Today we meet Brooklyn-based contemporary painter and collage artist, Lauren Matsumoto. Her work has been seen around the world from solo shows in NYC and Hong Kong to group shows in NYC, Vancouver, Tokyo, and at the US Embassy in Oman. Her interest in art began in her childhood, and through the time she spent with her grandfather (a bird breeder) she began to blend the worlds of art and ornithology into one.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
I’ve been drawing without stopping since childhood and studying painting with the intent of becoming a professional artist since I was 14 years old.
Tell me about when your interest in Ornithology began?
My grandfather was a bird breeder. Birds were all over his house and all of our relatives’ houses. The birds all had unique personalities. My bird was a cockatiel who liked to sit quietly on my shoulder while I did homework. Today, with what we now know about bird population decline, of course, I no longer support pet owners keeping birds. But I have a unique familiarity and understanding of birds based on growing up around them my entire life. Painting and studying them regularly is second nature to me- I include them in my work as the protagonists of each piece, as stand-ins for people. I do not include them in my work merely to follow trends, although they have come in and out as an art trend many times over the decades.
You paint with oils on both canvas and linen. Which texture do you prefer to paint on?
Mostly I work in oil on canvas and acrylic on paper. My collages on paper serve as sketches for the larger oil paintings on canvas. Occasionally, I also paint on Belgian linen, leaving it exposed after clear priming. The texture of linen is beautiful but challenging to work with, so I only use it for certain paintings. It has a wonderful color and natural quality.
How does the city around you inspire your work?
Cities are all inspiring, as they each have their own unique character and energy. Brooklyn is bustling and creative. I’m inspired by Brooklyn’s rich history- its historic buildings, grand parks, and diverse foods. My studio is right across the street from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a former industrial site that has been transformed into creative economy offices filled with makers and creators, as well as a destination for foodies. I live near a large, historic park full of birds migrating through. I can observe them from my windows as they pass overhead.
What is a typical day in the studio like?
Mornings are when I get the best light in the studio, so I always paint as early in the morning as possible after dropping my child off at school. I have to be protective of my painting time as it will easily vanish if I allow others’ needs to intrude on my day. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused unexpected school closures and other disruptions for many of us. But an ideal day would be an entire, uninterrupted morning painting in the studio, followed by lunch from one of the many coffee shops or ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood of Clinton Hill. I purposely do not keep a computer in my studio. If I need to answer emails, process images, or do other computer-based work, I always do that towards the end of the day at home. That way, technology does not intrude on the tactile energy of my studio practice. In the studio, I distill my time down to the bare essentials of me, my birds, my hands, my materials, and paint. Nothing else. No teaching, no demos, no vlogging or Instagram. Just painting.
Where do you source some of the photography, wallpaper clippings, film posters for your collages?
I hunt for these everywhere and anywhere. Before the pandemic, I used to travel all over New England with my family and wander through antique shops wherever I went – picking up old postcards, magazines, or other ephemera left behind by people. Now I buy them from estate sales or even on eBay as well.
At what point during the painting process do you decide which bird to feature in your work?
Usually, I select the birds about halfway through the process. After I layer materials and experiment with them as collages on paper, I do a lot of research to try a few birds in that scenario. Later, when I translate that collage to a large painting on canvas, sometimes I use the same bird or add in a few new ones. It’s an ongoing process of experimentation of give and take.
What was one of your favorite solo exhibitions or group exhibitions?
I enjoyed showing a few works at the Art on Paper fair at Pier 36 in Manhattan a couple of years ago. I’m not a huge fan of art fairs, but this one is lovely every time, with lots of interesting, affordable works on paper by underappreciated artists.
Tell me about the piece that you are working on right now.
I always work on multiple pieces at once. Right now I’m developing a small group of collage-inspired paintings on canvas that employ a technique I call faux collage. I use collages on paper as studies and later transform them into a larger painting on canvas. The paintings look like collages from afar but are not. Upon closer inspection, the viewer discovers they are simply made of paint. It enhances the discovery of the work, and the choice of vintage materials as inspiration evokes memories of eras past that we can learn from today.
You have pieces coming to the Shain Gallery. What have you enjoyed the most about working with Sybil and the Gallery Girls?
I’m so excited to be working with the Shain Gallery. Sybil and the girls not only have a sophisticated art sense but are lovely people as well! Plus, their remarkably enthusiastic and engaged art audience is what artists everywhere hope for. Art fans are the backbone of the art world- it is their very participation and enthusiasm in coming to shows, viewing art, talking or writing about art, collecting it, etc. that keeps artists going in their studios every day.