Cagey Box Rental 100, gouache, acrylic, wire mesh, cut paper, waxed thread, 27.5 x 27.5 x 1″

In a secluded spot off Lambert’s Cove Road, a two-stall horse barn and a chicken coop have found new purpose. Most mornings, Laurene Krasny Brown walks the short distance between the Vineyard home where she and her husband, children’s book author and illustrator Marc Brown, spend their summers, and the buildings she has claimed and refashioned as her studio — a place solely devoted to the process of making art. There are no modern distractions in this “room of her own” — no computer or telephone. Wide windows face Smith Brook, allowing the remarkable Vineyard light to flood her space. In conversation she cites the unique privilege of her life here — the gifts of that incomparable light, of wildlife, fresh air, and generous neighbors.

Brown’s other home is in Manhattan, and while the city “fuels” her, she finds that she needs to quiet herself after her days there. The Vineyard offers her a much different kind of creative energy, and all-important time for the incubating and planning stages of her engaging, small-scale paper constructions and collages.

Brown’s career history is multidimensional. She’s spent time as a Head Start teacher, a research psychologist, a writer and illustrator of picture books, a consultant to marketers, and she’s trained in classical piano. Yet the creative process beckoned her throughout. She made the leap and moved to making art full-time during the summer of 1997, and has clearly found her calling. While Brown’s art has garnered a global audience, there are almost always opportunities to see her work on the Vineyard. Her studio here will be open to the public for a tour in August. In April, her constructions were the feature of a solo exhibit, Toying with the World, at the American Primitive Gallery in New York.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to chat with her about her life and work as she was preparing for that show.

Cagey Box Rental 100 by Laurene Krasny Brown
Parcheesi with Folded Corners by Laurene Krasny Brown
Game Tracks by Laurene Krasny Brown
Parcheesi with Cone Corners by Laurene Krasny Brown
Target Board by Laurene Krasny Brown
Folly with Escape Hatch, gouache, acrylic, wire mesh, paper board, brass fasteners, 6 x 6.5 x 6.5”
Dipped Paper Cube, wire mesh, paper pulp, ribbon, 3 x 3 x 3”

 

Susan Savory: Your pieces are often filled with repeated elements — geometric shapes in multiples or sequence. Can you explain your process a bit, in a way that might address this?

Laurene Krasny Brown: I love simple geometric forms — square/cube, circle/sphere, triangle/cone — their possibilities in a given composition usually seem almost endless. Just change that a bit — shade, size, position, number, material — and see what it reveals. Most of this work with multiple repetitions never exactly repeats anything. In these subtle distinctions I find beauty, and the close observation of differences is very satisfying in an aesthetic way. Also, this is where I believe musical training comes in, as so many composers riff off their own melodic ideas.

SS: Please tell me a little bit about your choice of materials — common household objects, handmade and altered papers, cardboard, yarn, paint — and their relationship to your creative process. Do the materials suggest works? Do specific constructions wait for the right materials to appear? I’m curious about how you arrive at your unique combination of material and content.

LKB: When choosing materials for this art making, I have, in a sense, let my surroundings lead the way. Maybe this is a kind of folk art. Paper, being right there at our disposal, is hard to resist. Accessible, forgiving, pliable yet strong, familiar, commonplace as opposed to precious, friendly already. All other materials that have crept into this work so far have done so both because they attract my attention visually — think round sink drains full of circular holes — or functionally — think waxed linen thread, which is both stiff and conducive to knotting. Wherever I’m living or working, I look around for candidates; not so much at the art supply store as at the hardware store, the grocery, the office supply store, the millinery shop. Some materials wait for an idea and others move a project forward; it works both ways. In any case, these objects show off themselves to me. Just because we see them functionally by no means signifies they have only one role. Plus, many seem to me quite lovely just sitting there.

SS: There’s a delightful, playful quality to your collages/constructions. Does your history of work with and for children inform your art in some way? Perhaps your musical training has influenced you here?

LKB: The work created for my most recent show begins to speak more directly to that playful quality I see in life. The title is Toying with the World. It’s a start of work that for me reflects the absolute joy and amusement to be found when we drop our tight hold on reality and allow for pretending to enter our imaginations.

Of course, whatever we do comes with us. So all the time I’ve spent working with young children has kept me in touch with the not-so-adult side of life. But most of all, being a parent and having every excuse to play alongside my children — Playmobil in the dollhouse, games in the box, construction sets, rides at the fair — all this has reminded me how much fun and how much sanctuary are to be savored by this spirit of the not-for-real. And why, when we presumably are grownups, need this “time out” end?

SS: I’m  intrigued by the blurred line between fine art and craft in your work. Please tell us a little bit about your functional pieces, and the suggestion of function in some of your fine art.

LKB: I have trouble keeping these two kinds of art apart. This is mostly because I believe so strongly in the daily opportunities afforded us to see and create beauty. In fact, I think the pot and pan, the comb, the table set, the fridge, the folded laundry, the computer and its desk, the collected shoes — they all present us with chances to enjoy their appearance and relationship to each other. We are such visual creatures. Why not play still life?

SS: How has your work changed in the years since you have devoted yourself to it full time?

LKB: I still feel as if I’m just warming up. However, I do see there is some vocabulary of techniques that has evolved. I can keep plumbing and refining them to hopefully greater ends. The work can be more complex, larger sometimes, and [I can] fish from a bigger pool of materials and ideas. I like trying out more three-dimensional constructions and want to use the exhibition
space in a more integrated way. There still is so much to learn and to make.