8 Questions with Lauren Pearce
If you think Lauren Pearce is having a moment—with a recent group show in New York and a solo show in London and another upcoming in Miami—then you haven’t been paying attention. I first became aware of her work at the Cleveland Flea in 2017. There the Florida transplant sold original works of art and prints infused with pop-inspired color and her trademark use of bold linework. Not long after that she began to paint murals around Cleveland, and her work also graced the windows of RTA’s Red Line as part of the INTER|URBAN Project. In 2019, her work was included in the group show seenUNseen at the Artists Archives, and she also had a powerful solo show of large-scale nudes at KINK Contemporary. But it was her solo exhibition in the apartment above Mahall’s in September of last year, deep in the depths of the pandemic, that showed the artist at her most confident. When the Color Heals the Rest was curated by Antwoine Washington, founder of the organization Museum of Creative Human Art (MOCHA). At MOCHA, the entire room pulsated with color and energy–Pearce’s large portraits were stunning—a riot of pattern and bold color expertly balanced with white space. In addition to their aesthetic beauty, her paintings also engage questions of identity, gender, and motherhood, and demonstrate her belief in the importance of making Black and Brown people feel seen and appreciated. As a Black woman working in the white-washed Cleveland art scene, Pearce knows first-hand the struggle of navigating an arts community that is deeply and profoundly flawed at a systematic level. She kindly took the time to candidly answer eight questions for this article.
Brittany Mariel Hudak: Could you talk a little bit about your subjects? Are they based on actual people you know?
Lauren Pearce: Depending on the series, they are either images of the people that are closest to me in my life or a compilation of images that I have seen across the internet. For the body of work that is titled Color Portrait Series, I used features from multiple different people and combined them together. It is my truest belief that within my community we are one but many.
BMH: What is it about portraiture that interests you?
LP: Hahah. It’s funny because growing up, portrait work was never my forte. It was never the thing I was good at, but I think it had more to do with where I was emotionally and less about my capabilities as an artist. I think there is a true vulnerability that comes with painting people whether they are real or made up. The human experience is incredibly fascinating to me, and painting the people within my community feels like my way of showcasing our complexities and vulnerabilities in a beautiful and true way. So often we have depictions of our pain, our struggle; and although with some of my work you can see that, within the eyes you can also see so much more at play. You can see our joy, our resilience, our uniqueness, our triumphs, our grace and fierceness for living life.
BMH: I know that the show Truth About Me, curated by Mashonda Tifrere in NYC, is closing soon. What was it like having your work included in this amazing exhibition?
LP: You know there are these moments in your life when you can actively see and say this was it, this was the moment that things shifted. Being a part of this show with so many other incredible artists filled me up creatively. It challenged me and made me feel like I was a part of something bigger. So often in the earlier parts of my career, I was told and believed that I needed to be competitive to make it. Even within the Black community the doorway to “make it” is narrow, or so that’s what we’ve been taught. Competition is born from supremacy and being in shows like Truth About Me, it almost erases all of that. It has introduced me to people that I now get to talk to, and we have already started sharing ideas and picking each other’s brains. I’m thankful for Mashonda, who curated this show and who has quickly become someone that I love and trust. This show put me out there in a way that I don’t even know if I was ready for, but I am embracing and feeling ample amounts of gratitude because of it.
BMH: How did your show in London at TAFETA come about? Have you shown work in London before?
LP: No! The show opens May 5 and will be my first international show. The gallerist Ayo (Adeyinka) reached out to me on social and then through email. I, for one, thought it was a joke until I did some digging and researched the gallery. It’s been a wonderful back and forth with Ayo and has also allowed me to bring forth a body of work that I had put to bed for some time. Lots of tears has been had the last few months, and I’m sure it will continue.
BMH: Could you talk a little bit about your blind contour drawings and the significance of that technique to your practice?
LP: The blind contour series started about three years ago and came to me after I had become a single mom and moved into my own space with my boys. I was thinking about the basics at the time. What were the things I was taught in my art classes in high school? What could I do that felt like no pressure and could help me to move and release everything I was feeling. There were two bodies of work that came about at that time, and the blind contour was one of them. For me creating this work was like letting go of an old version of myself and completely jumping out on faith and allowing my body and intuition to lead me.
BMH: As we are entering the second year of the pandemic, could you speak a bit about what it has been like being a mother and a working artist during this difficult time?
LP: It’s been hard. It’s been dreadfully and painfully hard. I was also in a new relationship trying to dig out the gunk of my past. Trying to heal and grow as a person, all while raising two people during this life-altering experience we were all facing. I think the hardest part was trying to help the kids cope. With Keegan being autistic he lost the routines he had, the services he had, and I lost the help. We saw some regression but also spikes in behavior that left us all emotionally and physically drained. Then to have my eldest start middle school virtually when, let’s face it, there is so much that happens in sixth grade. So many social firsts that we all experienced and helped us grow: he lost that. With the struggles though also came intense clarity for my life and the directions I wanted to go in. Yes, it was hard and I wouldn’t repeat it for anything, but also I can’t stand here, look back and not be grateful for my health and that of my person and children. Last year I grew and learned a great deal about myself as a person, artist, girlfriend, and mother.
BMH: We are also nearing the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and the May Uprisings. As a Black artist, I’m sure that you have noticed artistic institutions suddenly reckoning with their position and role in the Black Lives Matter Movement and the systems with which they do their business. Do you feel that some of these institutions are putting too much pressure on socially-engaged artists, particularly artists of color, to shoulder the load in this process?
LP: I don’t think this is the first time this is happening or the last. The burden of change and the necessary requirements for change have always fallen on the shoulders of Black and Brown people. There is this push for Black artists in the art world. We have taken space in areas where they were quietly handed to us. George Floyd’s life was taken, and because of the movements that followed there has definitely been this trend, whether genuine or not, to amplify Black artists within the institutions. Do I think there is too much pressure for it? Possibly, but I think we are so used to carrying this fight that, unfortunately, we know no other way but to continue to push, heal and move forward.
BMH: What do you think should be done to better position Black and Brown artists in the fabric of Cleveland’s art and culture community?
LP: I can’t answer that one for you because again its always on us Black and Brown folks to come up with the solution. Maybe we should be paid for answering these questions? The Cleveland art scene is lacking, and I mean tragically lacking, in self-awareness of how they commodify and represent their lack of Black artists. I’ve been in Cleveland for five years, and I only have been reached out to by galleries here in Cleveland in the last three months, since I experienced success in New York and locked a show In London. Talented Black artists have been here. They are doing the work on their own and for their own. The art scene here is an incredibly white and cliquey space. The only answer I can really give you is for these white art spaces to not make room for the Black artists you have never represented, but to share your wealth so that Black artists can make the spaces for themselves run by our own, on our own terms.
To see more of Lauren Pearce’s work, visit her website at ladynoeldesigns.com, or on Instagram @laurenpearce_designs.
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