Studio Visit with Lauren Michelle Peterson
June, 2019, Anderson Ranch, Colorado
Conversation between Lauren Michelle Peterson and Amy Boone-McCreesh
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Glen Burnie, MD. It was just a little, middle class neighborhood next to a Peach Orchard. When I was around ten, we moved to Chestertown, MD. At the time, it was very remote and we were one of the few houses in our neighborhood. The local farmers had just started selling off plots and so, our house basically backed up onto a soybean field and then it became a horse field. The area is mostly open fields, very flat. I began photographing clouds and would collage them all over my bedroom ceiling and walls — my first serious art piece I suppose.
How long have you been in your current studio?
I’ve been at the Ranch for a little over a year; I moved here March 2018 and have had a studio sporadically throughout the past year. I’ve been in this studio for about two weeks. I’m excited to have this space even though it’s a little smaller than what I had in the painting building. It was interesting to have to move my studio here because I had to get rid of a lot of stuff–I had a huge studio in Atlanta. I had to pick and choose what to bring because I couldn’t afford a U-Haul for all of it, especially when most of it is trash. I think a lot of my work is just about moving stuff around. I learn something every time I had to move my studio and I think it has had significant influence on my practice and how I think about my materials. That said, I’m excited to have the continuity of a more permanent space now.
Your role as studio coordinator at Anderson Ranch and being so immersed in a creative environment regularly must have an effect on your own studio practice – how do you manage this and navigate your own work?
It’s very different from before I moved here and was adjuncting alongside other part-time jobs. I otherwise haven’t worked a 9 – 5 job since probably right after undergrad ten years ago when I worked for a temp agency. I hate schedules, so adjusting to a 9 – 5 I always feel a little claustrophobic, but I’ve been treating it like a residency. That means my social life has suffered, but there are so many workshops and events going on here throughout the year that I get to talk to people about art constantly. I’ve figured out ways to work for an hour and a half in the morning, and I’ll eat lunch in my studio, even if I don’t make anything, just being around the work in progress and looking at it helps. At night I’m usually just totally done by 5, so I’ll go home–and I’ve been doing a lot of drawing since I moved here because it’s manageable in my apartment and I’ve found it as a way to decompress.
I was interested in how moving here was going to affect my work just because this is a totally different area–it’s very rural and more sanitary than my previous residences of Atlanta and Baltimore. Atlanta had discarded stuff readily available for me to collect my materials from. Being at the Ranch has definitely changed my work a lot. The residents are great and they’re practicing artists who you can have sophisticated conversations with. Then in the summer during our workshops it’s really cool to see a range of people from hobbyists to professionals making things. It’s very fulfilling to interact with the volume of artists that come through and watch the instructors teach, learn what prompts. During each workshop I always want to try to medium that they’re working in.
What do you feel your work is about? What you do you get from the work VS. what you think or hope viewers experience?
I think it’s about materials. I hope that viewers come away with a sense of seeing everyday objects in a different way, at the very simplest. Looking at the work from afar, seeing just the texture, form, and color, then coming closer and finding some recognizable object. I experience the work in a totally different way. I am very aware of how my body is in relation to the materials, wrestling, stretching, tugging, bending them and that’s kind of what it comes down to for me.
This relationship started with printmaking. I was really interested in woodcutting because of the physical nature of the carving. I did printmaking in undergrad, my goal was to also do it in grad school, but I’m so glad I didn’t. I ended up working in my studio more than the print shop, the work started coming off the wall, and I’ve found making objects much more fulfilling than making images.
Can you talk about your relationship to color and materials?
I use colors only out of the tube and found colors. I have allowed myself, over the past year to two years, to change the colors of the found objects I use. I’m doing a lot more painting on the objects and allowing myself to curate what goes into a sculpture a lot more. The bright colors–I just love how they are attractive, but repulsive at the same time. I don’t feel like I’ve reached a point of the aggressive repulsion I’m looking for yet. I feel like it’s still inviting and people still say it’s pretty.
It doesn’t come across as trash anymore. I had this studio visit with Liz Ferrill where she said I’m trashing decoration, so I have this punk rock vision in my mind. I think you get isolated in your own studio and so I tend to build things up and then break things apart or trash things and then rebuild them.
There’s definitely a dialogue between my drawings and sculptures. I think the drawings have helped me approach the sculptural work in a different way. I also started wondering why I was treating them as drawings? I can start weaving through them. I can start integrating them with the work.
There’s no wrong choice, there’s just the risk of making the choice. Somebody asked me recently how I know when something is done, and I said I guess it’s never done. I had already kind of established that in my practice, but forgot about it. There’s pressure to put something on your website or finish work in order to apply to something, and I feel like that can be really tricky for me.
Is there anything you’re listening to, looking at, etc. right now? Has moving to CO changed your view on the country?
I listen to a lot of true crime and politics podcasts. I read a lot of fiction and admittedly my art looking recently is curated by what comes up on Instagram. I just finished Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, but I’m pretty much up for any kind of fiction. Being at the Ranch can feel isolating, especially during the summer. The Ranch is a utopian kind of place where people come to make art and take reprieve from the outside world, but as someone who is here full-time if something serious is going on, it’s very strange–like the twilight zone. Last year when Trump called off the Iran deal I had an out of body experience, the world is about to end, but returning to the Ranch for lunch the whole thing seemed so far away and as if I wouldn’t be affected by it.
Do you have any projects, shows, etc coming up or anything you’d like to promote?
I don’t have any shows coming up, but I was commissioned to make the awards for the Ranch’s Recognition Dinner. This year the Ranch will honor Nick Cave as an international artist, which is pretty awesome. I’m excited and I think he might do a performance while he is here. They will award a service to the arts and then this year we are also honoring Doug Casebear who is the Director of Ceramics. He’s been here for 35 years, so has contributed significantly to grow our programming. I am making a series of three soft sculptures covered in material printed with digitally altered versions of my drawings. It’s been a fun process that forced me to do things outside of my normal practice like sketching out the sculptures ahead of time and digitally cutting up and rearranging my drawings.