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Photo credit: All studio photos by Lauren Orscheln.
As an ode to the lost art of writing letters - and perhaps an unconscious reaction to how many emails we've been writing these days - Curina interviews artist Lauren Orscheln in the form of a letter.
Lasting impressions from Curina's first studio visit last winter intermingle with Lauren's new imaginations and old memories.
Photo credit: Dan Murphy
Q: Dear Lauren,
First of all, how are you doing these days? I remember the first week of quarantine being so surreal, like one of those weird nap dreams where I wake up sweaty and confused.
LO: I’m coping! Taking it day by day - painting, listening to books on tape. I’m usually an avid reader, but something about being in Brooklyn right now has paused that love and I can’t focus or get comfortable with a book. I’m devastated by the deaths and heartache in my city and all over the world.
Q: For everyone who’s looking to expand their taste, what are you reading / listening to / watching nowadays?
WATCHING: I have been watching the Michael Jordan docu-series. Also, we just started watching Never Have I Ever on Netflix, produced by Mindy Kaling. It is so funny and has a great narrator like in Jane the Virgin (my favorite).
READING: I just started Call Me By Your Name. I am five minutes in and already smitten by the language. Italy is a place to bathe your senses—especially coming from NYC which has a tendency to assault them—and I am excited to hear how Andre Aciman describes the beautiful tastes, smells, sights, feelings.
I’ve also been listening to Phoebe Judge’s Phoebe Reads A Mystery, which is distributed as an episode-a-day podcast, but is really another book on tape.
LISTENING TO: I’ve been listening to new albums by Fiona Apple and Ludovico Einauldi.
Q: It’s now been a while since I visited your apartment studio, but I remember the vivid and poetic stories surrounding each moment that inspired your paintings. Would you mind retelling some of those for me?
LO: Cheryl and Andrea are part of a body of work on the Sirens Motorcycle Club of NYC, which was the first all-women motorcycle club in New York. They are teamed up with the New York Milk Bank and deliver breast milk to and from families on a volunteer basis. They’re an incredible group and I am so inspired by them. In 2017, I asked them if they would entertain the idea of my painting them, and they invited me to come pitch the idea at one of their meetings. Cheryl and Andrea were two people I was immediately intrigued by. They seemed so confident and proud of their group, but I wanted my perception of their individual spirits to be clear in the paintings about them so I made sure they were separate from the surface.
A Pink Man on Pink Concrete and A Pink Man On Pink Concrete in Montpellier were fleeting images seen from a cab as we headed to a bus station. The bus was taking us from Montpellier, France to Barcelona, Spain. The train workers were striking at the time. In the cab, we passed a man sleeping in a construction site. He was bright pink all over and was, as the titles suggest, framed by pink.
It set off a body of work I go in and out of about memory and how remembering things is sometimes easier if you write about the experience and the sight instead of snapping a photo. Now I have dozens of notes scribbled on my iPhone about different sights that could be paintings. A few have been realized, others might just be written paintings.
Q: You still get to work from your home studio. I remember how your canvases looked hanging from the kitchen wall. How does sharing a living space with your own paintings influence your process?
LO: Living with my paintings has been my setup for a few years now. My husband is very supportive of my work, and doesn’t mind the works in progress on the wall, or the paints we share our kitchen table with. Before, I would put my paints away during the week, but now I just leave them out in case something comes to mind, and spend time with the canvases even when I have no intention of working, and then devote real time to painting on the weekends and evenings.
Q: And are you working on any new projects / themes / techniques?
LO: With art, it took some time to figure out how to paint during quarantine. I wrote an essay about this for a blog called Compose-ure, and somehow writing about it and sending that vulnerability into the world released me. After it was published, I started painting again.
As I was writing, I threw an old painting on the wall that I wasn’t happy with, turned it upside-down, and painted in white house paint over the parts that bothered me. I let this marinate while writing and editing.
Once it was published, I took baby steps for the first week, and listened to Haruki Murakami’s most recent novel, Killing Commendatore, which is about a painter living mostly in isolation in the Japanese mountainside and the few people he interacts with. I would look at the whole painting, then decide, say, “this area should be yellow and pink,” and I would mix the right colors and try to melt them into the surface, drawing up the colors that were already there in a way that satisfied me. After a few days, a figure started to emerge and I kept fleshing her out until she finally came to be.
Q: Did you do anything impulsive over quarantine you would have otherwise not done?
LO: Yes, definitely. My husband and I painted our bedroom a bright yellow. Now it looks like the sun and makes us happy. Before it was more of a mellow gray-teal.
Q: I often feel that the pace of life has changed recently. What does time mean to you and your works?
LO: It has meant time to think about each work, and about the release, without worrying too much about where I am headed. Everything feels so uncertain and I am trying not to pin myself down and instead just letting images and feelings be set down on the canvas.
I’m practicing not judging myself so much and not being so particular about each stroke, but instead trying to harness a confidence that is starting to surge in my hand. With this has come these sort of precious moments on the canvas, which is what these works are about—adoring the present. For me that means adoring moments with my husband: cooking; listening to music; playing with our dog in our yellow room.