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Catching the Light an Interview with Lauren Krukowski by Tiffany Lange

Over the past four weeks in quarantine, internal time feels to be moving at a slower pace - taking away the noise of our busy day to day lives and allowing us time to reflect on our surroundings. As light and color fill our homes with the sun rising each day, Lauren Krukowski takes these mundane moments to create colorful two-dimensional paper and silk collages that reference transitional spaces in architecture.

Though Full Spectrum by Chris Heidman and Lauren Krukowski has been postponed due to COVID-19, we had the opportunity to interview Krukowski, a Brooklyn based artist, about her daily studio rituals, the process of collage, and how she’s finding comfort in making during this time of crisis. Interview by Tiffany Lange

Tiffany Lange: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become an artist?

Lauren Krukowski: Growing up, I loved to draw and create with whatever was around the house. My parents are both makers - my mom is always working on paper crafts and sewing projects and my dad enjoys carpentry, photography, and working on cars - they both encouraged and supported my brother and my creative interests from a young age. I have always loved drawing and painting, but didn’t always know if it was something I could do professionally. I actually went to university thinking I’d be a scientist, but decided to pursue an art degree after my first week of classes. Working as a TA at a summer program for the arts in Southern California before my final semester in school opened my eyes to many different paths a creative life can take outside of academia. The friendship and support of artists, faculty, and staff members in this summer program helped give me the confidence and conviction to continue pursuing a creative life, keep building my artistic community, and eventually move to New York in 2012.

T: Do you have any creative routines when getting to the studio?

L: My painting studio is in my apartment, so my studio days start similarly to most of my days - with a large cup of coffee while I set up my work space.

I tend to go through phases in the studio. Lately, I’ve been making hand-painted silk and paper collages. For these works, I spend a few weeks creating a palette of collage materials to work with by hand-painting silk and tissue-thin washi papers with acrylic paint. Once I have a palette of papers and silks to work with, I spend the next few weeks cutting shapes from the prepared materials and adhering them to paper or panel to make the final collage works. These consecutive phases of making are a necessity because of the limits of my small space, but also keep the work exciting - I’m eager to cut and paste when I finish making papers, and again excited to be mixing paint when I run out of papers.

I support my studio practice with a full-time day job managing a gallery in Manhattan. Before the temporary shutdown of non-essential businesses in New York I typically spent two hours a day on the subway commuting to work. For the last few years, I’ve used this time to make digital black and white drawings on my phone which have become the starting point for many of my recent paintings and works on paper. I make the initial drawings in black and white to allow for play and surprises to happen later while creating the collages in color. I often make more than one collage from a drawing to push the composition further, and learn more from each work.

T: What is your starting process of creating these painted collages?

L: My process usually starts with either black and white sharpie drawings or digital drawings from photographs. I collect photographs of mostly mundane moments that for one reason or another caught my attention or brought me pleasure or delight. Prior to my most recent series of works made for “Full Spectrum,” I had spent a few years working mostly from photos taken of my own domestic spaces. The latest series of collages all began from drawings of transitional spaces, or false transitional spaces in architecture - doorways, windows, or mirrors - outside of my home.

T: What keeps you motivated as an artist?

L: Making with my hands has always been a calming experience for me - whether it be the drawings I made as a kid, the collage works I made for “Full Spectrum,” or the elaborate meals I’ve been making in quarantine. I find great comfort in making, and it is a way I stay centered, process emotions, and learn more about my surroundings. I think this experience is similar to how certain people find pleasure in the routine of exercise or meditation to relieve stress and unwind from the day. Sometimes working in the studio can be frustrating and mundane, but there are always moments of euphoria in learning a new skill, or surprise when something works out in a way you couldn’t have planned. Exploring new-to-me printmaking processes over the last three years has expanded the way I think about my work and has kept me eager to learn more. All of these experiences keep me going.

T: Color seems to be very essential to your practice. Do you find you are drawn to a certain color palette? Or any colors you are using more often?

L: I spent nearly 3 years working entirely in black and white, and since returning to color in 2015 it has become a primary fascination for me in my work. I enjoy color mixing and often discover colors through research or play while mixing paint. I also take photographs to collect colors I see day-to-day - the vibrant lavender I use frequently is a tint of the eastern sky outside my window during sunset. Other colors come from fabrics, something I saw on the subway, or the way light hits a particular landscape or building.

