Lauren Luloff

by Kendra Jayne Patrick

For as long as she can remember, Lauren Luloff has been trying to make a good, beautiful painting, and by many accounts she has succeeded. New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith reported being “knocked out” by a recent one at her Show Room show earlier this year; upon learning that I recently sat down with Luloff, Gallerist Editor Andrew Russeth remarked that she was “fantastic…a real artist,” he called her. In large part, the praise for Luloff’s work focuses on the paintings’ idiosyncratic beauty; her quirky materials, put together thoughtfully and carefully, combine into art work full of subtle yet unflinching intricacies that expose Luloff as an adept craftsman. On this, the occasion of her second solo outing with Halsey McKay, I’d like to broaden the critical discussion of Luloff’s work to include an analysis of the design and operation of her practice. Previously, critics have analyzed its various attributes and the outcomes it yields in such painstaking detail, that I think, at this juncture, a valuable critical contribution should be an examination of the aggregate of Luloff’s creative choices.

Lauren Luloff. Image from

Reviewing the way that Luloff has explored domesticity — arguably her portfolio’s seminal concept — provides useful insight into the way that she commands in tandem the various aspects of her practice. The regularly occurring motif fascinates the patient artist, and she has spent years surveying its contours. During our lively conversation in her rather dreamy Bushwick studio, Luloff says, “the idea of the domestic has always been important, has always been a huge focus for me…the idea of a peaceful home or a disturbed home… I feel like, in one way or another, I make a lot of home environments.” In its fundamental-most, literal-most iteration, domesticity is imbued into Luloff’s practice by way of the swaths of used bed sheets included in every piece; they conjure for the audience thoughts of sensation, of sex and skin and comfort, and, perhaps most significantly to Luloff, life lived. Also, she uses bleach to draw the pictures of flora or men or teapots into those sheets, that act conjuring thoughts of home cleaning and scents, and maybe more broadly, home organization.

Lauren Luloff. Image from

Her work also indicates that she understands the idea as a multidimensional one, and casually yet decisively explores its varying moods. Taking it into its more folkloric dimensions, for example, she spent months living in India learning the ancient technique of block printing. This not only resulted in the incorporation of the practice into her work (significant because pattern has always functioned as both a visual outcome and an operational device, here) but also, in subtle patches of Islamic-patterned cloth showing up in recent pieces. Morphing into nostalgia, domesticity looks like the sailboats bleached into current works, reminiscent of the New England summers of her childhood. And, in its most sober and practical manifestation, the concept looked like the exploration of intense relationship dynamics, present throughout her moody, heavily colored 2013 work. It is the patient, careful employ of material and skill around the concept that allows her to so thoroughly saturate work with the idea without the results feeling heavy handed. Luloff’s craftsmanship then, extends beyond the ability to put together something well, and into one wherein she demonstrates time and again after show and another the ability to exhaust an idea without exhausting her audience.

Lauren Luloff. Image from

Still, what might be most appealing about Luloff’s fascination with the subject is her apparent genuine intrigue. Even the attention fixated on her process and materials seem to acknowledge this fact. Consensus of opinion on her use of bed sheets, for example, seems to be that they are unique without feeling gaudy or contrived. And it is that fact — that they are genuinely odd – that leads me to think that earnestness might be an essential part of her practice. I do not bring this up to sentimentalize any part of what Luloff does; unbridled, wear-it-on-your-chest passion is a notable quality in an art market saturated with ironic “joke” paintings, or absences of depth and authenticity masquerading as dedication to formalism. Luloff, conversely, has been working with bed sheets for fifteen years now; with bleach for four. This long standing commitment to mastering her materials pushes the work toward truth in a way that only earnest devotion can.

A dedicated practitioner of art, Lauren Luloff makes work by means of an exceptionally dynamic practice. Those wispy, delicate, fantastical paintings with their determined painterly directives and goals are well deserving of their consistent commendation.

She will be showing at Halsey McKay gallery June 28 – July 14, 2014.

\\Notes & Finer Points\\

I don’t mean to disparage other reviews of Luloff’s work in the way that I speak about them here. Their similarity in substance is pertinent to this piece and discussion because the effect that had on my pre-interview impression of her was essential to the direction and depth of our conversation. So much of the information I read detailed what she worked with, how she worked with it, and why, that I was unsure of what I could ask her that might be illuminating for me and genuinely interesting to her. So, I decided to simply bring this information to her, hoping to have a meaningful discussion about what the peculiar pattern might say about her work. To this, she knowingly replied:

“I feel like sometimes my obscure materials overly fascinate [people]. And that becomes a problem where they’re not actually reading the painting anymore. To me, I’ve been exposed to Rauschenberg or Basquiat since I was really young; I’ve known you can use anything and do anything that you want. That doesn’t seem like anything new or interesting. Yes, we have a responsibility to be interesting with our materials, but that’s a given. The materials are a given. I want them to be a given. Look at what it’s made from and how that informs the piece, but look at what it makes. Look at what is made.”

“What is made” is a bit of what I touched on in my analysis. Luloff is very clearly invested in developing a masterful painterly skill set, but she is just as invested in presenting her ideas of truth and beauty to the world. Although her paintings mean or speak to different things at different times, the overall goal of visual and emotional affect is just as important as their intellectual underpinnings.

We also had a fantastic conversation about feminism. The overarching themes to which Luloff is drawn  — the home, craft, tradition, and nurturing — are notable not only because of the clever way that she has chosen to explore them, but also because she is a woman associating herself with those themes in two thousand and fourteen. In a post-feminist (striving towards post-gender) art climate, women of a particular age, social status, and education have developed an anxiety-riddled relationship with the stereotypically feminine. (At one point, Luloff rhetorically posed the conversation’s fundamental question, “Am I [all women similarly situated, really] doing something wrong if I can fit this into the ‘girl’ slot?”) As a result, the choice to incorporate into our identities the domestic, the emotional, the traditional, the nurturing in a non-ironic way can be a much-belabored one; a decision of existential importance about how to define our woman-selves in a way that is at once authentic and progressive. Luloff takes a refreshingly collected approach to this, saying, “I become irritated by the idea that ‘this belongs to men and this other thing belongs to women,’ and if I fit into the girl slot, I’m doing something wrong. In a way, I’ve decided to just make the art I want.”

Now, this is not to say that Luloff hasn’t ever dealt with that particular sort of female anxiety; she recalled a time period wherein she considered sewing together the materials she used in her larger hanging pieces. Although her decision to continue on using glue instead was a practical one – sewing could tack on countless hours to her already somewhat lengthy process — she admitted to being concerned with too closely associating her work with the stereotypically, even reductively, feminine. It’s a relevant, interesting idea to discuss with female artists, and Luloff was as engaging as could be on the topic.


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One Response to Lauren Luloff

  1. Though I have seen Luloff’s work only as ‘virtual’ reality through pictures and your words, being a woman, an artist and, uh, long-lived, the first thing that struck me was the picture of the paintings hanging on lines. That image immediately called up the olden days of hanging out the wash (only far more beautiful) immediately overlayed with the memory of Christo’s Running Wall in California. When I first heard about the Christo project I scoffed and ranted about the direction art was taking. Then I experienced it, and had to try to find words to tell others what it felt like, as well as what it looked like. From that I learned that the only way to know something is to experience it.

    I appreciate your effort to pull together your experience of the work as well as the words to describe what you think she’s doing. From my own experience, words are words and paint is paint, and the only reality is the paint. It comes off the end of a brush or a knife or a hand or a mind — but when it comes without words or explanations or interpretations, that’s when a painting life is reality.

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