of two opposites: 1 – 1 = 0, or more technically 1 + (-1) = 0. But if we invert this narrative, if we begin with zero, then zero peels apart across the equal sign into two entities, one and its opposite.
There is one final room, the entrance to which is formed of wire grid covered in tape and paint. It subtly undulates, a provisional wall, or more permanent curtain. Through it, I am overwhelmed by light. My eyes are full of electricity, that kind of secret movement you see when staring into the summer sky, almost as if you are watching atoms interact. Birds chirp continuously and a slight breeze circulates from a tiny fan, giving movement to the fronds of ferns and other plants placed in this environment. A chair in the corner invites me to sit, and so I do, facing this stage of plants, pedestals, and reliefs. The reliefs offer fragments of the body: a belt-becoming-tongue emerges from a deep, liquid blue cast, a disembodied cartoon hand encased in resin seems to hang from the vines of a hanging plant, a double image of a torso, one printed and one formed in semitransluscent resin, glistens in the intense light. This room is some kind of myth of summer, a heroization of the season, a true fiction.
When I stand, I feel the warmth of the fluorescent bulbs, reminiscent of the feeling of summer sunshine on my skin; but this felt memory lasts for a moment before the awareness of the simulation overwhelms me. The warm feeling from the light is real in some sense — I really feel warm, but the kind of summer warmth it alludes to doesn’t exist in the present. Yes, this is how metaphor works: a feeling is substituted for another — the unreal represents the real. But in this basement, the opposite is simultaneously present: the reality of the unreal reveals the unreality of the real.
My eyes have adjusted to the intense light by the time I leave, and I am met with a darker darkness than was present when I first entered the basement. For a moment, I can’t see the Bristling Cuboid sculptures I could before, only the water heater and boiler, the organs of the home. To leave the summer simulation is to feel the darkness harder.
What is utmost natural? Is it the unreality of reality? The unification of the cycle of life and death? The uncanniness of experience? At the top of the stairs, I am met by Over Hang, a painting that remains enigmatic to me. Huge gestures of color are contrasted with smaller abstract and representational events: candles, an organ, fleshy patches, a disembodied mouth, a series of silos — all fragments of the world whose only common denominator is sharing a picture plane.
Tufted Grid, a small piece full of innuendo tucked into a corner on the first floor, creates spacetime (The Big Bang) out of carpet trimmings (pubes) and chicken wire (cock block). The unified plane of hairy black frays at the edges, becoming like static. Behind the wire grid, something like a thumb pressed into its center, opening a hole. It is worth noting that I had a smile on my face as I waded through the images, spaces, and experiences of this alchemical exhibition.
Brooks Turner is an artist, writer, and educator concerned primarily with our existential condition. His work has been exhibited nationally, including recent exhibitions at St. Mary’s University, Steve Turner Contemporary, and College of the Redwoods. He received his MFA in sculpture from UCLA in 2015 and currently adjuncts at St. Cloud State University.
Hannah Piper Burns: Shattersquelch
by Kevin Obsatz
Sun was streaming in through the south-facing windows of Hair + Nails Gallery when I visited on a recent Sunday afternoon. A gallery attendant sat at a small desk in the near corner, and the space was quiet and peaceful except for a recurring sound, at short intervals of only ten or fifteen seconds, of breaking glass.
The sound was synthesized and unnatural, a recording repeating exactly the same each time, an unsettling, compressed and shrill simulacrum of actual shattering. Like the recorded “bell” of the light rail trains approaching – almost accurate, but somehow off.
That must be the “shatter.”
I found Burns’ installation in a small back room of the gallery, a room lined with silver glittering tinsel-curtains, and dominated by an oppressively large flat-screen television, hung at an angle in the corner, taking up half the room. On the screen was a perfect blue sky with white puffy clouds, seen through a distorting, diffracting, transparent sort of oblong, lumpy bubble. The kind of bubble that a middle-aged guy in the park has clearly been practicing making, with specialized bubble tools, to impress passing kids and their parents.
