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Questions & Artists: Karla Lauden

by Kendra Bulgrin, James May Gallery

The latest exhibit at James May Gallery is Tension in the Ordinary, which includes the work of mixed-media artist Karla Lauden, who creates artwork that explores piecing together new realities from found materials. Her most recent work deals with surviving a life-threatening disease, so the images convey the ideas of trauma, mortality, PTSD and living with a new body.

Lauden lives in Menasha, Wisconsin, with her husband, and she is a high school art teacher in the Appleton Area School District.

Her work will be on view at James May Gallery, 219 State St. in Algoma, through April 11. The gallery is open Thursday – Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm.

What are you currently working on?

My work, of most recent, pertains to what I like to call the “sublime-banal.” Painting and drawing images from the past few years: a set of sponges, lint, my husband’s broken-down sneakers, a person floating in a pool, a gin bottle, Grandma Sam’s charm bracelet, Paulie sleeping, self-portrait with shingles. Quiet items that are heavy-handed; images loaded with trauma, PTSD and suffering.

How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

Failure is my muse. I wouldn’t be anywhere without failure in my life or work. Frequently, I use failed art pieces, unintentional drips/marks, as part of the work; it informs it in an another way that I would have never planned. My favorite failure was the ramifications of not taking care of my health, which changed my life forever. After surviving a life-threatening autoimmune disease, I have become a different person. My health, outlook, body, mindset and art have completely transformed in a completely unexpected and beautiful way. I would never trade this gorgeous failure for anything.

If you could have any painter, living or dead, paint your portrait, who would it be and why?

Eva Hesse. I would have loved to have met her since I feel that we have a lot in common. She suffered from anxiety and self-doubt as an artist, and sadly, her amazing career ended way too early because of her health. She was so on top of her game when she got her diagnosis. Her cerebral, organic, intuitive, dark and mysterious nature of her work has always gotten under my skin. She was ahead of her time.

What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Could you share an image?

Pictures of my Dad when he was a little kid, a metal horseshoe, metal filing cabinets that I got for an amazing score, my mother’s paper houses from the ’40s, display of my old paint palettes, a print of a fishing village in Norway that I got thrifting, an MCM rocking chair and table (that I found thrifting, too), my beautiful studio with 18-foot-tall tack wall and views of the river, and my broken-down paintbrushes. 

When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired, what do you do?

First, I don’t go into the studio. I’ve always had a good gauge to know when it’s time to spend making or not doing. When in graduate school, I was ill advised by one of my professors, who said I should be in the studio every day in order to be a serious artist, and that never resonated with me. I can’t force myself to make art. I have to be inspired. 

So taking a break from the practice doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention. When filling the creative well, I’ll garden, talk to my plants or my cats (Dots and Blu), hang with hubby, go for a walk, thrift or rearrange furniture. I always call myself an archaeologist during this time: I’m recording, taking notes and documenting ideas away from making marks. I call it my “archaeological dig.” 

Who or what influences your work?

Life, in a nutshell. The past two years have been about documenting my brush with death.  

What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

Believe in yourself. Be patient. Don’t worry what other people think (or the small things in life), and, most importantly, do work for yourself first because the number of shows you get into doesn’t mean you are necessarily the greatest artist that ever lived.  

In the last five years, what new belief or habit has most improved your life or studio practice? 

That I am worthy. 

This Q&A comes from a blog post on jamesmaygallery.com. Find the complete Q&A there. 

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