Paper Tiger: Lauren Seiden & The Art of Crumpling.
While artist Lauren Seiden’s monochromatic sculptures start out as airy sheafs of paper, hers is no zen, delicate practice: “I begin by wrapping [the paper], as you would a canvas, moving my body back to front, pulling and pushing it with my arms and fist. This is where the process becomes physical,” says the artist, who often completes this labor-intensive process in a Tyvek hazmat suit to keep graphite dust from seeping into pores. “The larger the work, the more my body is used to create the form and composition.”
The transformative tug-of-war parallels the backdrop that sits outside Seiden’s Greenpoint studio, the constant commotion and frenzied electricity that’s long defined the city itself. “That energy is one thing that I’ve never found in other places where I’ve lived,” notes the New York born and bred artist. “I think you almost need it in order to maintain a rigorous studio practice.” We caught up with Seiden, as she busily readies a series for Brazil’s ArtRio and headlines in our Here & Now: New York sale, an auction that serves as a snapshot of the city’s stimulating studio scene.
Paddle8: Where does your fascination with paper come from?
LS: It’s a very luscious surface; it’s always felt incredibly energizing and visceral to be [working] with graphite or pencil or charcoal. After school, I painted, and I realized that whatever I was trying to convey wasn’t transferring on the canvas. So, I started drawing with pencil, just going deeper and deeper in the grain of the paper, and playing with different surfaces. The fascination really comes from the fact that it seems like a limitless exploration. There are so many varieties. There are so many different surfaces, textures—cold press, hot press. And the more I experimented with different types of paper, the more I realized you could completely transform it.
P8: Using graphite means that all of your works are essentially black and white. Is that a conscious decision? Do you think you’ll segue into color?
LS: I really love using graphite. There are tints of color in certain pieces, but I only use color if it expands upon what the graphite is doing to the paper. I love color, but for me, it’s just not what my work is about. If I felt it would add to the ideas that I’m trying to put forth, then I would, absolutely.
P8: Can you expand a bit on these ideas? Appearing incredibly dense but created from ephemeral materials, your works have a subtle trompe l’oeil effect: Did you set out to create a false realities or is it more an exploration of and conversation between textures?
I think my fascination with transformation is what guided me in this direction. It was not my goal to mislead or deceive the senses…but in exploring these elemental materials (of paper and graphite), my process encouraged a desire to test the conventions of drawing; breaking down the surface and transforming the paper into a physical, textural and structural form.
This painterly application of graphite further expands upon the notion of drawing as painting and painting as sculpture. Pieces with a metallic, armor-like appearance also contain moments of breakage. The act of folding paper strengthens its structure while weakening the surface, allowing for necessary manipulation of the material in order to maintain stability. These dualities of strength and fragility are encapsulated within a process that, like the work itself, strikes a balance between the internal and external. It is this beautiful juxtaposition that I find myself so drawn to, and that I seek to explore, expand upon and convey with my work.
P8: Would you say the works are more sculpture than drawings?
A bit of both. Although drawing is investigated through traditional materials, these works conceptually maximize the use of graphite by showing the physical properties of actions left on the paper. These sculptural forms present a manipulation of materials which transform these materials into objects.
P8: What’s the most important tool in your studio?
Well, graphite and paper are the obvious. But the most important tool is probably confidence and/or courage. At the risk of sounding corny, those are truly the essential tools for making successful work.
P8: Your practice is such a study of textures and materials; what artists (from any era) are you continually fascinated by with their texture/material innovations?
Richard Serra is the first that comes to mind… he is simply a master artist and I find myself awe-struck every time I view his work. I’m sure I am forgetting a bunch, but others would be, Dorothea Rockburne for her innovation with paper and simplicity. Eva Hesse for her sensibility with materials. Robert Longo for his ownership of all things charcoal and the ability to transform that medium into anything he so desires. And Louise Bourgeois is a constant inspiration.
P8: As an artist living in New York City, what are some of the obstacles you face?
LS: Expenses, obviously. Studio rents and space —that’s a cliché answer, but it’s the truth. The space that you can afford really plays into what work you can make. I recently moved studios, but the work I made in my old studio was very small. My sense of scale was really off.
P8: Do you have a favorite New York museum?
LS: Probably the Guggenheim. I think a lot of the presentations are really thought-out and risky. They utilize the entire space, which is such phenomenal architecture.
P8: What is it about the city that keeps you here?
LS: You can’t be lazy. You’re surrounded by the best, and it feels good to play within that world. I feel like as a younger artist, it’s important to be present, be around it, let it inform you, and see what you can put back.
Lauren Seiden’s work is featured in our Here & Now: New York sale, a unique auction that serves as a snapshot of the city’s studio scene, spotlighting artists still in the early chapters of their career.