My perspective, on the screen, is looking out through the surface of the bubble at the sky, and one end of the bubble is paneled with the only flat surface in the scene, which is shattering like glass, unprovoked, at regular intervals, creating the grating sound that is audible throughout the gallery.
Between me and the screen rests a kind of control console made up of seven (?) petri dishes containing a sort of damp, clear latex, wired together and running off the table towards the screen. There is some kind of very basic written instruction, to touch the material in two dishes at once.
This, I would call the “squelch.”
I discover that by touching the squelches, I can alter my perspective within the lumpy bubble on the screening, looking out at the sky, approaching or retreating from the shattering glass. My control over my orientation consists of moving forward and back, side to side (referred to, I believe, as “strafing” in guncentric video games), and rotating left or right. With these controls, activated by squelching different petri dishes, I can navigate the interior of the lumpy bubble onscreen.
Since the glass shattering is the main thing happening – in terms of motion and sound – my primary impulse is to investigate it. To see if I can get close, and whether I can pass through to the blue sky outside. After that I spend a while exploring the rest of the bubble, seeing what else I can find, if there are other features I’m missing – but there seems to be nothing in there but my floating first-person perspective.
And all the while, shatter, shatter, shatter, shatter. That sound recedes, I lose interest in it, but it’s sharp and irregular enough that I can’t quite ignore it.
* * *
I played a lot of video games as a kid. My house was never the house with the newest system or the coolest games – my parents resisted Atari and then Nintendo for YEARS – so video games were always an obscure object of desire, an insatiable hunger.
And, I remember games’ sounds in particular – graphics were what everyone talked about, but the sounds carried at least as much emotional weight. The ringing, rewarding sound of collecting coins in a Mario-ish game, the pulse-quickening “final boss” enemy sounds of near certain death, and the immense satisfaction of all sorts of impact, of breakage – from punches and kicks in fighting games to guns reloading and firing in shooting games.
Exploding things, damaging things, breaking things – why does it feel so good? Even in my limited game experience in the past decade, something like Angry Birds notably activates the same satisfaction, the simple pleasure of knocking things down, the physics of watching them fall semi-realistically.
* * *
So, there’s something deeply, successfully unsettling about Burns’ decision to incorporate digitally breaking glass in Shattersquelch– the fact that glass is breaking, but I didn’t get to do it, I don’t control it, and I can’t stop it from happening again and again, evokes a vivid and specific sort of unpleasant purgatorial lack of agency.
Moreover, the fact that this shattering glass teases the possibility of a way out of the space in which I’m trapped, but that it immediately regenerates and I can’t get through… tempts me toward a political reading of the whole piece.
Having talked with Burns at some length about the stresses of inhabiting a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Portland, which has been the immediate site of violent protests in the past several years, I can see the piece, on one level, as an existential portrait of neoliberal (non)personhood – a narrow space to roam disembodied, almost within reach of a distorted and pixelated heaven, across an ultimately impermeable barrier of glass, which is itself always precariously on the verge of breakage, and no longer under warranty.
If that were the entirety of the experience – the visual and aural content from the giant flatscreen itself – it would be darkly, two-dimensionally deflating, depressing. But the petri-dish interface saves it, and us, from that flatland.
* * *
On one level, the video games of my youth couldn’t have more clearly expressed their ideological orientation. Kill those who oppose you, collect coins to gain status and win. What could be more straightforward?
And yet, the idea of “interface” – of learning a language to communicate with a machine, of socializing with other players around a shared experience – there is also something rich and human there, in the real, non-algorithmic world. It’s easy to dismiss video games as the opposite of art, but what I see Hannah Piper Burns doing here, and with their other interactive work, is an act of reclaiming – reclaiming this language, these environments, these skills – how to learn a new mode of navigation to traverse a digital landscape.
There was real tactile pleasure for me in figuring out what to do with the petri dishes. Not exactly “mastering” the controls, but practicing enough to get around, to go where I wanted, to see what I wanted within the bounded realm presented.
Maybe it’s too easy to say that the only way we experience the digital world is passively, that our digital overlords rule us, make us feel and think what they want. Of courseit’s a mistake to buy too wholeheartedly into the idea of success or happiness as presented by Instagram, Angry Birds, or, um… is Fortnight what all the kids are playing now?
