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Painting of a baby with a flower headdress flanked by the silhouette of an angel figure and topiary bush and set in a field of flowers. One of the flowers says "WILL I EVER SEE U AGAIN?"

In Conversation with Artist Lauren McIntosh

Lauren McIntosh is an American visual artist who lives in Berkeley, California. She is known primarily for large gouache figurative paintings as well as printmaking, calligraphy and graphic and product design. She is also a co-owner of Tail of the Yak in Berkeley, California. She studied art at the University of California at Berkeley. We're pleased to host her show, Roze Roos, at our Berkeley store this December.

Female artist with long white hair in a floral blouse who is looking into the camera.

Tell us a bit about your training as an artist and what led you to pursue a creative path.

Well first, I was born into a family of artists. Not my parents exactly, although my mother was creative in her way and my family had many art books in the house that I was very fascinated with. For hours on end I studied photos of Goya and Bosch paintings in these books when I was a tiny girl. My Grandmother and I drew together every afternoon and I had private drawing and painting lessons plus classical piano lessons. My older cousins are successful artists and I admired them greatly and spent time with them when they were in the country. There was never any question that I was an artist. When it was time to go to college I went to UC Berkeley and studied Art there. I studied with Joan Brown, Robert Colescott, Elmer Bischoff, Sylvia Lark and Harold Paris.


Your paintings have a kind of fantastical feeling to them. They are playful and decorative, but they also can have a kind of temperate austerity at times. A kind of restraint. Is that tension intentional on your part and what does it mean to you? 

Yes it is completely intentional. Sometimes people do not understand my paintings which are the most austere because they are so used to my paintings being, as you say, decorative and fantastical. In this new body of work I have a bit of both going on. The rose paintings are new. They are like studies in form and color as well as meditations. In fact almost all of my art is a form of meditation. To put it simply, I try to put myself into the deepest state of thought that I can when I start to paint. Then I try to stay in that state while I am painting. I don’t plan my paintings out before I start like some painters do. I don’t know what is going to happen but there is always a jumping off place of course. I sometimes like what happens but often it is a struggle and a painting can take a very very long time to figure out. 

Painting of two multicolored roses

Many people also know you as the co-owner of Tail of the Yak, a small and beautiful shop here in Berkeley, partly known for its special collection of antique jewelry, but also for the influence of your art direction, which makes the store feel like being in another world. Has owning the shop influenced your career as an artist? 

Hmmm well this is a tricky question. The truth is that the shop has probably been a hindrance. I've always wanted to paint full time which I have been unable to do as long as I made a commitment to the shop. The shop does obviously fulfill a creative side of me in that creating displays and the environment there and doing the graphic design for the shop is definitely an artistic endeavor.  In spite of the aforementioned hindrance, I paint as much as I can and I am lucky that I have as much of an art practice as I do. Luckily, my family has been very supportive too. 


You and Erica Tanov share a sensibility that some people would call "Old World." There's a focus on illuminating the beauty all around us, but also on elevating simplicity, practicality, and things that are handmade. What does being devoted to beauty mean to you? 

As you point out, Erica and I do share an "Old World" sensibility and a devotion to beauty and nature. My idea about beauty is that I stand with the early Romantic Movement which was against the industrial Revolution. The Members of the Romantic Movement saw that The Industrial Revolution would bring about destruction of the planet and here we are, looking it in the face. Animals are dying, the planet is dying and we are about to go extinct. Now we are hoping for another planet to occupy. It is absurd. I am not trying to make grand statements with my art really, I do make subtle statements about it though and I just paint what I want to paint. I only paint for myself, but I paint what is on my mind and what gives me comfort and what I am thinking about. I am completely selfish about my artwork. I alone–fully and completely–think about what I want my art to be. It is such a luxurious feeling to be completely immersed in this way, and there is real beauty in no one telling me what I should do. That said, tying up these two thoughts, I am almost always living in and perpetuating a pre-industrial existence. In my mind I am living in the 1700's. As weird as that sounds I am probably as close to being a time traveler as I can be without being institutionalized!

Painting of a woman with pink hair and dress, holding multicolored flowers

You are a third generation Californian (do I have that right?). Do you think growing up here helped or hindered your path to being an artist? You have an imagination that feels unrestrained, so it could be that living on the West Coast helped with that. It certainly hasn't limited you - your success has been national and international. 

Yes that is right and thank you. I think it probably helped me more than hindered me along with the time period that I grew up in. I definitely feel like a product of the freedoms of the 60’s and 70’s. The era of the flower children and the time when the Black Panthers and San Francisco and Berkeley were both erupting and blossoming. I mean I was really, really young then but I was also very aware of the way that things could change quickly, and that art, creativity and music could play a big role in that change.
 
How did you arrive at your particular style and approach to painting? You work mostly with gouache on paper, which was also widely used in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Do you feel an affiliation with these eras as you paint your forms and figures? How do you think of the past and present in your work? 

You are very perceptive! That is exactly it. I think I was walking through the Louvre when I first noticed paintings that I was drawn to, and the ones that were painted with gouache really attracted me. I thought that I should paint with gouache myself and off I went to the art supply store. It is as simple as that. The same thing happens with imagery. I love paintings from certain eras and study them. They begin to influence my work and even my environment.

painting of a pink peacock on marbled pink and burgundy paper

What advice would you give to someone wanting a career as an artist today? 

Devote yourself as completely and deeply as possible. I think the word “career” trips me up a little bit. I don’t think of it as a “career” exactly.  That is a long conversation…

 

Tell us a little bit about the pieces you created for the current show on view at Erica Tanov in Berkeley. 

The paintings that are in this show were all painted or at least finished in 2022. Erica and I talked about having a show of my paintings a few years ago and then the pandemic arrived so the show was cancelled. Last December (2021) we were together and we discussed having a show again and the only thing that we decided was that the color pink or rose was a good color to keep in mind.  For the past couple of years, during the pandemic, I had been painting almost exclusively with cobalt blue and gold paint–blue is the color of Truth and gold is the color of Healing. These felt like the right colors to be painting with at the time. I am refreshed by painting with pink again. Pink is kindness and there is something about pink and being right in the world.   

 

It's December. Do you have any end-of-year rituals or activities that mark the changing of the season, or that mark the transition into the New Year? Do you have a favorite winter comfort food? 

I prune my roses sometime between January first and mid-January. I have a large flower garden and we plant hundreds of spring bulbs every year. I start looking for signs of the bulbs coming up! I actually love the winter because it means that spring is on the way. I always make buckwheat crêpes for New Years Eve.

painting of a pale pink rose

View more of Lauren McIntosh's work on her website.

Roze Roos will be on view through January 2023 at Erica Tanov, 1827 4th Street, Berkeley CA 94710.

1 comment

Lauren’s work and store are a pure magical dream!!
Thank you for sharing this insightful interview!

❤️

Theresa Palmer Frentzel

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