Interview with Oakland Artist, Lauren Napolitano

by admin on October 10, 2013

The sun was just beginning to dip into the autumnal September skies as Oakland Art Enthusiast was welcomed into artist Lauren Napolitano’s home and workspace to see new artwork for a series of upcoming shows and public art installations, including San Francisco’s Shooting Gallery, “A Well-Marked Path” October 12. Throughout the past several years, Napolitano has gained wider recognition as an illustrator and fine artist whose unique and instantly-recognizable precise, patterned line work transcends its oft-categorized Lowbrow subject matter and style and contemporary take on traditional, ethnic motifs and characteristics from multifarious cultures.

She has lived in a relatively quiet, isolated neighborhood in West Oakland for over eight years, but just recently begun to see the richness of the local artist community. “I finally took the time to stop and focus on all the beautiful people around me, and for me that’s the most inspiring part of this city…” she says. “A lot of artists here are supporting each other and working in collaboration… and that is something that you don’t necessarily find everywhere.” But like many local artists, she’s concerned about the city’s future since gaining recognition as a thriving arts scene: “I think it’s great there is a spotlight on Oakland, as there are some crazy talented people here who truly deserve success and recognition… As with any city that gains recognition, the rent gets more expensive and a lot of people who are bringing a lot of flavor to the streets start to move on. Personally, compared to when I first moved here, it feels safer, and I don’t care at all about “keeping Oakland grimy” like a lot of the kids around are asking. I want to see this city flourish in positivity and creativity… idealistic I know.”


Oakland artist, Lauren Napolitano in her studio

In her home, the late afternoon sun casts a golden light on myriad assemblages of found objects– some she’ll use in her installations and artwork, but many fulfill just her own inspirational decoration: cloudy glass bottles, sepia-toned photographs of anonymous faces, elongated glass light bulbs, vintage plastic toys– all upon which Napolitano painted intricate patterns and mandala-esque designs– placed alongside and on top of small ceramics and bric-a-brac, natural objects like feathers and branches gathered from the large backyard of the turn-of-the-century home gives it an inviting feeling. “As someone who lost all of their possessions twice in life, I find a very unique comfort in being surrounded by objects that are special to me… You can see all the places I have been and who I have been there with simply based on all the objects in my home… Nearly every item I have has a personal story attached, it literally has no zero value to anyone outside of that story; it feels exclusive and inclusive all at the same time.”

And this interest in re-purposing objects once cast away and determined obsolete, creating shrines to their histories and their intimate meanings strongly carries into her artwork. “I like to work with items that have a history to them… I love picking stuff up off the streets, and diving into old forgotten spaces…I don’t use much color because for me, the work isn’t about color; it’s about the simplicity of the lines and dots. That’s all there is, one color, some lines and some dots…and look how much texture it can create!” Although she does predominantly work in patterns, Napolitano does utilize a few figurative motifs in her work: snakes, leaves and various flora, and a recurring Venus figure, which she uses to explore feminist ideals: “there are a lot of amazing women around me, and I like to honor them in little ways,” she says. Lately, there have been a lot of images of hands in her work as well: “I am obsessed with this idea of story, and how objects tell a story of where they have been, and hands are kind of the same for me; just like collecting hair. Your hands can tell everyone around you how much you use them, how often you’re outside, if you like to work on cars, or if you’re a nervous nail biter…. I like to see how much you can tell about a person without them ever speaking a word.”


Lauren Napolitano’s studio

It seems as if her now iconic lines, patterns and designs were brought to the fore of her practice through years of reflection and acceptance– and in particular, a re-connection with her culture and heritage: “There was this notion in my mind, having never gone to any kind of art school, I figured how good you were was based on how realistic you could portray things,” she says. “I used to be really into the figure, because the street art I was inspired by was very figurative. Over time as I have matured as a person and become a bit more connected with my culture, it’s really easy to see the root of a lot of my pattern work… As a Mexican artist, it’s really amazing to see some of the similarities between the basket and pottery works from my culture and my own illustration, it was completely subconscious until a recent trip I took to New Mexico– Totally blew me right open, seeing the source for so much inspiration, and complete recognition of where my strength as an artist lies.”

From a working artist exhibiting in galleries to lending her skills working in community collaborations for various public projects with her network of talented friends, Napolitano has a naturally creative spirit she expresses in many different ways. This stronger artistic drive may stem from the wealth of exhibitions and opportunities that have recently come her way, or may just be her more focused and dedication to her own practice since the awakening trip to New Mexico, as well as other factors. She recalls just a few months ago, she began to pass on opportunities to curate art shows and she recently left her position at an art gallery: “I was really into curating at one point in my life, but now that I have gained confidence in my own work, I am really making the effort to push my work to the best it can possibly be! I have lots of ideas, and so many patterns floating around my brain. It is hard for me to focus on any art-related task when it’s not my own right now,” she says. “Being at the gallery and working full-time to make other artists shows come to life, I just had this nagging feeling the entire time that I should be devoting that time to my art. Stepping away from the gallery is me taking a giant leap of faith in that I can independently survive on my artwork.” And Napolitano is already looking forward to a life as a full-time artist, with plans already in the works: “I have a show with my good friend and amazing tattoo artist Mark Prickis in November… I’ll be going out to Art Basel with a group of friends in December to wow Miami with some murals….it just keeps going and getting better and better!”


Artwork by Lauren Napolitano