Vancouver based artist Lauren Brevner is inspired by the rich culture of growing up with a mixed heritage. A self-taught artist, her mixed media compositions explore identity and self-acceptance, with stylistic elements of Japanese art and culture and reinventing the use of gold and silver leaf within her work. We’re excited to be showing Brevner’s latest body of work Menagerie in the Thinkspace Project room this month. In anticipation of the exhibition, our interview with Lauren Brevner explores her creative process, the foods she fell in love with in Osaka, New York, and her hometown along with the greatest lesson she learned from mentor Sin Nakayamal.
Join us for the opening of Menagerie Saturday, November 10th from 6 pm to 9 pm.
SH: What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work for Menagerie? What ideas or themes were you exploring?
LB: The term Menagerie is used to express my own experience as a female coming from a background of mixed heritage. I consider the portraits that I paint to be non-representational self-portraits. Each piece plays on the themes of captivity, assimilation, and seclusiveness, paired with visuals of exotic animals and patterns. I grew up with deep-rooted identity issues, the constant battle between seeking refuge within a racial group while still maintaining a true sense of self is something I think a lot of mixed race children battle. I wanted to represent these minorities as beautiful beings and portray them as strong, sensual and equal.
SH: Who are the models in your pieces? Do you search for a particular look or does the model inspire the piece?
LB: Sometimes the models are real people but mostly they are an amalgamation of many different characters, pictures, and acquaintances I’ve encountered. I do have a Pinterest page where I gather images that usually spark an idea but most of the time the painting doesn’t end up looking like the reference I originally began with.
SH: Can you tell us about your apprenticeship with Sin Nakayamal? How did you acquire the apprenticeship? What is the greatest lesson you gained from the experience?
LB: I met Sin through Osaka’s version of craigslist. At the time, I was looking for a job as a barista and I found an ad that was looking for an intern at a multi-purpose cafe and gallery space. After I got the job and began working alongside Sin, I pretty much became his assistant. I helped him put together art shows, prepare for exhibitions, and just straight up make coffee. Looking back on it, the experience I gained was invaluable. Although I wasn’t learning how to paint, I was learning how to think like a creative and how to live an entrepreneurial lifestyle. The biggest thing I learned from him is that if you want to learn how to do something, don’t hesitate, just put yourself out there and try.
SH: How do you approach developing a new body of work and capture ideas for pieces; do you have a sketchbook on hand or is it just a note to yourself in your phone?
LB: The very preliminary stages of a show are both writing and image collection, basically a mood board. Whenever I have a thought relevant to what I’m doing I will jot it down in my notes app in order to slowly build up my ideas. I also have a sketch folder on Procreate with all my preliminary thumbnail ideas for the show. It’s hard to say where the idea for a show really comes from since it’s usually something that builds over time, however, I usually have one image that leads the show. This time around the first piece I created was ‘Kurobani’ which embodies most of what I was trying to say and therefore became my title piece.
SH: What excites you about your work / creative process?
LB: Currently, I’m really excited to learn more about my heritage and my experience as a person of mixed ethnicity. I want to be able to translate this into my work and hopefully, other people will feel this connection. Most of my work thus far has been a journey leading up to this point so I am excited to delve deeper into my own experiences and see what comes from it.
SH: What frustrates you about your work / creative process?
LB: Sometimes I wish I could just paint, the mixed media portion structure to my work that I would like to distance myself from sometimes. On the flip side I think it gives my work a very distinctive style but I can see myself transitioning to a more traditional approach in the years to come.
SH: Is there a particular piece in this exhibition you feel really challenged you? If so, why and what makes you proud of this piece?
LB: The title piece Kurobani wasn’t necessarily the most challenging to paint but it was challenging to wrap my head around why I was painting it and what it meant to me. This is my first large portrait of a male, and more specifically the first portrait of someone with their back facing the viewer. I have always relied on the faces of my portraits to carry the emotional weight of whatever I was trying to convey in a piece so it was a challenge to create an emotive piece without showing his face. I’m very proud and happy with how this piece has turned out and I can see myself moving into a larger variety of compositions because of this in the near future. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to create something beautiful and different but also very meaningful to me.
SH: Who is an artist; musician, director, any art form – who would be a dream collaboration for you and what would you create?
LB: I would love the chance to collaborate with a fashion house specifically Gucci, Kenzo, Manish Aroura, Vivienne Westwood etc. A large majority of my inspiration comes from textiles and fashion culture so I would be very happy to see my work in conjunction with textiles or clothing design.
SH: What’s in your toolbox? AKA what paints, brushes, tools would we find in your studio? What do you wish was in your studio?
LB: SO MANY THINGS! Since I’m a mixed media artist you will find just about everything in my studio but my go-to materials are metal leaf, aqua size, brushes ( Windsor Newton for watercolor and anything that has a point for oil) Kroma paints if I’m using acrylics, a mixture of Windsor Newton, Holbein and Gamblin for oil, art resin, wooden panels, and sculpey, la doll and apoxie sculpt for sculpture. I miss sculpting and ceramics so I would love to install a kiln and an area for pottery in my studio!!
SH: After a show what do you do? Do you take a long break, vacation, a particular ritual? Tell us.
LB: I’m pretty exhausted after a show, and definitely the type that needs a break. This time I am traveling to Bali and Thailand for a month immediately after to get some serious R&R (although I will be painting a small mural out there!) My usual at home ritual is to switch mediums completely to fight off art block. It changes my perspective on my practice and gets me excited to create again (right now I’m playing around with quick gouache sketches for example)
SH: What is your favorite place to eat and what do you order in Osaka, New York, and Vancouver?
LB: I love to eat and try new restaurants so it’s always hard for me to pick one favorite. When I was in Osaka my host family always made delicious food but whatever Grandma was making was always my favorite. For New York, I would have to say this spot my brother took me to in midtown (though I can’t remember the name!) I love seafood and the grilled octopus salad there is to die for, pair that with their Lavender Grappa and you’re set!! In my hometown Vancouver one of my go-to’s is Guu the Japanese tapas style restaurant is a great place to grab a bite with friends. I usually order multiple items but don’t miss their daily feature as it never disappoints.