The potent emotional charge imbedded within an artwork by Lauren Marx comes from her wonderful ability and willingness to tap into her personal fount of vulnerability. Having always had a profound connection with animals and the natural world, Marx has been forever building and honing a visual language which utilises nature’s inherent symbolism and which has also allowed the development of her own unique symbology. Recent explorations have seen Marx push her subject matter into bold new territories, as via her flora and fauna, she works through and processes the difficulties she’s experienced within close family relationships, in tandem with her fears, as an agnostic, that life has no meaning. More than any other, this latter concern has driven the artist’s most recent series of work, via which she has taken the first intrepid steps towards creating her own mythology or ‘religion’; a belief system which Marx hopes will inspire purposefulness in the viewer, along with a more comfortable and optimistic outlook.
Lauren Marx is an American artist who was born in 1991 and is currently living and working in Saint Louis, Missouri. In 2014, Lauren graduated from Webster University having earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis on drawing. In her short career, Lauren has built up a seriously impressive CV, having had solo exhibitions at celebrated galleries, including, Corey Helford and Roq la Rue. She has also participated in numerous group shows at venues around the world.
WOW x WOW is exceptionally honoured to have recently had the opportunity to speak to Lauren about ‘Witnesses’, her recent exhibit at Corey Helford Gallery in LA, California. Lauren very graciously gave an incredibly candid and insightful interview and we hope that you enjoy learning more about this exciting young artist.
Hi Lauren, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to have this chat, we really appreciate it. Let’s kick off by talking about the work for your recent ‘Witnesses’ show at Corey Helford Gallery. In the press release it states that thematically the show centres around the beginning stages of creating your own ‘religion’. We’re absolutely intrigued and would love to hear more… what led to you exploring this concept and what kind of impact do you hope it inspires?
Being agnostic, I fear my life has no meaning. I am uncertain about the afterlife and obsessively anxious about the idea of my mortality. In finding some sort of unique belief system, each person makes themselves feel more comfortable with their place in the world. My ‘religion’ is, and always will be, completely fabricated for me. I want to give my myself a place to enter where I can explore my independent beliefs. I can build my own pretend afterlife, my own set rules where the events and people in my life have meaning and are more than just memories. I’m afraid of losing that, even though I never had it to begin with. Growing up, my family never attended church nor participated in anything religious beyond the basic annual holidays that were more about family than any sort of theology. I’ve always been fascinated and envious of how sure the religious followers were about their beliefs.
My personal belief system will allow for me to channel my view of the world more directly to paper. This is a concept I have been yearning to take on for a while, but I was unsure of how to begin. It is all just so overwhelming. But, I decided to give it a shot after my show ‘Flesh Blood Bone’ at Corey Helford in November of 2016. I saw, after that exhibition, a way to combine all of my previous concepts that revolved around creation, family, and nature into one overarching theme. There are still a lot of parts I need to figure out that may take years to come to fruition, so I don’t want to delve too much into the details. Especially since a lot of it will develop more fully in the near future. As for my thoughts towards an impact, I would hope it would lead people to create their own purposes in life and to encourage them to be more comfortable and optimistic. My personal happiness is my overall goal with this work, but anything audiences might gain from viewing my work is a bonus.
Many of the works feature golden insects, often creating a halo around the head of another creature, such as in the piece titled, ‘Cicada Saint’. Can you talk to us about the painting and the particular relevance of these insects and the symbolism they carry within the series?
Great question! The insects that you have mentioned are actually gold moths. Moths have always been an important part of my work and are even included in some of my earliest pieces. They are a ‘left over part’ of some of my earliest works where I used them as a symbol for elemental particles when my art was more centered around the concept of ‘The Stardust Theory’. In my current pieces, I saw the opportunity to tie my little winged elements to religious symbolism. The Stardust Theory is going to play into my exploration of my pseudo-religion and I plan on the halos playing a vital role themselves. I am using the moth halos much in the same way halos were used in Medieval and Renaissance artwork; to show divinity and elevated immortality. My animals donned with halos will have specific names and stories as I flesh out their individuality over time and the halos themselves will become more complex and unique to each ‘animal saint’.
Given the importance you place on the natural world and its symbolism within your subject matter, it would be great if you could give us some background and context about when and where your fascination with nature began. Are there any significant memories from your youth which stay with you?
There are many reasons I believe that I focused exclusively on fauna and flora in my artwork. I have been surrounded by animals my entire life. Growing up, I had a menagerie of pets including dogs, cats, rodents, birds, reptiles, insects and fish. In the mornings before school, when I was in elementary and middle school, I watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom like clockwork. Being in St. Louis also introduced me to the wonderful Saint Louis Zoo which introduced me to every type of critter I could’ve imagined. I still visit the zoo several times a year and it has become a huge part of my life. My favorite movie was even animal-centered: The Lion King. My life has always been filled with animals. It just made sense to bring that into my work. I never really had a desire to draw anything else. Animals are so pure and fascinating and there is just so much to work with and bounce off of.