BUT, perhaps there is room, within all of these wares, hard and soft (and occasionally squishy) devices, for agency, for thoughtful interface, for touch – if we can’t touch the clouds, or break the glass to get closer to them ourselves, we can at least consider what’s in front of us, who made it, what it means, what we aretouching, how it functions, and maybe most importantly who’s there standing or sitting beside us, sharing the experience and impacted by it adjacently.
Kevin Obsatz is a Minneapolis-based filmmaker and moving image artist. He teaches film and video in the Art Department at the University of Minnesota, and runs Cellular Cinema, an ongoing screening series for experimental film at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater.
How To Experience Shattersquelch/ The Utmost Natural With All Five Senses + One
by Rachele Krivichi
- Touch: In this exhibition, it’s okay to touch. Not everything, of course. Don’t touch the paintings in the front room, the delicate, tiny hair forms on the podiums downstairs, or the plants that adorn the space in the very back of the basement. However, where touching is encouraged, do it. Place your hand on the cool, soft clay controller pad in Shattersquelch, and leave it there for more than a moment. Let the fur panels in the basement tickle your skin as you pass into the next room. You won’t be able to see much once you enter the dim cavern of the installation, anyways. So, revel in that moment of soft hair against your arms.
- Taste: Licking isn’t encouraged. Or is it? If you happen to attend the show with a partner, find each other’s lips after the show. You might feel compelled to do it even before you leave as you enter the dark chasm of the basement then travel into the warm, tropical atmosphere of the final room. Moving through The Utmost Natural is a bit like moving through a sexy day dream – with an overindulgent treat at the end. So, why not award the journey with a kiss?
- Smell: Usually, the only way to smell art is to sneak up as close as you can to a piece to try and get a whiff of newly-applied paint and gesso. The Utmost Natural eliminates this need. The back room in the basement comes pre-scented thanks to the house plants that line the floor. Very rarely does art have an intentional smell. But, this room hits you with the smell of green things, jarring in an underground gallery in the middle of winter.
- Sight: The Utmost Natural and Shattersquelch present the viewer with a study in contrasts. Where Shattersquelch is a chaotic treat for the eyes, a bright, glassy movie screen that forces the pupils contract to their smallest size, the lower level of The Utmost Natural demands the opposite. Very few artists make viewers work this hard to see their art. However, Utmost forces the viewer to look harder at the pieces in the dingy basement, challenging the notion that art can only be seen in a bright white cube. In this case, the cube is a black hole.
- Hearing: Imagine the sound of birds chirping mixed with the jarring sound of glass breaking. Now, walk into this exhibition to hear it in real life. Oddly, both have a meditative effect, even though the latter is supposed to be abrasive. Shattersquelch ruptures the notion that sporadic, loud noises always break the piece. Instead, bird sounds and shattering sounds mix to create an oddly cathartic melody that accompanies the two installations.
- Sense Of Movement Through Space: Perhaps the most successful part of this exhibit is the creation of a sixth sense to be used for gallery viewing. Every part of the space is used to its fullest, from the 80’ by 131’ Over Hang in the front gallery, to the confounding Flourishing Friend (The Holman Table) placed adjacent to the glowing room in the back of the basement. This back room appears a lot in this text, and that’s because the entire show leads to this point, the apex, the denouement, in such an elegant manner. Very rarely does a gallerist use a space as if it is a storybook, guiding you through a beginning, middle, and end as this show does. So, be aware of it as you view this exhibition. It’s less of a viewing and more of a dance through finely-tuned space.
Rachele Krivichi is a photographer and writer from Milwaukee, WI. She writes about art, travel, the environment, and the intersection of the three. Her published work includes a collection of interviews called “RVs Are Ubiquitous: Alternative Lives On Wheels.”
Sunday, 11/18/18 in Lauren’s home studio
Leia Wambach Interviews Lauren Roche
Leia: You came to painting fairly recently in your life. Because of that, is there a time when you began thinking of yourself as an artist?
