Lauren Morris (photo by Linda Lando)
Local artist Lauren Morris loves every aspect of her art form. “I even like the smell of paints,” she said in an interview with the Independent. “When I come to my studio, the smell jolts me into work. It’s like a kick-start to my imagination.” She added, “I didn’t start painting until I immigrated to Canada. I’m a graphic designer by education.”
Upon graduating as a graphic designer in her native Cape Town, she worked in her chosen field for awhile and then decided to see the world. She backpacked through Europe. “In Israel, I met an American girl in ulpan. We became friends, and she invited me to come to America. I thought I would only travel there for a few months but I stayed for five years. I found a job there as a magazine graphic designer. I also took some part-time art classes in Washington, D.C.”
Afterwards, she returned home and worked as a graphic designer for the book and magazine industry. She also started a family. Unfortunately, the political situation in South Africa was becoming increasingly unstable. Concerned about their growing children, the family decided to emigrate. They arrived in Vancouver in 2000.
“When we came,” Morris remembered, “I couldn’t find work as a graphic designer, so I started painting at home.”
Like any artist, she wanted to display her work, wanted people to see it and perhaps even buy it, but she was new in town, didn’t know anyone and had no connections in the local art community.
“I started hanging my paintings in coffee shops,” she recalled. “Some shops in Vancouver want to display and sell art, so they advertise on Craigslist. I looked for such ads, applied and my paintings sold very well in many of them. I wasn’t a snob. I would accept any offer. Most of my paintings sold not even through a coffee shop but through a fish and chips place in Kerrisdale.”
The sales were encouraging, so she rented a studio. “I wanted to be more professional,” she said with a smile. “But a studio cost money. To pay the rent, I started teaching.”
She still offers art workshops and she teaches mostly adults. “I love showing people what they can do. Some say: ‘Oh, I don’t know how to paint.’ They are wrong. Everyone can paint. They just need someone to guide them. Afterwards, they are amazed and awed by their own works. This is the most satisfying part of teaching – when my students discover things about themselves. It makes them happy and it makes me happy.”
Making people happy seems to be a requirement in her artistic approach: in her workshops, in the classes she taught at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital, and in her own personal art. That’s why flowers play such an important role in her creative output.
“Flowers make people happy,” she said. “When a painting of flowers hangs on a wall, it changes the feel and mood of a room, brightens it.”
Her flowers are not photographic. In fact, some of her paintings bear only a remote resemblance to real-life blooms. Her images lean towards the abstract, like symphonies of colors and shapes. Light and reflections, movements and shadows weave into interlacing harmony in her pictures, while flowers provide an inspiration.
“I don’t like to be too literal in my art,” she said. “Art is my imagination. It always springs from somewhere, from a point of reference, a photo I took or found online, or an idea I see in another artist’s work. Then I take my paintbrush and start building colors. Most of my paintings are color compositions. When I paint, I let my paintbrush take over. It’s like putting together a colorful puzzle, but I’m guided by my unconsciousness.”
Not only the colors but also the shapes of flowers attract Morris because they are so versatile.
“People see different shapes in my flowers,” she said. “Sometimes they see something I didn’t even know was there.”
Because of the expressionistic ideas of her paintings, she rarely works outside. “I tried,” she explained with a chuckle. “But I paint on the floor, on my knees, with the canvasses against the wall. It’s not convenient outside.”
Often, her process resembles a gym exercise, very physically taxing, so she doesn’t work for more than a couple of hours at a time. But she loves every minute of it. “When I see a painting unfolding, going in a certain direction, when my imagination flows, it’s the best moment for me.”
She enjoys listening to classical music while she paints, and the melodies seem to transfer to her canvasses. The different paints and hues splash and chase each other, like notes of a melody. The combined arrangement is invariably richer than its component parts, and the same is true for Morris’ paintings. Since her first coffee shop exhibit in 2001, her recognition in Vancouver has grown considerably. In the last few years, she has participated in Artists in Our Midst and the Eastside Culture Crawl. She has displayed her paintings in several group shows. And now her art is featured at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery. Her solo show, A Tapestry of Flowers, opened on March 18 and is on until April 12. For more on Morris’ work, visit lmdesignsstudio.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].