Schwendener, Martha, “Canvasing the Neighborhood at Sunday, Jen Bekman, Janos Gat, and Beyond,” The Village Voice, April 2009.
The gallery is pleased to announce From the Sheets, a solo show featuring new works by Lauren Luloff. Employing bed sheets, found textiles, and expressionistic brushwork, the artist combines a sense of rural domesticity with the artistic legacy of Abstract Expressionism.
Sometimes using bed sheets with personal significance, the artist embeds the works with aspects of her personal history and life experience: “I really like using the bits of patterns which have this nostalgic quality or act as signifiers of certain moments in someone’s history, or my own history. Certain patterns invoke this – like a stab of a memory – my brother’s sheets from 1985…I have sheets that my parents used to sleep in, and they’re divorced now…There’s a lot of pulling from my own history…”
Evoking Robert Rauschenberg’s “combines” and Helen Frankenthaler’s pours, the artist’s works oscillate between wall-based and free-standing paintings. Twisting and turning in their skewed stances and positions, the works confront you as you enter and loiter in your head when you leave. Consisting of fabrics pulled skin-tight over wooden frames, the histories of their respective creative processes are wholly revealed to the public through layers of paint, cut-outs, collage, and appendages.
“I have all these posts in the middle of my studio, so automatically the paintings are positioned in these weird hovering spaces. Without thinking about it they fall into arrangements, I walk around them, the sunlight makes them transparent glowing shields, and they do abstract each other. From each perspective you get a different view: you see this through this, then I start moving them more, and that’s really interesting to me…The back is just as important as the front. I like there to be a front and a back. I like the area that is ignored in the act of creating. And in ignoring it something beautiful happens.”
Lauren Luloff (b. 1980, Dover, NH) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She received a BFA from Pennsylvania State University and she is a MFA candidate at Bard College. She has been included in exhibitions at Rivington Arms, New York; Cinders Gallery, Brooklyn; and OK Mountain, Austin; among others. Her work has been discussed in NY Arts Magazine and Vellum.
Q&A with Lauren Luloff
By Keltie Ferris
Keltie Ferris: Do you think of yourself as an emotional painter…
Lauren Luloff: Yes.
Keltie Ferris: …mining your subconscious? Your paintings are earthy to me, kind of like shit and earth, decay.
Lauren Luloff: I’m into that. I like aging things, decay, things falling apart…
Keltie Ferris: It’s like the opposite of “bling”, maybe earth is the wrong word, like almost rural…
Lauren Luloff: I feel very connected to rural. I’m from the country more or less. Besides living in New York, everywhere I lived was close to nature.
Keltie Ferris: Then there’s like this burnt quality.
Lauren Luloff: I used to cut the sheets more. Before I stretched them I would fold them and cut them, then the paint would land on the cut parts and glob up and look like burnt sores – people then thought I burned them.
Keltie Ferris: Especially the shaped ones – [they] make me think of tents, or homes close to the earth, like townships in South Africa—though they were much more metallic. Your shaped work, especially, makes me think of people making their own homes
Lauren Luloff: I still feel really connected to that, it touches something deep within me to see handmade shelters and homes.
Keltie Ferris: Is that what you think about?
Lauren Luloff: I don’t think about that when I’m making my work but when I’m out in the world and I see those places I feel an intense engagement. I’m like hhuuuh, it hits something in my heart people creating their own houses. It’s such this essential stripped down part of our lives that we mostly don’t take part in, in America, in the middle class. We get houses that are already made, we make other things for ourselves. To make your own house is sensational.
Keltie Ferris: I don’t get a dogmatic sense of the domestic, but the bed sheets take me there. Do you feel tied to some domestic sense?
Lauren Luloff: Yeah, I really like using the bits of patterns which have this nostalgic quality or act as signifiers of certain moments in someone’s history, or my own history. Certain patterns invoke this – like a stab of a memory—my brother’s sheets from 1985, the primary colors with trucks
Keltie Ferris: Really? I didn’t know you used specific sheets in your art.
Lauren Luloff: Yeah, I’ve maxed out almost all of those from my childhood, but then I find them again in thrift stores. I have sheets that my parents used to sleep in, and they’re divorced now so it’s pretty intense to have those. There’s a lot of pulling from my own history with the sheets.
Keltie Ferris: I never knew that. Does it kill you to destroy them, because in a way they get destroyed?