Lauren: I was thinking about this the other day actually. I have always been really drawn to visual expression, even when I was young, and my whole life I would make things to give to people. I was into mail art and making elaborate packages for people. I’ve always expressed myself that way, but I don’t think I really identified as being a visual artist until I started connecting with other artists who also identified that way. I think there was a little validation in that – realizing that was something you could identify with. Then, when I got the Jerome grant [in 2012], it felt like this serendipitous surprise, and I think that was when I started feeling more confident in identifying as an artist.
Leia: That’s an amazing validation to have, especially right out of the gate.
Lauren: It felt extremely validating. Totally. I didn’t know if it was real. It felt so surreal [laughing].
Leia: Now that you do think of yourself as an artist, has having that identifier changed your own self-perception?
Lauren: Yeah, I think so. It’s funny that you say that. Earlier today a neighbor came over, and I had my sweatpants on, and I had all this paint all over. She was like, “Oh! You must be an artist!” I feel like before I started showing art and identifying as an artist, I’d maybe get sheepish about it, but instead I was like, “Yeah, I am an artist.”
I think I give myself a lot more space and dedicate more time to my practice. Having a studio is new to me, and getting time off work for art or shows. I feel like that’s my right now because this is a huge part of my life. Before, I would always feel insecure about asking for that space. I spend so much more time making art than I did before because I feel confident in taking that space.
Leia: I know a little bit about your introduction into painting, and it sounds like you started off creating work in a super immersive setting. You were in this trailer during the sugar beet harvest, there was nothing else going on, nothing to do, and so I’m curious how it’s been to maintain your practice without having that immersive setting anymore.
Lauren: It’s a struggle, for sure. A lot of times I get home from work and decompress by painting for a little while, but I really struggle with working too much. I work so much at my job and get so drained from that, but my ritual for making art is coming home from work or doing it before I go to work. I just got invited to a residency in New York that’s a month long, so I’m really excited to see what that will feel like. I’ve never really taken specific time off just to focus on art. I’m just too much of a workaholic!
Usually when I work on a painting, it’ll be for three hours at night and three hours the next morning, or the other way around. That’s the timeframe for how I make a painting. Sometimes if I have the day off, I’ll work the whole day and finish a piece. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot – dedicating more time to it. Even if I’m not really sure what the outcome will be, if I’ll have a show to put it in or not, I want to be doing it because it’s important to me. It makes me feel calm and confident in the rest of my life when I’m expressing myself visually like that.
Leia: You mentioned having a job outside of your artwork, do you feel like you’re the same person in that world and in your art practice?
Lauren: No, not at all. So different.
Leia: How do the two people compare?
Lauren: So I’m a server, and I think waiting tables is a such a caregiving job – saying yes to everyone, anticipating their needs, reading their minds, and being so flexible with how people need me. I do it so much, so it’s a huge part of my life outside of painting. I think when I’m painting, that’s the main point in my day or life that I get to call the shots and totally be myself. It’s almost the complete opposite of when I’m serving.
I got asked to do a trade with someone, and the person who wanted to trade with me was really specific about what they wanted in the painting. I found myself getting angry about it. I think that people ask me to do and be so many things throughout my life. This is the one place where I don’t want to take orders from anybody. I don’t want to fit into what someone wants. I just can’t do it. I felt like my whole body was rejecting it. I was so uncomfortable, but it was a cool experience to think about that. I realized that this is my place to be freely myself and really do the things I want to do, make the decisions, and feel free and open towards what happens.
Leia: It strikes me that your gateway into art making was also this caretaking practice. You were creating things for other people, and maybe giving all of that away without keeping anything.
Lauren: Totally, yeah.
Leia: I’ve worked in the service industry a fair amount as well and find it’s one of those things that’s hard to turn off, even when you’re not at work. If you see something that you could tidy up or fix, or a way you could help someone, it becomes this impulse. It’s nice to think of an art practice as a selfish space.
Lauren: Absolutely. Yeah, for sure.
Leia: Many of your recent works show figures meeting in interior, domestic spaces. What’s the significance of this particular setting to you?
