A Shared Narrative: Interview with Lauren Rinaldi
Lauren Rinaldi's work inhabits the space where objectification, female power and sexual empowerment intersect and blur. She uses oil paintings, mixed media drawings and sketches as her vehicles to explore ideas about intimacy, gaze, body-image, sexuality and self-Identity. She looks to the women in her life for inspiration and works to weave their experiences with her own to create a shared narrative. Through observing the nature of women seeking affirmation under the guise of anonymity online, she also is informed by the influence social media has on female identity and how detachment from the depictions of the reality of the self affects and reveals who women desire to be.
Lauren was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1983. She received her BFA in Painting from Tyler School of Art in 2006. She is represented by Paradigm Gallery + Studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and currently resides in Philadelphia with her husband and son.
Tell us about your background. Were you always interested in painting the female form?
I was born in Brooklyn, NY, spent my teenage years in Lancaster County, PA, moved to Philadelphia to attend college where I earned my BFA in painting from Tyler School of Art and have been a resident ever since. I am a full time artist, full time mother of a ten year old and two cats, wife, part time yoga teacher and what usually feels like a million other things.
I’ve absolutely always been interested in painting the female form. I think it came from me trying to make sense of how my own body has, in a way, defined who I am. Painting is my way of parsing out what it means for me to be a woman and thinking about the roles women play, the expectations, the currency of our bodies and our sex and how to both embrace and navigate the gift of womanhood.
Who are the women in your paintings and drawings? What is their story and how do you come up with the reference images.
The women are me. That’s not something I usually come outright and say, for a lot of reasons, but they are. They’re me and they’re not me and when they really aren’t me, they’re still me. My story isn’t unique or special, but in my work I get to direct it. I stand outside of the frame and inside of it, so there’s no hierarchy and I hold the power.
I usually take my own reference photos or I ask women to send me their own photos and the narrative tends to revolve around reflection, voyeurism and the fluidity of private and public moments. In college I would take my photos with a disposable camera and have them developed at Rite-Aid or CVS (which in and of itself was an… interesting experience), but smart phones have really changed my process. Often times I set my phone up and just record myself doing mundane things like showering or getting dressed and later I go through the videos taking hundreds of screen shots to work from those. Historically, women have been depicted inanimately, so I like to elicit my references from an activated body; it feels more sensual and real to me. So the story isn’t always a specific narrative, but more of a sizing up, looking, assessing and reassessing, peeking, revealing, concealing and evaluating oneself and where and how she fits into a broader context.
What do you hope to show the viewer about the female identity in today's culture?
The day before the Women’s March this past January, I shared work on social media and I was immediately suspended from Facebook and the image was removed from Instagram. So one of the signs I made to carry the next day read: My nipples violate your community standards. The fact that I, a cis white female, exist unapologetically in my body is controversial and offensive to some in the year 2018. Reactions like that occasionally fuel my work, because I think it’s worth exploring the boundary lines of what is deemed acceptable and what crosses over to vulgar or worthy of censorship. So like most artists, I just want the viewer to feel something, whether that is feeling is discomfort, pleasure, numbness, etc. when they look at the art I make and to question why it makes them respond that way and for them to think about what of themselves they brought to the experience that affects their interaction with the work.
Tell us about a typical day in the studio. How do you prioritize and balance your time?
On a typical day I wake up by 7am and drink about half of a pot of coffee while I answer emails, do bookkeeping things and make lists. Next I’ll either do some sketching to warm up, plan my next piece(s), I’ll prepare some surfaces or I’ll jump right into whatever painting I’m working on. I’ll spend the next few hours working while listening to too many political or murder mystery podcasts and continuing to drink my perpetually cold coffee that I keep reheating and forgetting about. I’m always working on multiple paintings so, depending on what deadlines I have coming up or what needs to dry or how I’m feeling, I’m able to jump around and I never really feel stuck because I have something else to work on. I work until the very last minute and then I run out of the house and pick my son up from school. If there’s time after I take care of general life things, homework, sports practice, dinner, etc. and before I teach yoga in the evenings, I might sneak back into my studio and work some more. As a mom it can be difficult to balance my time and my son and his needs always take top priority, but having to compartmentalize every hour of my day actually helps me to be more efficient in the studio. I know I have a certain time frame in which I absolutely have to be productive.
Name a few contemporary female artists that you look up to.
Ahh, there are so many! Lisa Yuskavage, Inka Essenhigh, Amy Sherald, Carolee Schneeman, Gina Beavers, Rose Freymuth-Frazier, Jenny Saville, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Ghada Amer to name just a few. My local artist friends I know in real life grinding every day and make great art are a huge inspiration, as well.
What do you feel artists need to do more of in order to raise awareness of today's cultural and political issues?
I would just encourage artists to be courageous and not shy away from addressing issues they feel strongly about. To me, art making is about creating an environment of empathy and, it turns out, empathy can be quite contentious and polarizing, which makes art inherently political. I believe art and politics by nature can’t be separated and that it’s our job as artists to process the world in which we live in a deliberate manner, cognizant of the context of our work and its pertinence to whatever current cultural issues we’re facing.
What are you currently working on and what's next for you?
Right now the majority of my studio time is being devoted to working on a new body of mostly oil paintings for my upcoming summer solo show at Paradigm Gallery + Studio here in Philadelphia. I’m excited about the paintings I’ve got in the works and I’m also looking forward to finishing them up and possibly working on an installation and a couple of fun experimental pieces I can’t stop thinking about.