Where does your focus lie when you’re painting?
It’s all about capturing a mood and trying to submerge myself fully into the emotion I am trying to express in each particular piece. Sometimes, while working, I will suddenly be hit with another idea for a piece and will become obsessive with the new concept when working on the current piece until I get a chance to write it down or sketch it out.
What gives you the impetus to sit down and pick up paint brush? Do you only work when you have an idea or a deadline to meet, or do you start working and let your images unfold in a more organic way? How does the creative process work for you?
Honestly, all of the above drag me to my chair and pen to paper. My creative process is all over the place. Some days an obsessive idea will overwhelm me to create it, other days deadlines play a large part of when and why I am working, every now and then the nagging of bills and guilt will pull me into working. Each piece begins, and finds inspiration, in its own unique way. Some pieces are sketched out fully, others are ‘sketched’ into a written list of requirements for the piece, and some are begun with just putting my pencil on the paper and letting it work itself out with no idea in mind. The piece I am currently working on has no plan behind it and began with just a line on the paper showing the compositional flow. It has now evolved into a large piece with vultures, moths, starlings, honey and branches. Who knows what it will look like when I am done.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community? Are these aspects of your existence that are important to your creativity?
I am currently living in the city of Saint Louis, Missouri in a quaint south city neighborhood called Tower Grove South. I’ve always lived in south city, so I love it because it feels so familiar and like home. I am near a bunch of local restaurants and coffee shops that are hidden around my older brick home that make for great working spots when I want to get out of the house which also serves as my studio. The art scene here is small and scattered, but it is very welcoming. I am a bit of a hermit, so I am not necessarily a part of the art community, but I love it nonetheless. Comfortability definitely helps me create, but I do not feel my setting affects my creativity. I’ve thrown around the idea of moving just outside of the city to a cabin on a large, wooded lot. That would be my ideal environment to produce work.
What would be the greatest compliment you could ever receive about your work?
For me, it would be someone liking a piece so much that they get it permanently tattooed onto their body. It shows that that specific person identified with an artwork of mine so much that they wanted to carry it with them forever. Seeing works of mine tattooed are always so exhilarating and surreal.
Can you tell us about some of the greatest breakthroughs you’ve experienced within your learning as an artist? Those moments that have opened up whole new creative avenues or that have led to you taking large leaps forward in your development?
There have been many breakthroughs with my art. The first time I was introduced to Walton Ford’s art lead to a great shift in my artwork. I learned that contemporary artists could exclusively draw animals and be respected and taken seriously. Once I saw his work, I stopped trying to push my work away from fauna, and instead embraced it. From Walton Ford, I discovered John James Audubon who Ford draws his style from. I fell in love with scientific illustrations because of Audubon and began to include that influence in my work today. I would have to say the largest breakthrough that I keep coming back to would be my ‘Northern Renaissance’ class I took during my first semester of my last year of college. The beautiful and symbolic Medieval and Renaissance Christian artworks have brought in the limited palettes, strange and flat compositions, and the idea of saints. I strongly believe that this class will continue to influence my future works and concepts.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you since you’ve become a professional artist?
I would have to say that they biggest challenge I’ve run into while being a professional artist has been being able to financially support myself while dedicating my time to my studio practice. The first few years were a bit hectic and quite the adjustment. Now it is a lot less stressful than it used to be, but it’s always a gamble.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one whose memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
For me, both hardship and inspiration go hand-in-hand. I’ve had many recent events happen over the past year that dragged down my ability to work and greatly affected my mental health, but I would have to say the largest contributor to my work has been my immediate family. My parents divorced very early into my childhood and moved three states apart. My father has been absent for most of my life and we have not spoken in many years for various reasons. I recently removed my sister from my life due to her mental illnesses and toxicity. Growing up with my sister created many of the anxiety and depression issues that I suffer from to this day. My mom is my only immediate family member that I still have a relationship with and even that wasn’t always so easy or warm. We have become close over the last decade or so. My fears of abandonment, my trust issues, and my mental illnesses are the main catalysts for all of my art. During my childhood, I turned to art to mentally escape.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
By far my choice would be Anselm Kiefer’s ‘Burning Rods’ that is in the Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection. It was the first piece that struck me growing up. I can’t exactly say why this piece had such an impact on me, but It shook my soul and I can’t help but be in awe of it every time I view it. I could spend an entire day in front of it and find some new detail in the painting that I never noticed before. I am completely obsessed with ‘Burning Rods’.
What’s next for Lauren Marx?
Oh! So many things! I have a few projects that will be local, national and international. I’m excited to have my work reach new audiences, as well as have a St. Louis show at Hoffman Lachance Contemporary, so that friends and family can attend. Work wise, I am going to continue fleshing out my religious concept into something more tangible. It will be a huge endeavor, but I look forward to exploring it fully and seeing where it goes. I am also hoping to take some time off from large shows in 2019 to focus on creating more massive, highly detailed artworks. The scale is still being figured out. Other than that, it is always up in the air! No telling what other exciting things might come up in the near future.