Lauren: The figures in my paintings often represent inner parts of myself or different relationships I’ve had with other women in my life – my sisters or my mom even. I think the interior space makes it feel safe to have interactions that are intimate and show this exchange of energy. Even if it’s a painting that represents different parts of myself interacting with each other, having that interior space feels comforting.
And I’m really a total homebody. I’m really into being home alone. I spent eight years of my life building this little house out in the woods, and that was my obsession – to make this little, safe place. I think that having the interior spaces in my paintings represents that desire to control my environment.
Leia: Many of your works depict a nude female figure, or multiple nude women. Would you tell me about that person, or those people?
Lauren: I have, throughout my life, struggled with feeling comfortable in my body and feeling comfortable with my feminine sexuality. It’s been a recurring theme in my life – the difficulty of letting myself feel vulnerable, even just with myself when I’m alone. I think I’m so drawn to drawing nude women because I find so much comfort in their vulnerability that it empowers me. I think that just seeing how I can create these figures that look so vulnerable yet empowered and strong and intimate with each other, it’s healing for me.
I definitely find myself wanting to cover certain parts of them. A lot of times I won’t really notice where that comes from until after. A few days later I’ll look at it and realize it’s so representative of how I feel about, not just a physical part of myself, but an emotional part of myself. I think that different aspects of your physical body connect and represent different parts of your emotional self or psychological self. I find a lot of connection in that way. It’s almost relieving to see it visually.
Leia: The way you’re talking about it, I hear this beautiful push and pull between creating a place that’s safe, but then allowing for vulnerability or even messiness within this space. That’s one of the things about your work that’s most impactful for me – this raw messines that you maintain within your work and is maybe inherent in your style. I’ve moved through life tidying up everything around trauma, so it’s restorative to see spaces where women are attentive to each other and vulnerable, but there’s also this messiness that’s still happening. Do these paintings relate to your own approach to processing trauma?
Lauren: That is the driving force behind ever starting to make art, wanting to just paint it out. When I was young, I remember grabbing knives and stabbing these huge pieces of cardboard that I had, and then painting them. I’m so grateful and thankful that I’ve moved through life having that as a way to process things. I seriously feel like I would just be crazy if I didn’t have that outlet. I need that visual connection to my subconscious and the hurt parts of myself to feel comfortable in my space or to feel held – by myself even, supported by myself in this simple way. Like, “you can draw when you feel crazy or stressed.”
In the outcome of the paintings, it’s like when I have an obviously metaphorical dream, and I wake up, and it’s soobvious. I feel like I get that from my paintings. It just feels like a relief. I’m not so tangled up inside. I just get to let it out and see it. And it’s a beautiful thing. All these things that are hard for me, and feel like they’re trying to kill me sometimes, can come out in this striking, colorful way. That’s really magical, actually. It makes me feel less damaged.
Leia: You seem to repeat these symbolic figures like the woman, but also the animals – the tigers and the birds – the containers that you’ve painted recently. It sounds like maybe those have personal symbolic resonance to you, but they also have significance in cultures around the world.
Lauren: Definitely. There’s universal symbolism for a lot of things, for sure.
Leia: How do you think you landed upon the symbols you use most?
Lauren: Honestly, a lot of times I’ll just draw some figures on the paper and then it’ll come to me – that shape, or the way the energy moves throughout a certain animal. So, a lot times it just comes to me while I’m painting, and then I’ll look at it afterwards and realize, “Oh! The vessels are symbolic of caretaking, and the plants are symbolic of growth.” All these things are obvious when I look at it afterwards, but when I’m drawing it I’m almost in a trance. I’m not really thinking about it when it happens.
Leia: That reminds me, I recently found a drawing I made as a kid, and it’s these three potted-plants underneath a rainbow. Then there are two other plants on the outside. I definitely didn’t think about this when I was young, but it’s a portrait of my family, one hundred percent. I like the idea that these things get embedded within you, collected subconsciously, and sort of resurface.
Lauren: I always think about stuff like that when people are like, “I can’t draw really. It’s so cool that you can draw.” I can’t really draw either; I’m just going with it! I think about trying to be an art therapist because I just want people to draw so much more [laughing].
