Lauren Kelly (Citizen Potawatomi) is a transcendental figurative artist based in Norman, Oklahoma and won the NextGen Under 30 Award in 2023!

Kelly uses acrylic, watercolor, and mixed media freehand painting to explore the feminine experience and her own post-traumatic growth. As an emerging artist, her style is experimental and continually evolving, but always anchored in the esoteric.
After a year-long sabbatical that allowed her to create over a hundred new art works, Kelly now looks to show her work and continues to nurture her creative discipline.

" 'Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes performance.' Even when we think nobody is looking, or even when we don't intend to show our work to anybody, our work deserves the reverence we'd give it if we were showing it at any major gallery or having it handled by any major dealer. How we practice and play is how we will perform." - Lauren Kelly

Artist with Cradling the Medicine in the Other World, 2023, self-portrait

SKYIE Magazine: Hi, Lauren! It is amazing to have you with us. Can you tell us how old were you and you started to paint, and what got you into art?

Lauren Kelly: Hi Jullie. It is nice to talk to you. I started to paint as soon as l could sit up straight— around 3 or 4. When I was 17 l started to be serious about my art, but I ended up all but abandoning my art for some time due to personal circumstances. And about what got me into art, I'm not really sure.
I've always been interested in the arts, global cultures and religions, and ancient art history. As a toddler I'd sit hypnotized for hours in front of Ancient Egyptian history documentaries. I think that taught me how to use visual language, and it led to painting.
SMAG: That is really cool. You started on a young age, are you from an artistic family?

LK: Definitely not. My maternal grandmother is a western painter. My dad played French Horn in the Pride of Oklahoma at OU and spent several years as a journalist with his writing and speaking skills. So I definitely had exposure to tools and techniques for a variety of creative disciplines, but I wouldn't consider mine an artistic family; in both sides of my family there's a definite subtle resentment toward the arts and commodification of them as some kind of party trick or hobby for people who are being babied by other people. Hard work and art are seen as opposites in my family, even when they encourage you. The work is invisible to them, because they characterize it as "talent" rather than something hard-earned.
SMAG: It is hard when we think about the family seeing art and hard work being different. So, what inspired you to start your art and What does your art means to you?

LK: I had a serious mental health crisis in 2019. While in the hospital, I let myself freely make art in a way I hadn't since childhood. I realized I needed to make art a regular commitment if I wanted to be well. My art means the health of my spirit to me. It is what I was born to do. I can do a lot of things, and I like doing a lot of things, but my art is my prayer, my devotion, my mental hygiene.
SMAG: That sounds deep and I'm glad for you that you found a healing path by art. How would you describe the type of art that you typically create and can you tell me about your creative process? How do you find inspiration for your works?

LK: I describe it as transcendental contemporary figurative art... which is all just a jumble of words to mean weird art where people are the subjects. I really don't. Aside from a few bits here and there, I don't plan or take inspiration from anything. I suppose I have some aesthetic influences, but when I paint, my hand is painting whatever it decides.
The muse doesn't typically consult with me in advance, or if she does, the details are a secret to me until they're already on the canvas.
SMAG: Where have you been showing your art until now? How people can find you?

LK: I've been very fortunate to find support in my local community.
Coming out of my artist sabbatical year I knew I needed to get shows going, but i had no idea where to start, so I started applying for any and every group show. So far l've done some shows in my home state of Oklahoma this year. Folks can find me (and see my full CV/upcoming shows/order prints) at my website:
SMAG: Amazing! Which one of your works is your favorite piece and why? Does it have a story behind?

LK: My favorite is definitely "She Belongs to the Water" from my "13 Moons" series; this is a big blue piece with a woman upside down, silver pouring out of her eyes, and fish on either side of her. This whole series corresponds to our tribal 13 Moons teachings and how they play out in our personal lives. This piece in particular is about the overwhelm and catharsis that come with a change of luck, how every blessing also requires a laying to rest of something, how every catch comes with a release.
SMAG: Why do you think is important for the artists have more space to show their work and talk about it?

