As both an artist and an educator Lauren Lake creates and empowers at the same time. Her work is influenced extensively by botany, garden architecture and agriculture capturing the fragility and beauty of the flora it encompasses. Lauren talks about her job as an art department chair, the students that she works with and what art means to her.
As someone who is both an artist and an educator how important is it to teach future generations the importance that art has as a medium of expression and as a documentation tool?
Art practice is a sustainable tool for expression, innovation and communication.
Many artists are visionaries — they create things that never existed before, just like great scientists, engineers, and writers. They embrace experimentation, as well as collaboration and working in teams. It is our responsibility as art educators to support students to find creative ways to approach the problems of our time, and art is a key component to those solutions.
You have mentioned that you work strives to inspire a feeling of ‘saudade’ which is rooted in Portuguese and Brazilian culture, do you have any personal connections with these places?
I have always loved the music of João Gilberto, specifically the 1959 album, “Chega de Saudade” where I was first introduced to the word. The word Saudade has no direct translation in English and therefore has the power to help shape eloquent thoughts about bittersweet emotions. Not limited to specific cultures, sadness and longing carry a substance that gives shapes to who and what we are- flawed and imperfect.
What is it about botany, garden architecture and agriculture, a recurring trend in your work that keeps you coming back for more?
In my work, I examine the surreality of the “garden,” which exists as both natural and artificial. Instilling contradictory symbolism in unfamiliar imagery, the garden itself is an ironic place that symbolises perfection and imperfection at the same time. I am particularly interested in the cultural constructs of gardens that must be seen in a broader sociological and political perspective, as well as the consideration of gardens as “neutral” or “pure,” devoid of political or professional interests. I regard the garden landscape as an analogy to drawing and to consciousness in that the garden is a locus of the human condition.
What does art mean to you?
Art is a purposeful investigation to create, discover or learn something new.
Have you noticed any trends amongst the art students that you deal with as an educator that are different from when you were a young artist?
Our students have a greater entrepreneurial (aka “can-do”) attitude. They ask themselves, “How can I use my methods, methodologies, and means of dissemination to make the world better or have an impact on the epic challenges of our times?”.
What historical artist’s journey would you love to be on and why?
I find myself inspired by the anonymous abstract Tantric paintings from Rajasthan discovered by the French poet Frank André Jamme on his journey to India in the 1980s. I would have loved to be with him when he discovered these devotional, meditative, sensual paintings on paper.
I found your series of images titled ‘Swath’ visually arresting, what inspired those?
My current studio investigation considers what author, journalist, activist, and professor Michael Pollen describes as “messy places where the human and the natural come together." My drawings borrow the grammar of botany, garden architecture, and agriculture to create artworks that inspire Saudade, a nostalgic longing to be near again to someone or something that has become distant or has been loved and then lost.
You’ve exhibited extensively as a professional artist, what in your opinion is the toughest part of showcasing your work?
For me, it’s finding a balance between my art practice and being a faculty member and art administrator.
Could you talk us through an average day in Lauren’s life?
My studio days are limited as an administrator. As an art department chair, I have half-jokingly described my job as “filling seats.” Not as some simplified or even crude metric, but as a starting point for effective arts administration in higher education. In that, I must be sure those “seats” are taught by excellent faculty, provided scholarships & awards, provided appropriate staff, facilities, equipment, and access surrounded by strong co-curricular programing, arts integration, all-the-while partnering with key strategic university offices. Each of those “seats” is also supported by strong relationships with community partners, engaged donors, and student engagement with our city. Thus, my day to day work life is working toward creating an environment that allows others to have a purposeful investigation into art practice and art history. Each day, I work to create “seats” that are safe (facilities), inspirational (curriculum, faculty & instruction), and sustainable (budget, fundraising & future planning).