Working in collage has changed the way I use color. Hand-painting my materials is a time consuming process. When I begin to run out of my go-to colors I often try to make due with what is left before making more. This process of “making due” has led me down different pathways of color combinations that I’m not sure I would have explored in painting where I can always mix up whatever is color needed in the moment. My palette of papers usually starts with half colors I used frequently in my last project and half new colors I haven’t tried yet.

In my latest work I used a variety of highly saturated primary colors in addition to the pastels that I’ve used in previous series. Pale lavender, light blue, and an electric yellow-green are usually the colors I run out of first.

T: How does light play a role in your work? Are you colors referenced more from natural or artificial light?

L: In these latest works, I have been thinking a lot about how light affects our brain’s understanding of color, as well as how the interactions of color within an abstract image can create light sources and space. Although the colors I often use come from my own day-to-day experiences, the combinations and palettes used within the work are all imagined and do not usually correlate to the light source or color in the original photographic imagery. I often make more than one work from a single drawing, and play with the palette in each subsequent work to create different lighting scenarios and/or space within each work.

The imagined light sources within the work are especially visible in the works “Untitled 03C” and “Untitled 03B.” In “Untitled 03C” we are standing in a dark room depicted with shades of blue and black looking into a room flooded with a blinding artificial yellow light. In “Untitled 03B” we’re either standing in a softly lit room with artificial yellow light looking into a room bright with early afternoon light or standing in a room flooded with golden hour light looking into a room lit with artificial blue light. Some of the light sources in the work, such as those in “Untitled 06A,” are a bit more nonsensical and based in play.

T: Any influential painters/artists that are important to you right now?

L: Shortly before I returned to using color in my work 2015 I saw Chris Ofili’s solo exhibition Night and Day at the New Museum. Seeing his “Blue Rider” series of twilight paintings painted with only the deepest jewel-tone shades of blue, green and red completely rewired my brain and opened new pathways to think about color. Around the same time I also became really interested in Milton Avery’s pairings of vibrant, radiant colors with dim or muted tones. I think a lot about the experience of seeing Chris Ofili’s work for the first time when contemplating color, and also have spent a lot of time studying Milton Avery’s color combinations.

Seeing Maureen Gallace’s solo exhibition “On a Clear Day” at MoMA PS1 in 2017 was also very influential and something I think about often in relation to making my own work. I continue to be blown away by her small scale quiet landscapes that teeter into abstraction as you spend time looking at them. My collage process is directly informed by chine-collé, a printmaking process I was inspired to learn in 2018 after seeing how Chakaia Booker uses it in her ongoing print collaboration with Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop. Her use of cut and adhered layers of printed papers to create abstract compositions inspired me to return to collage and hand-paint my own papers.

T: How are you doing/coping during all of this?

L: I have been self-isolating at home in Brooklyn with my boyfriend for the past 5 weeks. We are very lucky to be safe and healthy and able to stay home. The weather has been mild, so we have been enjoying the sunshine on our stoop, going for socially-isolated walks around our neighborhood when we can, and watching our fire escape garden begin to grow which have all helped us cope.

T: What do you think the role of artists is during the current COVID 19 crisis?

L: I don’t think that there is any one particular role for artists during the COVID 19 crisis. Every artist, and person, is subjected to their own unique situations and traumas during this crisis, and every person also has their own strengths and ways that they can help. Some artists I know have responded to the crisis by sharing their work as printed posters in ICU break rooms, and sewing masks for hospital staff and essential workers. Artist Kirsten Flaherty is organizing an online fundraiser to support artists and purchase personal protective equipment for hospital staff in New York City - the fundraiser goes live on her website April 29th at 7pm EST, you can learn more on her Instagram page @kirstenflaherty

Lauren Krukowski lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been recently included in group exhibitions at the International Print Center, New York and Trestle Gallery. In 2016 she was awarded a Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship Residency at Anderson Center at Tower View in Red Wing, Minnesota. This summer she will participate in the Guttenberg Arts Space and Time Artist Residency in Guttenberg, New Jersey. Krukowski holds a B.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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