Lauren Ari: Art as affirmation of the artist’s existence, Part I

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.
– Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer

Lauren at the entrance of her backyard garden.

Lauren at the entrance of her backyard garden.

I met mixed-media artist Lauren Ari, 46, at the Stockton Avenue Art Stroll in El Cerrito this past May. She was selling her framed paintings at the invitation of Jen Komaromi of Jenny K, who is a friend of hers and a fellow former preschool parent. Lauren and I hit it off, and although we had just met, a passerby in the store thought we had known each other for years. The relaxed conversation and easy laughter was largely attributable to Lauren’s honesty and energy. “I’m really honest – perhaps too honest – because my work is that way,” she told me in June, when I visited her at her home in Richmond, a welcoming place that is both an informal museum and sunny garden celebrating her colorful work.

When you look closely at Lauren’s paintings and sculptures, you feel as if you’ve gone – with her permission – into the recesses of her imaginative mind, where both light and dark co-exist. You also feel the frenetic energy that created it and the energy emanating, pulsing from her, which is infectious. “There’s something that’s faster than me, personally; I think I’m behind this energy that is moving me,” she said. “I trust something bigger than myself.” Indeed, Lauren added, “A lot of what I do is very intuitive; I don’t set out necessarily to do X, Y, and Z. Circumstances happen and I follow them.”

The sculpture All Is Love in her studio.

The sculpture “All Is Love” in her studio.

Following the winding path
Creativity was encouraged and ran in the family – her aunt was in ceramics and her uncle is a basket weaver. Her mother was also a creative type and reserved an area of Lauren’s bedroom for making art. She fondly remembers her grandmother’s coffee table books and paintings on the walls of her home, and as a child, Lauren pored over her grandmother’s books on Picasso, who inspired her. “”He spoke to me,” she recalled. By age 15, she was doing performance art with Racheal Rosenthal, called “Doing by Doing,” at the Women’s Building in downtown Los Angeles, where she grew up. She transferred out of public high school to attend a local art school. Although she labeled herself a “square peg,” in this creative environment in which all her teachers were artists she began to identify herself as an artist. “They exposed you to so much,” she said. “I really felt like I was learning for the first time.”

Lauren's flower pots in her garden.

Lauren’s flower pots in her garden.

At the age of 17, Lauren attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). The first year at RISD provides the foundation for all students, and although at the time she admitted that she was not ready to listen and just wanted to be left alone to create her art, Lauren said that she learned “most everything.” While she was at RISD, her parents divorced, which led her deeper into her art. “I was in my own space; art was healing for me,” she recalled. Adding to her burden was the familial pressure of how she would be able to make a living from her art, despite her family’s encouragement to pursue her passion. “I didn’t have enough strength in myself to have faith in what I was doing,” she said.

Tile painting in the garden.

Tile painting in the garden.

She dropped out of college after two years and returned home, enrolling in the local community college and then taking on a variety of odd jobs. Feeling the need to finish school, she moved to the Bay Area upon the advice of a good friend and got her BFA with High Distinction from the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC) (5212 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94618, 510.594.3600) and later attended the University of California at Davis, where she earned her MFA.

“Art was my voice and a way for me to ground myself into existence,” she said, reflecting on that difficult time in her life. Many years later, when she was teaching art to critically ill children at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital, one of her students, a young girl, did not want to leave her class to undergo a procedure. She kept putting her hand down on the paper, leaving imprints which reminded Lauren of prehistoric cave paintings. “It was like she was saying, ‘I’m here,'” she said. For years, much of Lauren’s work represented proof that she existed. The act of creating was her way of saying to the world: “I’m here.” Art was her vehicle for staying present. “It was a big moment for me to really see myself,” she said.

At home with her daughter Mirabai.

At home with her daughter Mirabai.

The Impact of motherhood on the artist
Lauren experienced another revelation when she gave birth to her daughter, Mirabai, in 2006. Until she became a mother, Lauren didn’t realize how consumed she was with making art. “I didn’t question it [my art] as much. It was who I was, what I did, and I just gave myself over to that,” she said. “It gave me my purpose; it gave me a place to be and to ground.” Whatever energy she had she shifted to raising her daughter. “Having a child later in life was a very humbling experience for me,” she said. During that time, she realized – in a “shockingly painful” way – how imbued she was in her desire to be constantly creating.

“I have a lot more spaciousness now,” she said. Instead of excusing herself to work in her studio, she allows herself the luxury of having long conversations with people. She engages in activities that she has never done before, and she and her poet husband, Daniel Ari, and daughter do a lot of dance and movement together as a family. Lauren has since slowed down with her work. “I’ve just become a lot more relaxed,” she said. Before her daughter’s birth, she had already accomplished many of the things she felt she needed to do as an artist, including having several of her pieces included in the Achenbach Collection of the De Young Museum (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118, 415.750.3600) and a two-person show at the Klaudia Marr Gallery, a well-known gallery in Santa Fe. “I succeeded in the outside world and those were all great things, but now I’m trying to figure out how to get back to my practice,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out what’s next.”

Lauren's sculptures in her studio.

Lauren’s sculptures in her studio.

Editor’s note: Lauren teaches art classes at her home studio on Thursdays, 7pm to 9pm, called Art Camp for Adults. Each session comprises four classes. Lauren suggests ideas and the group decides on the direction. The next session begins in September 2013. Lauren is also open to teach art classes one on one with artists who are experiencing creative blocks or those who want some coaching and need assistance in putting their portfolio together in order to apply to art high school or college. She also hosts art events out of her home twice a year. To see more of Lauren’s work and to contact her, go to her website

One of the many murals in Lauren's backyard. You might recognize her murals at Annie's Annuals in Richmond, CA.

One of the many murals in Lauren’s backyard. Her murals grace the walls of Annie’s Annuals Nursery in Richmond, CA.