You don’t often hear people say they’re grateful for brain surgery, but for Lauren Packard, this life-threatening experience served as inspiration to pursue her childhood passion of creating art. By day, she works as a New York City art teacher, and in her free time, she is a mixed-media artist in Brooklyn.
A member of the Minted Artist community since 2014, her painting “Lina y Challie” is featured in the August 2016 West Elm catalog. In this interview, the New York City artist and school teacher talks about the urge to create, encouraging her students’ individuality, and the celebration of gay marriage — the impetus for her prize-winning art print in the Minted X West Elm Challenge.
Lauren Packard’s painting “Lina y Challie” (shown above on the easel) is featured in the August 2016 West Elm catalog. Fellow winning art prints in the Minted X West Elm Art Challenge are featured clockwise from top left: “Aperature + Cellular” by Jennifer Morehead, “Malachite Reinterpreted” by Leslie M. Ward, and “Autumn” by Jennifer Morehead.
Minted: What’s the story behind “Lina y Challie”?
Lauren Packard: As a queer abstract artist, color, texture, and line are important parts of my work as are manifestations of memories and ideas. “Lina y Challie” was created as a celebration of gay marriage. Lina and Challie are two close friends, and this piece was made to celebrate their union. It’s both of them in a painting, integrating: two cultures, two styles, two personalities, two queers, a beautiful explosion of love. Staying strong and true to oneself can be a struggle, but Lina and Challie exemplify a union and also a commitment to individuality.
There is also a political element in this piece: gay rights and marriage equality. This was all happening at a time when gay marriage finally became legal in 2015. I think this work explores the movement, tension, balance, and celebration of all of that. Being able to find the personal and political and infuse it within a composition/design is significant and meaningful.
How long did it take you to create this piece, and what was your process?
I worked on this piece during the summer, when I was off from teaching. I was experimenting with a lot of bold lines. Then I added color. I put it away for a while because I wasn’t sure what my next move would be. I knew that strong black with the robin’s egg blue swipe of color needed some metallic. I had been using spraypaint a lot that summer, but it wasn’t until the fall that I finally came back to it. This was one of those times that it just all came together.
What was your experience like with the Minted X West Elm Challenge?
There is a constant search for unity, the way the colors and lines and shapes harmonize and disrupt one another is all part of finding this balance. The moment the paint touches the paper or canvas, it becomes a living piece with a push-pull between all of the elements. I work until it feels settled. I start each piece by rolling or brushing or squeezing paint, and from there I usually don’t pre-plan because I don’t like the results. Everything always changes. So, I start each piece by rolling, brushing, or squeezing paint, and then it’s a conversation really between all of the elements — color, texture, line, and space — and then finding unity, balance, contrast, movement and sometimes pattern and emphasis.
“Open Space” by Lauren Packard
How and when did you know that you were an artist?
I used to come home from elementary school and go to my desk in the corner of the living room, play my record player, and make art. My earliest memory of this is in first grade. From then on, it’s been a love affair.
After college, I drifted away from it a bit because of the demands of being a new teacher and the constraints of NYC apartment spaces. Then in February 2014, I unexpectedly had brain surgery to remove a large tumor. During recovery, word communication was difficult, and I suddenly had this urge to make art — I had to paint. I think for some reason that part of my brain felt more “alive” — it was my form of communication. Painting is what made sense at a time when a lot of things didn’t. I often struggled to find the time before, but now it was a form of communication and success, while most of my literal cognitive communication was still difficult. My surgery also put a lot of things in perspective for me, and I knew there would never be a perfect time to start making art again. If I wanted to make art, I just needed to do it, so I made it a priority. I was no longer inhibited or insecure as I was in my younger years. It was just something I needed to do for myself, by myself. In a lot of ways, I feel lucky for that brain surgery.
Do you have a particular approach or philosophy for teaching art to kids?
My teaching philosophy is to allow students the space and time to explore and create meaning within different mediums. Choice and individuality are such important qualities to manifest, support, encourage, strengthen, and incite within kids. The power of art in developing different ways of thinking and looking, relating to the world, using the hands and developing strong skills is so crucial for this world and our future. Being part of a school that not only gets that but is invested in sustaining and empowering kids through the arts is vital to me. I believe art is a necessary part of intellectual, social, and emotional learning, and its impact is so profound. I am continually inspired by my students and the space we share.
About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Community Content Manager, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, and NYLON. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.
Published August 31, 2016