LK: I think art is deeply personal, and I'm in agreement with art critic Jerry Saltz in that we are in a totally unprecedented era of art creation and distribution. The muse's work is not complete until it is seen and experienced by people other than the artist. I think it's critical that we have more spaces- and more importantly, more specialized, niched spaces— for artists to show their work. When a small handful of spaces show everything to everyone, nobody is satisfied. When a variety of spaces exist, they can attract the artists, viewers, and collectors who they're meant for with far greater specificity.
SMAG: Can you talk about your technique?

LK: I'm definitely more of a Modigliani than a Monet. I use paint straight out of the tube most of the time, and the vast majority of my work is freehand. I prime a canvas, sketch up something onto it with a brush, and build up from there until it feels complete.
SMAG: Can you talk about your amazing work "Hell and Back", featured on our Vol 7, and about the beautiful "Whisper" , featured on our Special Volume? What inspired you for those two pieces, and why you decided to submit them to our magazine?
LK: "Hell and Back" is a piece in which I examine my own experience with PTSD, suicidal depression, and recovery from sexual trauma in the broader context of my Potawatomi cultural identity.
Unfortunately, I'm not the first or only one to go through some of the things I've been through, and it's nothing new to my family lineage or my nation under the legacy of colonial violence in all its sinister iterations. Owls, for us, are sort of the thonic equal and opposite of eagles. Where Migizi (eagle) flies high and carries prayers to Creator, Gokok'o (owl) moves between our world and the world of the dead, the underworld, the contrary, the unfamiliar.
When we move through trauma, we move through a personal underworld in addition to a social underworld. We take on stigma and realize with jarring suddenness that we've become a statistic.
When we emerge on the other side of it, we've become like the owl.
Our sight is different. Our being is something different. 

Hell and Back, 2022, acrylic

Whisper, 2023, acrylic

LK:  "Whisper" is a piece with similar sentiment— it's from a series called "Beyond the Veil" and features a person whispering to a scissortail flycatcher, a bird known for its fierce protective behaviors and willingness to stand up against a foe on principle even if the odds don't look so good. What drew me to Skyie Magazine was an emphasis on the subversive and symbolic, so I knew both of these would find a great fit in the magazine. As an artist who makes art, not home décor, I'm always keeping an eye out for a good fit. I can't and don't want to sell my art at craft fairs where people buy work for hanging over their couch or gifting to their mother in law.
That's not to say anything bad about work hanging over couches or being gifted— just that it's not what my work is for, and my work needs to be in front of the demographic who aren't looking for decorations. It needs to be in front of people who are looking for art.

Crop from the Instagram Live between the artist Lauren Kelly and Jullie Dias.

SMAG: What is the best advice you've been given?

LK: The best advice I've ever received came from a man with a wealth of it; I really could pick anything choir director and vocal music expert
Tony Gonzalez has said and it would be as good as any other thing he's said. But the thing that sticks with me the most is: "Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes performance." Even when we think nobody is looking, or even when we don't intend to show our work to anybody, our work deserves the reverence we'd give it if we were showing it at any major gallery or having it handled by any major dealer. How we practice and play is how we will perform.

SMAG: What's next for you? How do you see yourself from here to five years?

LK: I plan to keep my head down, keep making, and keep working. I've got a few really exciting projects lined up, including a collaboration and juried show I'll be curating with some really good people, a little nonprofit work to revolutionize the way opportunities find the local artists in need of them, and a few group shows. I'm also looking forward to recognition at the Oklahoma NextGen Under 30 award dinner in November this year. I'm just swimming in gratitude to see so many good things springing up on the road ahead.

SKYIE Magazine: To finish, what is the message you would give to people who wants to start painting but don't know how or don't think they can?

Lauren Kelly: I would say worry less about getting it right and worry more about being playful and authentic. Techniques can be learned and taught. Soul can't; you have to cultivate that and open it up yourself. That's where the real work is. And, of course, treat every piece like it deserves all of you. Even if you end up trashing it later.

Crop from the Instagram Live between the artist Lauren Kelly and Jullie Dias.

Check here the painting process of "My Mind Is On Fire"

To know more about Lauren Kelly:

Artist with Strawberries, 2022, acrylic on canvas panel

Follow Lauren on her social medias and stay tuned for everything she is coming with!
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