Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?
I am an artist and professor currently based in Richmond, Virginia where I live with my husband and two children. I am originally from Atlanta, GA, but lived in Brooklyn, NY, Washington, DC, Detroit, MI and Athens, OH before settling in Richmond about six years ago.
Thinking back, it’s so hard to pinpoint a specific moment when I became an artist. From a very young age, I loved to draw and make things with my hands, so on some level art-making has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up seeing paintings that my mom had made and exploring various art books that my parents happened to have (my mom had a Hieronymus Bosch book that I vividly remember looking through a lot). I knew that I wanted to study art in undergrad, but I’m not sure I understood then what being an artist really was. That said, I think I really became an artist after grad school when I moved to Detroit with my then-boyfriend (now my husband). Detroit was where I committed to a studio practice outside of school, began my teaching career and began to widely exhibit my work.
What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?
I don’t think I realized it as a kid, but the house I grew up in had a lot of stuff. Not in a hoarding sense, but my parents just had tons of books, houseplants, paintings and drawings by various family members, photographs, newspaper clippings of recipes, and so on. I’m sure, on some level, this rich, yet sometimes chaotic, visual experience affected how I make art now and my general sense of “order” (and how I have a hard time letting go of things, even small, random scraps of paper)! Also, collage was a part of my life before it became a part of my art practice. As a teenager, I collaged my bedroom walls with magazine cutouts, postcards, drawings and ephemera, made collaged mix-tape covers and collaged in all of my journals. I didn’t see collage as art really. It was just something I did.
What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?
I have such a love for the merging of various materials, colors, textures, applications and marks. I built my practice around my need to incorporate these varied materials and practices and I like having the freedom to bring new and sometimes unusual materials into my work. This has stayed true from the beginning of my practice to now.
Around 2009-2010, I started making these really big works on paper combining magazine cutouts, acrylic and latex paint, spray paint, saw dust, spray glue, paper pulp, dirt and sand, cut paper, and so much more. These smaller fragments would come together to create a larger form, often reminiscent of Greco-Roman vases or invented landscapes. These works were definitely informed by my living and working in Detroit at the time and referenced the collapse of civilizations, the culture of obsolescence, renewal and rebirth, and man-made structures being reclaimed by nature.
I still combine seemingly unrelated materials, colors and textures, however, more often than not, the end result is more non-objective and the bits and pieces coalesce to form unstable shapes, patterns and networks. However, some more obvious representational imagery from the world around me is definitely creeping back into my work.
I am continuing to think about dichotomies that appear to be opposites, but are actually essential to the other (destruction/creation or order/chaos, for example). I am still exploring how smaller components can come together to form a cohesive whole and how this relates to the world around me. The abstractions that I am currently making still feel as if they are teetering on apocalypse.
Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?
In undergrad, the first artists I really fell in love with were Joan Mitchell, Philip Guston, Ed Clark. In my twenties, I worked at a gallery in Chelsea and became inspired by artists shown by the gallery like Romare Bearden and Faith Ringgold. Out of grad school I looked a lot at Wangechi Mutu, Mark Bradford, Judy Pfaff, Jessica Stockholder, Amanda Ross-Ho, Elliott Hundley, Rachel Harrison, Isa Genzken. I looked to—and still do—artists who combine abstraction with humor and absurdity, as well as abstract and figurative elements.
Due to the pandemic, I feel as if my current sources of inspirations are moving closer to home, especially as I haven’t seen art in person for so long now! I am always inspired by artist Brian Barr, who also happens to be my husband and collaborator. I love collaborating with him as we are able to be really ambitious and explore combing elements from our individual practices.
I am inspired by artists whose practice I’ve been able to learn more about on the current season of PBS’ Art21, specifically Phyliida Barlow, Guan Xiao and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. It was such a powerful season.
Recent art book acquisitions include Charlene von Heyl: Snake Eyes, Objects: USA 2020, Phyllida Barlow: Sculpture 1963-2105, ICA Boston’s Kevin Beasley, Sarah Cain: The Imaginary Architecture of Love, Meghan Brady’s Paper Paintings, Hilma af Klint: Visionary, Phaidon’s Kerry James Marshall. It’s not the same as seeing art in person, but all are inspirational!
Where do you find inspiration?
Right now, I am particularly inspired by my artist friends and colleagues around the world, many of whom are parenting, teaching, and/or working other jobs, while consistently making amazing work. Many of these artists have also been working to create social and creative networks during a time of heightened isolation. I am inspired by artists and artist-run organizations who are selling artwork via social media and making donations to support social causes or to purchase the work of other artists. My family has been trying to support a lot of artists this year by buying their work through these platforms.