Lauren Luloff: Yeah, I do feel that way sometimes, and if I have too much preciousness about a sheet, a lot of times that painting doesn’t work out. I don’t have that many more from my family, so I mostly get them from thrift stores. A lot of them still recall those associations. It’s a safer way for me to do that. But then, like in that one – all the stripes I put on myself. So I’ve been moving a little bit away from using so much patterned material. I’m making my own patterns, too.
Keltie Ferris: I love it. It’s actually my favorite part – the stripes.
Lauren Luloff: Thanks. I have a picture of it before I painted it and I actually kind of liked it more. But that’s something I’m always working with…how far can I go before it’s totally ruined.
Keltie Ferris: You really document your work well.
Lauren Luloff: Yeah, I’m crazy about documenting my process. It’s so much of what I’m interested in, what they look like in front of each other and around each other. What do you think?
Keltie Ferris: I prefer it now.
Lauren Luloff: Oh yes! I didn’t ruin it.
Keltie Ferris: It’s almost whitewashed.
This really goes back to Rauschenberg – his collages with pictures…
Lauren Luloff: But in the way that’s how I use the sheets.
Keltie Ferris: Exactly. The problem with some of early Rauschenberg is that they sometimes come off as precious. You see a chicken and then you find out his father was a chicken farmer. But then he just enlarged his scope a little and then the work wasn’t precious anymore. They’re incredibly earthy and of the world, of life- which i feel from your paintings as well, though it’s less pictoral, and more of material and paint, because you’re more of an Abstract Expressionist than he was.
Lauren Luloff: His work really changed my life, I was like hhhuuh! He was using everything, he’s the first person I saw using assemblage. I saw this documentary on him when I was 18. He was using everything, ladders and animals silkscreen. Then I saw Basquiat soon after. Those two artists blew my mind…and Helen Frankenthaler. If you combine the three of those three artists with Helen Frankenthaler and the pouring, the liquid, and Rauschenberg’s ladders, and Basquiat painting on everything, being poor – all of that was hope for me.
Keltie Ferris: These are all artists that start and just keep going. You’re a go-er you don’t show one idea at a time.
Lauren Luloff: My work is changing all the time – it just keeps changing, I’ve gone through so many phases but they always keep coming back…these cycling interests. Three dimensionality – because it abstracts the painting and starts to make the colors glitter like in impressionism, and by abstracting the painting with a three dimensional form you’re actually creating this glittering sense of light and dark and depth. That’s something I’ve been really interested in. Also I’ve enjoyed creating these structures. I was doing that years ago but in a very different way.
Keltie Ferris: Tell me more about the arranging of the paintings as a part of a painting story.
Lauren Luloff: I have all these posts in the middle of my studio, so automatically the paintings are positioned in these weird hovering spaces. Without thinking about it they fall into arrangements, I walk around them, the sunlight makes them transparent glowing shields, and they do abstract each other. From each perspective you get a different view: you see this through this, then I start moving them more, and that’s really interesting to me. There’s so much to play with and to investigate! Like this one – it is definitely meant to be seen from both sides. The back is just as important as the front. I like there to be a front and a back. I like the area that is ignored in the act of creating. And in ignoring it something beautiful happens. Especially with these transparent fabrics, it becomes something anyway, I don’t want to assert myself over every aspect of the piece. There has to be some chance.
Keltie Ferris: Do you see some kind of narrative from one to another?
Lauren Luloff: I don’t know…maybe i just think really symbolically. For one painting to block another, or to have a hole through which you see another – that means a lot to me. They become these characters, interacting…
I’m trying to be a better painter. See that little landscape section, there are these little moments. Sometimes I want to be like a masterful Modernist or Impressionist painter. There are these moments when I want to be a real painter.
Keltie Ferris: You’re totally a real painter.
You know what I mean? You like have these colors that sing off each other, with everything working together, like Monet.
Lauren Luloff: One thing I was thinking about in relationship to your work…you were showing me those sketches that you do, kind of like the skeletons of your work, the skeletons of the structure. I feel like that’s sort of what I’ve been doing with these frames. Also I’ve been collaging the fabric on before I start painting so it sets up a structural composition and that’s my skeleton. I was thinking about those in relation to your shape drawings.
Keltie Ferris: That makes perfect sense.
Lauren Luloff: Instead of starting from nothing, having a somewhat structured spaces.
Keltie Ferris: These shapes – do they have meaning to you?
Lauren Luloff: Yeah – that one, if I were to install it, I would have it further from the wall with the top tilting towards you, a slightly aggressive, domineering shape that would be coming down on top of you. Whereas others are more open…
Keltie Ferris: I see associations towards tents and Christo, and forts that children make. They seem really sexual…leaking and bed sheets.
