Lauren Dugdale-Liebermann is a Brooklyn artist who makes the sort of paintings that you have a hard time explaining why you love.
People call them abstract, when there’s want for better words. Better words would be cathartic or cleansing. They spill a romance of impressionist color over abstract-expressionist attitudes. They bring back that feeling of discovering the 8-bit patterns hiding in your eyelids. Sometimes they leave the same dull ache. Sometimes they leave you tripping. Either way, they’re pure and exciting and honest.
Dan Fletcher: We’ve known each other a long time and we’ve never talked about painting.
Lauren Dugdale-Liebermann: Dude, I didn’t even know I liked painting.
It’s so funny because now I paint every day. I wake up around 5:30. I paint from 5:30 to 6:45 and then I get ready for my day. It’s become my therapy. I don’t go to the gym. It’s my personal, spiritual time to be with myself and make my apartment look like a piece of shit because paint gets everywhere. My husband is like, “Can you just take this out on the sidewalk?”
When I was little, like from age 6 to 12, I took art classes. I love art. I love photography. I love image. But I don’t really have discipline around it. And you know how easy it is when you work crazy hours, you just let those things fall by the wayside unless you have some sort of structure around it.
So I decided to take this painting class on the Upper West Side at a place called The Artist Studio. The painting class was called Painting Your Emotions. So I was like, “Oh, this is perfect.” So it started with me going to this class with people I didn’t know. You got a blank canvas that was super small and it was always like painting a bowl of fruit or some shit. I very quickly realized that I didn’t want to paint what I was looking at, I had things inside me that I wanted to get out just by putting colors on the canvas.
I wasn’t someone who was well versed in art, not 2 years ago. To be honest, I’d heard of Jackson Pollack but didn’t know about abstract expressionism. I didn’t know that there was this whole class of art that was all about the process of painting, and the movement behind it, and getting things out vs. reflecting what’s in the external world. So it was just this really weird, intuitive thing that I just really enjoyed.
And it’s funny, all of the paintings from that class, there’d be five of us standing up showing our work and it’d be like, a bowl of fruit done this way, a bowl of fruit done that way, and then mine would be black paint on a canvas with like a touch of pink. The class was like, “What the fuck is that?” I just didn’t play by the rules.
I did that class for a month and like anything you feel connected to and passionate about, I just started doing it at home. I was like, “This is something that I’ve loved doing once a week. I’m gonna go buy my own shit and I’m just gonna start painting. And it just became a habit, not because I was forcing myself to have that habit. It was just something that felt really, really great. It just felt natural from the start.
You called it a spiritual experience, what do you think it exorcises for you?
For me personally, I’m a very expressive person but in society there are all these rules and all these authority figures and all these things you have to abide by and respect and all that shit. I definitely err on the side of, “I need to do this. I need to do that. Or I need to be this or be that.” So for me, what I really love about painting is that it’s just free.
It’s just all that pent up shit that I just let get pent up, it gets that out… in a way that I’m not able to verbally communicate because I think my natural disposition is always to support other people and be energetic and I never want people to think I’m a downer or that I’m sucking the energy out of something.
Sometimes I get really exhausted doing that and I didn’t even really think about it until I started painting. I was like, “Wow, this is so energizing.” I feel like it fills me up. I’m able to shed this shit in a way that other people are able to unload shit on their friends. I’m just not good at doing that. So it really is like communication for me.
So how would you describe what you do to a child?
I would describe it as taking whatever colors you want and putting them wherever you want and being as messy as you want. Just having fun. I don’t know. Just splattering shit everywhere… but I wouldn’t say that to a kid.
What if the kid asked, “Why do you do it?”
Umm, because it’s fun. It really is because it’s fun. I wish I felt more profoundly about it but it just feels like freedom. It really feels like you can just talk to a canvas with your fuckin’ paint.
That’s actually refreshing. When a lot of people build a profound tale around their art, it’s bullshit.
