Hustle Chat with Lauren Orscheln
Lauren Orscheln is a Brooklyn-based painter working in a variety of mediums and sizes. We had the chance to sit down and talk to Lauren about learning to respect your own process, finding an authentic voice in your work, and the value of direct communication in every conversation.
LH: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
LO: I'm a painter that reads as much as possible and loves a good podcast. I think that's part of why I love New York. Because I don't have to drive, my commute is my daily decompression: getting immersed for half an hour in another world; be it fictional or political; New York or Tokyo. It's this and that I can spend no more than an hour on the train and wind up in front of the best art in the world.
LH: What is your hustle?
LO: Painting. Right now I'm working on a new body of work that I'm hoping to talk to a few galleries about after I complete another painting. Although that can be a bit of a mysterious process, hopefully enough pestering will make it happen. I also hustle my watercolor cards at Homecoming in Greenpoint. They're little watercolor paintings masquerading as greeting cards, and a way to get some utilities paid as much as they are a way to keep my hand moving and my colors interesting.
LH: Where are you from?
LO: I am from Columbia, Missouri.
LH: How long have you been painting?
LO: Seven years. Eight years?
LH: Do you do figure work, gravitate more towards abstract, or do you enjoy both?
LO: I’ve always done figure work. Not every single piece, but most of the time. I like to experiment with other things. It takes a little while to figure out a new space once you make the shift from painting those huge pieces I was making to something a bit more reasonable for painting in an apartment. Doing abstract stuff and playing with colour, layering, it really helps to figure out a smaller space, a smaller board.
LH: It seems that you have been exploring the current political situation in your paintings, and I was wondering if you’ve noticed how it has been reflected in your work, if at all.
LO: I’m playing with it. The last time I saw you was maybe a month before the election, and it was a bright shiny day outside, and we walked around, and we talked about how there was no way he would become president. That day, the day after the election, I remember thinking about this conversation that we had. Alongside a lot of other people, artists, it kind of spurred people right into action, it seemed like it, and I think it’s kept up steam pretty well. I just couldn’t think of anything else, I couldn’t paint anything else besides this anger: anger at myself, anger at a lot of other people, at my family, at Missouri. Seeing what forms that could take on. I’ve never been a political painter before.
LH: You made a post about it recently on Instagram, comparing your work before it found politics and after.
LO: I’m trying not to be phony or fake about it. I’m trying to make sure that it comes from a really personal place and that I am not projecting. Something that really helped was I’d gone to the Women’s March, and then I went to the Battery Park March, and the people that I went with kind of dissipated after the rally happened. I was marching by myself and yelling and holding up my sign. I feel like that gave me a sense of solidarity but also my own social responsibility on a personal level. I found my voice in that moment. I’m not a loud person, I was surprised that I could get into that mentality, the crowd mindset. I think what did it was I saw this woman, right as we started marching past Battery Park, she was up on a windowsill, next to someone who was leading the chant. She was in a hijab, and she was crying. After that, I felt speechless, and I didn’t want to say anything, just yell.
LH: How would you describe your painting to someone who’s never seen it?
LO: My work is about process. My work has always been about process. It’s about the time that I spend with the piece, that’s how I want it to be read. You can see the effort and the concentration, and in the end, I want people to see the layers of the painting. Buying paint is something you have to do - from the moment you go to the art supply store and pick out your materials, that is part of the process too. The colours that I choose, learning, as I did. A year or so ago my friend and I were going to make dresses - I would make the fabric, and she would make dresses. So we bought fabric, and I got maybe three colours, I thought I’d save money. But no, I couldn’t do it. I cannot just work with three colours and a piece of fabric. I couldn’t do anything, I felt totally paralyzed by a lack of options and a lack of autonomy. I couldn’t mix my own colours and come up with a palette, I only had certain hues, and they were primary colours, very stark and amateur-feeling. I got more colours after and I was fine, but for that first week I thought that I could only paint on a flat surface and not on fabric. And it wasn’t that - painting is translatable - but you have to respect your own process. My love and respect of colour is one of the things I am really stubborn about.
LH: Do you feel that going to art school was necessary? How do you think it influenced you?
LO: Art school is not necessary. I appreciate it, and I’m glad that I went because of how it has shaped my life and how it will continue to shape my thinking about my own work and the work that I look at, and how I think about imagery. In my first class, my first professor, Steve DeFrank, would not let you use the word “like” when you were doing a critique, or talking about any kind of work - you could not preface anything by saying “I like this but..” or “I like this, and” - you had to go right into the meat of whatever you were trying to say. That really puts one on the spot because you are forced to immediately start thinking, you don’t have that “um” or “so” moment, which is what “I like it” is. And it also means you can’t blank or coddle someone, you immediately tell them what’s up, and how something is for you, and it’s easy to forget that because of old habits of language. It’s so simple, but it’s one of the most important things I learned in school. It applies not only to art, but also to any conversation about anything - being honest.
LH: And it is hard, that direct communication because it’s still not something that you know how to do, it’s something you learn because that’s not how people talk to each other in society often.
LO: Women especially are expected to model their language and to not be direct. That is why it is so easy to fall back into.
LH: There’s a fear, I feel, that being direct means being rude, but there is a way of being direct without, hopefully, hurting anyone’s feelings.
LO: It’s also not your job as a woman to take care of everyone’s feelings all the time, and it’s so hard to remember that.
LH: What does “lady hustle” mean to you?
LO: My womanhood comes into play a lot as I'm painting as it is the lens through which I view the world and therefore how I make my work. I love women; painting them, being around them, and am constantly inspired by the work of my fellow lady painters. Rather than just working with myself as the subject or object of a painting, I want to use people who are doing something to make a difference, and who have been trying to make a difference, for whatever specific thing they might be working on. Maria de Los Angeles, she is a painter, a part of the dreamers, and she makes work about herself and her lineage, as well as that of other people, and she makes these dresses that are exquisite, amazing paintings. She’s also an activist, and she deserves the term “lady hustle” applied to her, 100%. That’s what I think of. Women, who against sometimes unfathomable difficulties, are accomplishing incredible things. As a woman, from the viewpoint and the lens of a woman and a lady, but not necessarily acting ladylike as it is still expected in so many ways, that’s what it means to me.
LH: Do you have any advice you would like to give to fellow lady hustlers out there?
LO: Try to keep focused on your own work instead of comparing yourself to others and where they are in life/with their own hustles. All that isn't important. What's important is that at the end of each day you feel good about how much effort you put into your passion.
LH: What is the biggest challenge in regards to being a painter, and also working a day job?
LO: It’s really hard sometimes. I see other people working and I compare myself to them, and sometimes, in my internal comparison, I come out and I think that I am a better painter, And then I realize that it doesn’t matter what my work is. It matters to me, and it matters to my work, and to my growth as a painter. There’s so much more that goes into hanging up work in a gallery setting. Going to art school does not give you a ticket into the art world, I totally feel like an outsider. Last Thursday I was working on this painting, and I’d been invited to a party that I was planning on going to even though I would’ve been so uncomfortable. And then I hit a groove with this painting, and I was so frustrated with it before. I know that my career might benefit in some ways, but what if then this painting suffers? It’s so hard to figure out what the right balance is, how much to put yourself and how much to take care of yourself and how much to change. That’s the most difficult part about being in New York and being a painter, beyond a number of hours I have to work to be able to then go home and go paint, I feel unnatural at an art party, and that doesn’t drive well with the New York art scene.
LH: So then, how and why do you still paint, in spite of all those hardships?
LO: In spite of all the reasons why I should not paint… What else would I do? How could I not? This is it.