Lauren Luloff: I see that more than the tent thing, even though that’s so much in the work that I don’t even think about it.
Keltie Ferris: I think canopies.
Lauren Luloff: Sometimes I think they look like there’s someone under the sheets.
Keltie Ferris: Or that someone was just there.
Lauren Luloff: This one was in my studio for a long time and I’d see it from the side and it would look like a person standing there.
Keltie Ferris: And occasionally they look like figures in raincoats because of that wind blown lacquered back look. But they definitely look like figures.
Lauren Luloff: Especially from the side as the painting starts to disappear and you see it’s silhouette.
Keltie Ferris: What about color. You seem to have these dark paintings and others look washed out?
Lauren Luloff: I made a lot of white paintings this year. Now I want the next few to be saturated in color and not so whited out.
Keltie Ferris: You don’t seem to choose bright colors. These are saturated but not bright. They’re dark. They’re dark and grey and maroon and greyed colors. Even that one that’s more dark it’s a little greyed out.
Lauren Luloff: Right now I’ve been teaching color mixing to 12 year olds and I’m always trying to get them to mix more interesting colors, so I’ve been really mixing my colors, putting lots of complimentary colors together. The ones from this summer are more bright and the colors aren’t really all that mixed, and with these I was trying to mix them more.
Keltie Ferris: What would cause a certain color palette to happen?
Lauren Luloff: The palette begins when I’m choosing the sheets, and that’s the first big move, I collage the sheets together for the background. There’s a lot of chance involved: what sheets I have, what sheets the thrift store has, I definitely choose the ones where the colors seem luscious or rare, or ones with patterns from a certain time periods. I start the painting with the sheets, and that determines a lot about the color.
Keltie Ferris: Some of the sheets are kind of older, so there’s this greyness. an oldness built into them.
Lauren Luloff: That’s true. I feel like then the rest of the actual painting is more emotional and subconscious…the passionate moment of painting…the music is on really loud and I’m feeling all my feelings and maybe crying.
Keltie Ferris: You cry when you paint?
Lauren Luloff: Yeah, sometimes, totally! Oh god. So much of my time is spent contemplating all the depths of my experience through painting, and sometimes that includes crying.
Keltie Ferris: That’s great that you can do your art while in that state.
Lauren Luloff: I feel like that’s a huge element of my work in general. At some point in most of my paintings there becomes this really emotional part where I spill my emotions and work through things, reconcile things I’ve done or felt, things I want… when I’m in that state I’m painting and not thinking. Splattering paint, spilling, searching, really Abstract Expressionist! The thing that’s really interesting that I’ve found since I was a teenager is that when I’m in that state and painting without thinking, the resulting image tells a story, often pretty specifically. You’ll see these definite characters doing things, or things are happening and it’s totally in line with what I was feeling. It all comes out. My work is abstract but there are figurative elements and if you spend time with them you start to see how the different parts combine and how they have relationships to each other. The elements become real things in a way, and start to tell a story. There’s something very religious about the fact that you don’t think about something, you scrub with your body feeling something, not thinking about it…you’re not drawing it, but it comes out anyway. Through your body. That to me is the best thing in the world.
Keltie Ferris: Do you title your work according to the emotions you felt while painting the work?
Lauren Luloff: I used to write in my paintings a lot, really emotional, like a diary, articulating specifically what I was experiencing, but then I thought I was saying too much. Now what I’ve been doing, when that sense of words comes through…usually just a phrase or two…is to write them on the sides of the paintings…as a poetic reference to what I’m experiencing. I don’t consider that the title of the painting, even though I kind of do, I wouldn’t call them that.
Keltie Ferris: I’ve always seen your paintings to have a Kandinsky-esque, landscape quality…especially in more of the flatter works. He was a symbolic painter as well. Everything had a precise meaning.
How important is it to you that other people see your paintings the way you see them…because you have such specific things you’re thinking about, or meaning to it?
Lauren Luloff: I don’t need them to. That’s what I see because I’m coming to it from my own context, but I’m also experiencing thousands of other things in the world that I’m putting into the paintings as well, that I may not be noticing. Someone else may be noticing those things. Together we make a larger story. I don’t feel like anyone needs to see what I see, however I do think that it’s possible. The things that I end up seeing are not so elusive. I think you have to spend some time with the painting, probably not even in a gallery setting. It needs to be more like this, where we’re just chilling, it’s on the wall, or it’s in your living room. I think that’s where the stories come out, when you can relax with them…when your not “looking” at the painting. It needs to be a more passive experience. Besides people have such incredible imaginations they often come up with something else altogether.