I think natural is a great word to describe it. One of my least favorite things about going to museums is when you go and look at the different works and then there’s the whole fucking intellectualizing of it to the right like, “This artist meant to represent the juxtaposition of racial tension…”
Maybe there are 10% of people who consciously do that but a lot of times I think that stuff’s retrofitted and it’s just kinda bullshit. It was Pollack or someone that said that they paint things because he wants people to experience them like a sunset or a sunrise. They want things to just be experienced so people just have an emotional reaction, like you would with something that’s really beautiful or something that really moved you. You don’t need to think about it too much.
Obviously there are different types of art. Some people are really trying to make statements, but for me I’d be lying if I said I’m really trying to make a statement.
I appreciate your work and I appreciate the fact that you make it. It’s two-fold. So on that note, of doing it naturally and not making a statement, why do you put art out into the world?
God, you are like a really good interviewer. Your questions are very good.
Thanks. I’m going to put that in the article.
I thought it was going to be like, “So what is your favorite color to paint with?”
So do you use like… brushes?
How much do you use your hands?
So, I think that’s a really good question because I think it gets back to why we’re human beings, who live in communities, and are social creatures, and want to share. My core thing is that I like seeing other people happy and making them happy and sharing. Those are like my core values and I think creating art and sharing it with people taps into that.
It’s a way, because I can’t always express myself verbally, of me putting a piece of myself out there and looking for someone to come back and say, “Oh, that resonates with me.” Looking for that connection.
And people who don’t like it, that’s totally fair and totally fine, but maybe we just don’t connect in that way. It’s just another way of sharing myself and forming a bond with someone else who feels attached to it in some way.
It’s a hard question. Why do we, as humans, feel compelled to make things? I’m much more of a maker than an absorber. My husband doesn’t feel compelled every morning to make, he wants to absorb. He wants to know everything that’s going on in the universe. What compels him to be an absorber vs. someone who’s compelled to put shit out into the universe? I think it’s affirmation that there are people who care, who validate who you are and what you have to say. It’s like life affirming and shiz.
It’s hard to do. It’s super hard to do. As an artist, you never hear the impact of a lot of the things you throw out there.
You wonder why you’re doing it. There are a lot of emotions that swirl around creation, but the very fact that you get it out there is a reward. I think a lot of people hold those things inside because it’s scary to throw them out, but the act in itself is very liberating.
I think that’s totally true and I think it’s also a testament to the people who actually do feel attached to putting stuff out there, whatever that stuff is. For a school project, I’ve promised that I’m going to launch an Etsy store which I’ve backburnered like forever and ever and ever but it’s my final project now so I have to do it. I was talking about pricing and all this shit and I just care so much more about just getting it out there then making people pay for it. That says something about your motivation.
Because I do think there are people who think about art as business. They start there and they’re like, “How am I going to make a fortune off doing X, Y and Z.” And then they back into, “Okay, what am I going to put out there that’s going to make me a name.” You know, they care about celebrity. They care about money.
But for me, I could give a shit.
If it resonates with someone, if it makes someone happy, sure I’ll put it out there.
Also, my husband may kill me if I don’t get some of these canvases out of my house.
So what’s the fantasy?
My fantasy is process based. It’s to have a space where I can paint super freely because right now I feel confined by my Brooklyn apartment, where I have to lay sheets down to protect our apartment from getting funky.
For me, for whatever reason, scale really calls to me. I would love to do a piece that’s 50 feet by 50 feet. I would love to work on a piece for a long time. Part of my sadness is that I never want to let something be done. I always feel like there’s more to be done. I get really close to the end of a painting and I get real sad. Now it doesn’t get any more love and attention.
I would love to be able to have a longer relationship with one piece of art. But I would love to just keep painting. Total dream would be to somehow paint even more. I don’t know what that looks like or even is. But I get sad when I’m done painting for the morning. It’s refreshing and energizing but I never want to stop.
I think that’s when you know you really love something. When you get lost in time and an hour and a half fly by and then fuck, now I have to put on my work clothing and get into a different mode where I’m a little more buttoned up and that expressive side of me has to be a little more bottled up.
Lauren’s work is available for purchase at laurenliebermann.com.