Leia: Yeah, what would art therapy look like to you?
Lauren: I honestly don’t know. I think my practice wasart therapy, one hundred percent. I just wonder what it would look like to enable other people to do that.
Leia: It sounds like, for you, art itself is sort of a ritual in your life, but you also make works that depict ritual. I’m curious if ritual manifests in your life anywhere outside of your practice.
Lauren: It’s an interesting question. When I was younger I was in this really unhealthy cult, throughout my teenage years. That was the first time I saw something that I identified as being ritualistic. It was really damaging to me, actually. It enabled me to feel unsafe in my body and in my mind. It was really centered around demonic possessions and stuff like that. I was young enough when I got involved that I wholly went with it, and for years and years was convinced that there was an evil energy inside me. A lot of that stemmed from being queer when I was younger and having this weird cult cast out the gay demons. So there’s sexuality, demons, all that stuff wrapped up in my first experience with what I think a ritual is. It took me so long to unlearn that. Honestly, like fifteen years or something.
A huge part of that was building my house with a partner that I felt safe with, being out in the woods, forming friendships with women – especially my sister. Those were all things that recreated what a ritual is to me, even if it’s not this thing that happens in just a few hours. Forming these connections to people that feel rooted in caring and support is what I had to re-define as a ritual.
Leia: It’s powerful that it’s outside any sort of regulated system. It’s finding the moments that feel that way in your life, or the people that you feel that way with.
Lauren: It’s people that can be honest with themselves around other people. That’s really beautiful to me, and something that I searched for forever.
Leia: When you first started painting, you were working alongside two other artists. I’m wondering if communal creation or collaboration is still part of your art practice in any way.
Lauren: Yeah, definitely. I had a really incredible artistic relationship with the people that I started painting around. That was so supportive and energizing. When those people moved away, I spent a good year or so figuring out who was going to be my art friend, or whatever. Then I met Hannah [Brown]. I met her because we work together. We formed this amazing friendship centered around our connection to art and visual expression. Having that relationship in my life has been so inspirational. It’s kept me going in times when I’m not sure if I want to paint, or if I’m just kind of depressed. We’ve never worked on anything together – we’ve talked about it – but her, and her friendship, and her art have been a huge part of what keeps me inspired.
Leia: You’ve now mentioned a handful of women in your life, and I go back to the woman or women you paint. Is that person all of those women?
Lauren: I think so. I grew up with a really close relationship with my sister. We’re really close in age. We look really similar. People always think we’re twins. We have this incredibly psychic connection, and we grew up in the same environment. I think that her and I, and even maybe past or future versions of either of us, come up a lot in my paintings. I see strength in so many women that I know who have been traumatized or victimized. It’s something that I’m always thinking about when I’m painting, how resilient and how beautiful women are. I’ve just never been drawn to painting male figures for some reason.
Leia: I’m curious about that. Do you have any desire to portray a male figure?
Lauren: When I very first started painting, I painted one piece that was a woman and a man on a beach. I just never have since [both laughing]. I feel so drawn to how beautiful women are I guess.
Leia: The way you depict women touching each other, reaching for each other, looking at each other, it does feel intimate and familiar. I have such a longing for that, but I want it for men too. It feels like something that maybe belongs more to women, but I wish that men had access to that same intimacy.
Lauren: I know. I guess I’m still figuring out where that comes from, in terms of my relationship with men. I think a lot of it stems from growing up so close to my sister. For so long she was my only reality almost. Our childhood was pretty chaotic and there was a lot of trauma. Even if sometimes we weren’t super close, there’s just something so strong and grounding about her to me, and that frames my confidence when I’m in the outside world. I think about that in my relationships with women that have come in and out of my life too. I’m always trying to find that in other women.
I think a huge part of it too is my relationship with my friend who died – feeling really close to her right before she died, and then just searching for that more. I don’t think I search for that with men. With men, I search for more of a companionship or friendship in a different way, but there’s something about connecting with other women that’s so peaceful and grounding. I think when I was growing up I was really scared. I don’t identify as being a fearful person now, so I think having women in my life took that fear away a little bit.
