Taking Cues from the Cityscape

"I try to let my work lead me where it wants to go"

Lauren Braun, whose illustrations are featured in Creative Nonfiction #62, “Joy,” creates imaginary worlds, cityscapes, and interiors through drawing, painting, and collage. Her Patterns for Living series—featured in this issue—was inspired by Bauhaus design and mid-century modern art and architecture. She received her MFA from the Tufts School of the Museum of Fine Arts and a BFA in art photography from Syracuse University. Her work was been exhibited throughout the Northeast, and is held in both private and coporate collections. View her work at thelaurenbraun.com.

CNF: Can you describe your creative process? And once you’re done with a piece or series, what are your hopes for it?

Braun: I tend to respond to place in my work. I will get an idea and, as I work on it, I ultimately end up going off on artistic tangents and offshoots of the initial idea. I try to let my work lead me where it wants to go, instead of me dictating the final product. I think some of my most successful pieces have come out of this line of thinking. I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again, so I jump around between different projects that exercise different skill sets. Oddly, my drawing work is very structured and linear but I do not do much planning—maybe a few directional lines at the start. My process for drawings is very organic, which seems at odds with the structured nature of their appearance.

Once I finish some work, my hope is that it can be exhibited in a venue where there will be some context for understanding the body of work as a whole. And eventually, I hope my individual pieces can find loving homes.

CNF: What draws you to abstract art?

Braun: The work shown in CNF is called Patterns for Living and was inspired by Bauhaus design and mid-century modern art and architecture. I don’t necessarily think of myself as an abstract artist, although some of my work is made abstractly. I work in different styles, some more illustrative and some veering toward the abstract.

CNF: Who are some of your influences?

Braun: I admire many artists, but two of my faves are Andrea Zittel and Mark Bradford. I saw Andrea Zittel speak on two different occasions and have long been fascinated by her investigatory work into processes for living and utopian-style living stations. I’m drawn to the way Mark Bradford incorporates an aerial, topographical perspective in his work using materials he finds in his day-to-day life. Also, Art21’s PBS series, Art in the Twenty-First Century, is a great resource that I often revisit to learn about how individual artists approach their daily work and the questions they seek to answer through it.

CNF: How did you come to develop an interest in abstract art? Was your family encouraging?

Braun: Ever since I was a child I was interested in art and wanted to be an artist. Even as a kid, I didn’t want to take an art class where you made a project that someone else designed. I wanted a more self-directed experience of making my own work, one where I would come up with the idea and figure out how to execute it. Luckily, my Mom found an art school, Locust Street Art. But when I was there in the late eighties through the late nineties, it was called MollyOlga, named for the two women artists who ran the school. I started painting and drawing there, and later I worked in photography and dabbled in ceramics.

CNF: Our current issue is #62: Joy. What are some of your rules for finding your own joy?

Braun: I find my joy in living my life slowly, surrounding myself with positive, loving people, and focusing on experiences over things. I like having time to daydream, and that mental space enables me to create my work. I have a poster that hangs over my desk at home, and the first line says: That which matters the most should never give way to that which matters the least. I remind myself of that often.

CNF: On your website, you mention that some of your drawings and collages are based on memories you had growing up in Buffalo, NY. How has the Pittsburgh art scene helped shape your recent artwork? Do you still hold on to Buffalo for inspiration?

Braun: I take many cues from the cityscape and architecture of both Buffalo and Pittsburgh. There is some similarity between the architecture of the two, with many beautiful brick buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Lisa Bergant Koi and I currently have a two-person exhibit at Bar Marco’s Union Hall space, and I was heavily influenced by the building itself. Much of my work on display there incorporates the beautiful arched shape of the three front windows.

CNF: To you, what is the most challenging element in crafting a painting?

Braun: I recently started working with large Xerox transfers on wood panel, and that was a real challenge because it was a new material and a new technique for me. I got to a certain place with the piece I was working on and I couldn’t figure out how to finish it. It needed something else, but it took several work sessions and looking at the piece to figure out the final touches.

CNF: What are some other forms of art that attract you? Why?

Braun: I’ve always been interested in photography, especially photography that addresses constructed realities, as that is a subject that interests me in my own work. I’m also a fan of dance—ballet, modern, contemporary.

CNF: What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

Braun: Paper and a variety of pencils. Basic materials that help me visualize what I want to do.

CNF: What are you working on next?

Braun: I’m working on a new piece that will be a continuation of my Dream Spaces series. The series consists mostly of magazine collages whose subject matter is fantastical home interiors, but this new piece will be a painting on wood panel.

About the Author

Samantha Edwards

A San Francisco native, Samantha Edwards came to Pittsburgh to pursue her MFA in fiction and publishing from Chatham University. She previously worked as an intern at Creative Nonfiction and is now currently working as a freelance writer and photographer.

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