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Cleveland Artist Spotlights
An enormous industrial window pours light into Lauren Herzak-Bauman’s Screw Factory studio, casting shadows over quiet white forms, molds, bagged clay, dusty white tables and chairs. The same alabaster color and translucence found in her installation work, is noticeable in her space. Though it’s her buoyancy that’s striking; asymmetrical hair, infectious laugh; she continuously pops the power button on the teapot (the old building causes the pot to short out before the water will boil). Her lively presence a curious contrast to the labor-intensive, contemplative porcelain installations she creates.
Lauren is a visual artist, creating large-scale, primarily ceramic installation, functional ceramic pieces and now exploring the realm of public art. She has begun unravelling the nuances of transitioning from site-specific installation into public work, finding audiences experience both of these types of art differently. She’s discovered there is a certain expectation for public art to supply uplifting experiences for residents who come into contact with it. “The challenge has been that my installation work comes from this dark place of loss and grief. How do I possibly spin my public art to meet that expectation?”
Her answer has been to tap into the concept of memory and nostalgia. “There’s a definite similar tie in this way,” she says, between her investigations in installation and public work. Provoking people to think about the neighborhood they’re in and accessing the history of an area becomes an integral part of devising proposals for public work.
Though she’s energized by this new immersion in public art, Lauren’s departure from the concepts she had been examining through her installation work has not been without some level of sadness. “It’s hard to let go. How do you move on from an 8-year history with this process?” This doesn’t necessarily represent the end of installation work for her, but likely a change in approach. She says the exposure to public work has been a wonderful segue as she moves forward; recognizing site-specific installation will always be her “heart work.”
Q. Describe briefly the work that you do.
A. I make large-scale installations that examine materiality and production in relation to my evolving relationship with death and loss. The physicality of the porcelain clay I use-its strength and fragility, pure whiteness, and translucency-becomes a metaphor for the human condition. Recently I made a shift towards producing public art. My public works focus on memory and nostalgia for a city or place, and how material and objects can reflect these urban and natural landscapes. I also produce a line of functional pottery. This functional work is informed by my contemporary art upbringing, taking influence from abstract geometric forms found in both urban and rural environments.
Q. How did you get introduced to your craft?
A. One of my earliest memories is visiting the studio of one of my parents' friends. He put me in a big smock, covered his studio in paper, and let me run loose with a bunch of paint. Later on, my mother opened a community art center in my hometown of Brecksville and I took classes as often as possible. I was always drawn to the tactile quality of clay and I was mesmerized by the potters wheel. I learned to throw before I could drive.
Q. Do you have any long-standing influences?
A. I grew up around people who valued and enjoyed their work. My grandfather, mom, and dad all owned their own businesses. I saw firsthand the joys and difficulties of being a business owner and surely took influence from them when I took the leap to being self-employed. My undergraduate mentor, John Balistreri taught me how to ride the wave of a good idea. He continues to push his work forward and I love seeing the unifying threads between old and new sculptures.
Q. Describe your idea of artistic success?
A. When I was starting out, I based my success on more conventional career milestones, such as landing a teaching job, getting published in a magazine, or getting a show at a certain gallery. My idea of success really changed when I moved back to Cleveland. Jobless, I had to create my own pursuits. I'm currently fully employed as an artist and partly employed as a teacher. As a result of this very full schedule, my current idea of artistic success is based on daily life balance. When I focus all my energy on one thing, everything else falls apart. A successful week is when I can be productive in every direction, while still finding time to take care of myself.
Q. What is your process for generating new ideas?
A. I spend a lot of time photographing my surroundings, be it in Cleveland or while traveling. I'm always looking, trying to learn something new from the visual cues in the landscape. Ideas don't often come when I'm looking for them. Taking pictures is my way of triggering my mind to be active and do some work. I also make lists and keep a sketchbook with me for when the idea strikes. There's a quote from Chuck Close I keep close at heart too: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Q. How do you feel your work affects your audience? (and/or) How do you want your work to affect your audience?
A. I want to create memorable and uplifting experiences for my audience. For a while I thought I could only achieve this by making large, immersive installations. A couple years ago, I sold a cup to a friend. She later shared a story about how this cup captured her attention for most of an afternoon, reminding her of the aurora borealis. I felt justified in pursuing sculptural and functional work, because I am able to achieve the same transformative experience for my viewer with both.
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