Leia: Back to this idea of ritual. I find that many of the rituals I turn to in my daily life and throughout the year feel harvested from cultures that I didn’t grow up in. Thinking about that makes me uncomfortable and sometimes I feel a little guilty. I wonder if that’s something that ever comes up for you, or that you think about in the work you’re making.
Lauren: I don’t know if I do. Sometimes I think about where certain inspiration comes from, like with the symbols or different textile patterns. I’ve been inspired by looking at textiles that I find in books or online, but I think if I let the guilt creep in my creativity might feel hindered, so I don’t really allow that to be part of my process – before or after. I feel overwhelmed with the idea of feeling guilty because I think if I start to feel guilty about anything it would crush my spirit, and I have boundaries with that – not allowing myself to go into a dark place with it.
Leia: Is there anything that you’re moving towards in your work right now?
Lauren: I’m moving towards making bigger pieces for sure. I would love to incorporate more intricate energy flow in a bigger piece. I’ve never really tried to make a large-scale work, but sometimes when I’ve tried to work bigger I get overwhelmed with the space. I’m excited about having a studio because, even though it’s not that huge, it’s all mine. I don’t have to tidy up afterwards or anything. Hopefully I can embrace that. That’s my goal anyways.
Leia: Behind me on the wall are some works you made recently. I notice this new focus on paired figures rather than the groups you were working with before, a kind of duality.
Lauren: Yeah, I got inspired to focus on duality because of my show with Hannah that’s coming up in January. She’s been such an important person in my life, and it feels like a representation of our friendship.
Leia: What about your use of color? In the works I saw for your last show, the color was more subdued. These ones are super vibrant.
Lauren: Yeah, I noticed that too. Todd [Bockley] said that too when I brought some newer pieces. He was like, “Wow, these are so colorful and vibrant!” I didn’t notice that until afterwards, but I think I use more vibrant colors when I’m feeling more confident. I try to mute things when I’m feeling inward or insecure. I honestly feel that, in using the smaller format, I’m more confident and down to let it go. It’s interesting that I didn’t even notice that until he said something, but it’s true.
Leia: And that they’re about this joyful friendship that you have. Is there anything in your art practice now that you hope to leave behind someday?
Lauren: That’s a hard question. I’m not sure if could specifically answer that, but I do know that I’m constantly shedding my skin in terms of my art practice. Sometimes if it feels stagnant, I’ll get frustrated and force something to be different. I do want to start making way bigger pieces, but I feel really good about my approach to making art right now. I’m not drinking. I used to drink so heavily when I made art. It was such a connection, and now I don’t do that. I smoke cigarettes when I’m painting, but I don’t know if I’m ready to let go of that [laughing]. I also listen to crime podcasts [both laughing], but I kind of like that too.
It is really important for me to constantly be leaving stuff behind though. I think it’s something that always has to keep growing with me, otherwise I think I might feel stuck, and I’m scared of feeling stuck ever, in any part of my life. It’s such a huge fear of mine.
Leia: Why do you think that is?
Lauren: I’m scared of not being open to learning or change, just because I’ve seen that in some older people in my life and I know it’s something that can happen, especially if there’s depression involved. There are things that feel comforting, and if there’s depression, you hang on to those things. If there isn’t space for new things, you don’t even realize it and life becomes this cycle for too long. That’s really scary to me, because I do struggle with depression and have my whole life. I feel like always need to change things and leave things behind. Having open space for new things is my main goal.
Lauren Roche is a self-taught artist living in Minneapolis, MN. Her aesthetic is often rooted in autobiography and grapples with the elusive territories of the imagination and memory. Roche was just awarded the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Painters and Sculptors Grant (2018) and was a recipient of the 2012-2013 Jerome Foundation Visual Arts Fellowship. “Whoever Brought Me Here Will Have to Bring Me Home” — show of her work alongside drawings by Hannah Brown — can be seen at Forage Modern Workshop this winter. Roche’s work is represented by Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis, MN.
Leia Wambach is a museum and arts education professional based in Minneapolis, MN.