Lauren Gregory: The portrait’s new journey

June 26th, 2013

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How many ways come to your mind when you think about painting on canvas? Using brushes to create strokes, using a painting knife to paint in a thick paint? By letting fate and gravity lead the way, Pollock creates a new chapter in history of two-dimensional art with the revolutionary drip painting. Amongst painting genres, portraiture can be considered as the oldest art genre in painting. The evolution of portrait painting seems minimal despite its long history.

Lauren Gregory, a Tennessee-based painter, is the third generation from female artist family:  Lauren’s grandmother (Sally Wheat), her mother (Jean Wheat Gregory), and Lauren herself.

Influenced from her life surrounding by portraits and sitters, Lauren creates her own language in portraiture on canvas using fingers. The artist render another dimension of portraiture into a living soul which later transforms into the new facet of portraiture with animated painting.

Lauren Gregory

What did you find fascinating about painting people?

 I guess ever since I started painting that was what I was really drawn to. I’ll occasionally paint something else representational like a still life or landscape but it just does not do the same thing for me. I think there is some magic about sitting down with a person and painting them, trying to capture their essence especially people you know well or it is someone you don’t know and you get to know them by staring at them. It is always fun to see what you get- captive of a life, captive subject. It forces you to work quickly, you don’t want to take up much time of someones’ time. You don’t want to have them to have to sit uncomfortably in a same position for a long time. And so there is some urgency to it. 

Also, when I paint these portraits, I don’t go back to work on them a second time. I get it all done right then because it represents this one moment and I don’t want to try to fabricate. It seems fake if you invite the same person over and say “can you do your hair the same way or wear the same thing?” and its never the same.


Would you say that almost all the works are live drawing?

Most of my paintings are life painting. When I was younger, I used to try to be conceptual with it. Sometimes I would make painting from my imagination. I am just not good at it or it was not as satisfying for me. One thing that might be interesting for you to know is that my mother is a portrait artist, so I grew up around this all the time.  My mom has studio in our basement and she painted a lot of children. Every family I know, all the children will have painting painted by my mom. Like in hallway you know (laugh). When you first walk in, so many houses of people that I grew up with will have Jean Gregory’s portrait and I knew everyone, we all knew each other. These kids will come over and my mom would have me distracting them behind the camera. I would have to keep them entertain. Another job was, she would call me downstairs and ask me “what’s wrong with the painting?” so I was her second opinion.  I’d be like, “oh the nose is too long”. I think from a young age, I was trained to look at things like that and to recognize that. But yea, painting people, i was just fascinated to paint about it and I don’t really know why. At first it was like an exercise and now I crave it.


(It is interesting for me to hear that Lauren act of making portrait as the way to get to know someone.)

I have to paint more people. I have to paint everyone that I know and it was like if someone is my friend, it’s like I feel weird until I painted them. “You have to come over and get painted, that’s what I am all about” or “I can’t believe I haven’t painted you yet”. It’s like dog sniffing each other’s butt or something (laugh) it’s a part of getting to know people for me.

Seeing Lauren’s work, one would automatically sense the expressive sentiment through her “moving” brushstrokes. The shift from a small town like Tennessee to the busier Chicago has overwhelmed Lauren and made her feel uneasy to produce works. It is in that moment that her concept of animated painting has found its meeting point with her expressive style of portrait six years ago.

I observed that your work has the sense of motion even before you shifted towards making animation. But what exactly make you decided to have that transformation to really make your painting “moves”?

I went to grad school at the art institute of Chicago. When I got there, it was like my first time moving to a big city. It was like this kind of trigger-all and I felt very intimidating. I froze, I didn’t know what to paint for two months, I couldn’t paint a thing. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. With portraits, people don’t take me all that seriously at first. I started thinking about what direction I wanted to go in. I wanted more emotion in my painting. I wanted to portray time and I wanted to add this third dimension of the movement and time to it. At first, I didn’t realize that I was animating. I had a tripod set up behind my painting and I would take a picture of my work every so often. And then I started to play with a footage book. I came at it as I was taking photograph of my work and I realized that I was animating all of a sudden.


So from 2007 you never went back [to still painting]?

I switched back and forth because I will have a demand for my animation. When I have a demand for my animation, I’ll focus on it for several months. The animation so much more time-consuming and so much work. When I go back to portrait, I am like “oh my god, what a relieve! I just wanted this once and then it exists! And all I have to do is to paint it, it’s done- it’s a piece of art” But then I started to crave it [animation] again. Plus, seems like people show my animations more than they show my portraits right now. So yea, I’m going keep making those, keep making both. I love both.


Is your work related to the personal memory?  Did New York’s larger art and culture scene change your way of making art? The question might be quite obvious but some artist does have a separate world between themselves and their work. I find that with portrait artists, things became automatically related just because we are also human too.

I had a new group of people that I could paint. A different groups of friends. When I first moved here, it was all just a big group of friends that had known each other for a long time. I painting people who know each other, it is nice that these four guys are all buddies. One of the guy said that “I love seeing four paintings of them together”


Lauren does not only paint from life sitting for the sake of physical preciseness merely on the surface but to capture intrinsic sentiment that lie deep through the living conversation that still has an apparent presence from the interaction of the sitter.




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You might want to photograph them all together.
Lauren considers the work as a living conversation.

Besides the portrait which focuses on human expression, another big part of Lauren’s subject lies in popular culture. It is rather intriguing to discover that what actually drawn Lauren to popular culture is not its content but its way of presentation.

Topics in your work range from domestic portrait to the everyday of American pop culture. Could you please tell me about your point of view about American popular culture that you are familiar with and how you see the culture changes through your art work?

I am a fan of american pop culture. I guess I am completely entrenched in it. I love studying the history of pop music and when two genre collide like country and rap music. These are things that are happening now. It is all fascinating to me. I love the radio, I love TV. I watched reality TV than anyone I know. I watch a show every monday with my friend at a bar – I love drag show. The TV piece that I made, I was just trying to present the stream of conscious. Animation is this thing that I saw. When I watched football or any sports event, i don’t watch the game or keep track of what’s going on. My mind wonders a lot because I was just looking at the beautiful color, how the shot in HD and how the camera is zooming around the field. How the players’s big shiny butt in spandex were running on the field. There was so much to look at and I love it.

I guess a lot of people sense sarcasm and irony in my work but I just love what I love and I want to glorify them.


Lauren breaks the boundary of the static moment in time to the narrative of expression through time. To me, Lauren does not only glorify the art of portraiture but also foment human action into life. Lauren gets to know her sitters through painting them and introduce the viewer to get to know those people in her own way.

It is the only thing that I am good at in painting (laugh). People’s faces, that’s all I can do.

It is the best thing that one could do.


Please don’t take my word for it. Have a look for yourself 🙂

Photo May 11, 2 27 33 PM

Lauren Gregory’s That Girl

“That Girl” is based on the 13-minute music piece “Maroon” by Fang Man. The animation was under the project “Cine-movement,” commissioned by Indy Grit, the film festival in South Carolina. The piece had its premier show in South Carolina with the piece played by live orchestra.


Watch Lauren Gregory’s latest animation Poppin’Bottle from Artist Video Project through MOCAtv