Reading fiction is incredibly inspiring to me. My husband and I have been a part of a Zoom book club with our extended family and have read some great fiction, like Madeline Miller’s Circe, James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain, N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became. I recently watched HBO’s The Watchmen, which I loved and found so relevant. Re-watching VEEP helped me manage some of my election stress. This may have been more of a distraction than an inspiration, but helpful nonetheless!
Before the birth of my second child, I moved from a bigger, more industrial studio space to a home studio. I wasn’t sure how I would adjust to this change or how to manage balancing life and art-making, but it’s actually been pretty incredible. I love being able to jump into the studio for several hours during nap time (no commute!), to sit in the studio after my kids are asleep or other quick moments. I am looking forward to a post-pandemic world, when I can have more sustained time in the studio again, but I feel so lucky to have this space right now. My current studio is not particularly glamorous, but it has allowed me to be productive while having young kids.
My kids’ artwork is incredibly inspiring to me, as well. I love their fearlessness and raw creativity. We’ve been working on some collaborations over the past nine months.
Other sources of inspiration include quilts, macrame and other textiles, plants, astrology, digital code, dead languages, archeology, female archetypes, Pythagoras, historical and contemporary ceramics, list-making, and detritus.
Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?
In 2013, I started making works on paper that were both installative and dealt with the painting as an object as well as a surface. Specifically, works like The Light, where I painted the wall behind the painting and included cut and painted wooden fragments, Highway of Diamonds, a painting with curled, scroll-like edges, and Poor Pythagoras, that included sculptural, papier-mâché objects in the foreground of the painting on paper—all considerably informed my practice today. I often consider the front, the back and edges of the painting as viable work surface and important to the overall composition. I like how this plays around with hierarchies and the parts of the painting that are traditionally seen as more important. Although my recent work has been less overtly sculptural, the collaged scraps still function like a dimensional objects amid their abstract surroundings.
How did it begin? and how did it evolve?
Like a lot of occurrences in my studio, recognizing the sculptural possibilities of a painting on paper happened through making, not through planning. Paper torn from a large roll wants to curl. I noticed this and made a decision to incorporate the curl and the fold into my work. I have long been fixated on notions of time. When considering the curled paper, I was also intrigued by the reference to a scroll. The patterns and the grids within the paintings also allude to cuneiform, whereas the neon color plays in opposition to this, meshing together the ancient and the contemporary.
I am drawn to collage in general because it allows me to move components around before committing to a decision, and this play has led me to many of the decisions that I’ve made in my older work and in my current work today.
For a long time, much of my work didn’t feel complete in the studio. I needed a site of installation to pull the pieces together. Since about 2016, I have been invested in making work that can exist as an individual piece. Part of this is about logistics. As the parent of young kids, it is just more difficult to travel around the country to install work. But it has also be a new challenge for me to tackle in studio. It has forced me to step away from tactics that I previously relied on and to try new approaches.
What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?
Failure is rarely ever really failure. Honestly, the pieces that come the closest to being trashed but that I am somehow able to puzzle back together, are the most exciting, complicated and magical works to me. I learn from them. And, in the cases where a painting does ‘fail’, it can become really great scrap material to be repurposed.
What are you working on now?
I am finishing up work for SCRAP TIME, a solo show of my works on paper that will be at the Longwood Center for Visual Art (opening mid-January 2021). I am just about finished with the last large collage that will be included. Most of the works in the show have been made since the shut down in March 2020. The ‘scrap’ is the focus of the show. I am interested in how the lowly scrap can impart larger meanings when repurposed into new contexts. The title of the show also suggests how and when the work was made—a scrapping together of a studio practice during a pandemic, when I am also parenting, teaching, cooking, cleaning, etc., all in a very close quarters.
If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?
Guy Clark said something along the lines like “You can be an artist or you can be a star. Make your choice and do your best.” Good advice that still rings true today.
About the Artist
Based in Richmond, Virginia
Lauren Rice is a visual artist based in Richmond, VA. She has exhibited her work in solo, collaborative and group exhibitions at venues such as Cuchifritos Gallery and Project Space (NYC), Vox Populi (Philadelphia), Tiger Strikes Asteroid (NYC), Neon Heater (Findlay, OH), ICA Baltimore (Baltimore), The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (Virginia Beach), Transformer (Washington, DC) and Spring Break Art Show (NYC), among many others. Rice has been a Fellowship Artist at The Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA and an artist-in-residence at The Luminary in St. Louis, MO. Her work has been published in New American Paintings and Maake Magazine. She is an Associate Professor of Art at Longwood University.