OVER THE RADAR: An Interview With Lauren Denitzio
May 4, 2012
Prior to becoming more acquainted with Lauren over the past few years, I had only known her through her instantly recognizable record jackets that I would come across while on tour. I also knew her through the band she fronted for nearly 7 years, The Measure [sa]. At every record store and at every dingy-basement-show-distro-box I would undoubtedly find myself freezing on a record that carried the modus operandi of one Lauren Denitzio.
In recent years we’ve bumped into each other at a music festival or at a show in New York, and we would end up striking up a conversation about anything and everything…except art. So I got in touch with Lauren recently to finally have the art conversation. Well, a conversation about HER art, which I am a huge fan of.
Over the years, you have become synonymous in the punk rock community with your style of art , most notably through the jackets you design for “The Measure [sa]” releases. Is there a place in time or one particular moment when you said “this is how I’m going to execute and present my art from here on out”?
Even now, I don’t think I’ve decided how to present my artwork specifically, not in terms of replicating a format or style. I definitely have specific ways of working but I’ve never thought of it as limiting myself to just those formats. I do think that definitely happened with the Measure though, and that’s probably what you’re getting at. When we put out our first record, both Fid (guitarist in The Measure) and I were really conscious of what it would look like. We both really like record artwork and wanted the band to have an aesthetic that would carry across everything we did. Fid saw what I was working on when I was in art school and really liked the illustrations on dictionary pages. It made a lot of sense to use my artwork on our records, so we discussed ideas of what it would look like, but ultimately I was the one to execute that.
As for the 7”s covers, which are all put together really specifically, that was an even more conscious decision for consistency. We were pretty inspired by The Smiths record covers and the concept of the “cover star”. So each of those 7”s had a cover star, and a specific spot color. No two are the same color. Our band name goes in the same spot every time, the back of the records are all laid out the same, etc. It’s a little formulaic but we intentionally kept things consistent and recognizable. I don’t think either one of us ever thought we’d put out so many records, so it’s really amazing to see them all together sometimes. I’m glad we somewhat thought ahead!
Do you still have or remember the first piece you did that encouraged you to continue with the dictionary page/ink/acrylic execution?
There was one band illustration I did when I was in school, just as a fun assignment, that I really enjoyed. I think working on a textured surface, or over text, is something I’m really drawn to in general, and it’s something I found successful at the time. I think having it on all the Measure records definitely made it more of a “thing” for me, and people recognize my work that way.
Why dictionary pages? Is there any significance to the page and the subject matter that you create on it? I like to imagine it like flipping through a giant dictionary and then a particular word really hits you and then your subject for the piece blooms from that, kind of a snowball effect.
It connects everything in a space and holds things together for me visually. The specific words are less important to me than that kind of used, pasted together look that it has. I’ve seen people notice certain words and sometimes the rest of the drawing calls attention to one weird word specifically. On the piece on the cover of “One Chapter In The Book” there’s the word “SPRANGLED” that really gets people’s attention. The artwork I’m making now doesn’t necessarily have the dictionary pages anymore but I’m still working over some sort of texture or toned ground that holds the same meaning for me, without the literal text in there.
Do you ever find it difficult to step out of that niche? Or rather, do you ever find yourself envisioning an idea that you feel might not be best executed by the process you’re most comfortable doing? Or does it work the other way around where you see things juxtaposed in your medium?
I think that’s a lot of what I’m working on now. I’m not really using the dictionary pages anymore and really thinking about things with more of a clean slate. I think that’s the most important thing right now for me, how form and content intertwine constantly. I try not to just work in my comfort zone, because it can get really boring that way. It has been exciting to step outside my usual way of working and really think about what works best for the idea or concept I’m working with.
How often do you you use screenprinting vs. painting? Was screenprinting something that came into play as the method became available to you?
I don’t use screenprinting as much as I make individual drawings or paintings. I originally learned how to screenprint for more practical purposes like posters or tshirts. I was able to work on a number of artist prints with Pedal Printing a few years ago, after designing a number of concert posters with them. It was a great opportunity and gave me a great foundation in thinking about how to transform my work into screenprints. I’m working on a number of more abstract, textural screenprints at the moment that are a lot of fun to play around with. I think that’s one big difference of screenprinting for me, that you can make multiples and change an image slightly from one to the next depending on how you use ink and the printing process. It lets me experiment a lot faster, which can be a big plus.
What are the perfect circumstances that get your gears moving? Or, is there any perfect setting or environmental factors that really snap you into “creativity mode?”
Absolutely. It’s closing the door, putting on certain albums really loud, and just forgetting about everything else. For a long time it was Radon’s live record but I’ve been listening to a lot of Sleater Kinney, Bikini Kill and The Gits lately. Just music that has a lot of energy and things that I want to scream along to. I constantly think “I wish I could paint like (Fugazi, Dillinger Four, Sleater Kinney) sounds.” and that’s how I think of it, a lot of the time.
Many people that admire your art were introduced through your band, The Measure [sa]. And if you look at your prolific discography, there is no shortage of immediately recognizable subjects, from Bee Arthur to Norm Macdonald. Are there any inside jokes or anecdotes behind some of your subjects?
I think most of them are inside jokes or references, actually. All the cover stars are people we like or are influenced by somehow. Norm MacDonald and Chevy Chase are a reference to the movie Dirty Work. Those were on the cover of the split we did with the Ergs and everyone in both bands love that movie. Rosa Parks or Emma Goldman weren’t inside jokes so much as “of course we’re putting these women on our record covers.” Same goes for Lance Hahn or Kurt Vonnegut. I’m sure there are anecdotes for how we put together most of the cover stars but I remember drawing Bea Arthur for the most recent 7” and I forget who it was, but either Fid or I had that epiphany of how we pretty much HAD to draw the rest of the Golden Girls on the insert. It’s fun stuff like that that made those records really enjoyable to put together.
I want to shift gears a bit and bring up your “Get it Together” zine (which is currently in its third issue) which [in your words] is a celebration and importance of productivity and mantras in one’s life. In between zines you had open heart surgery, and you had mentioned that it really made this project even more relevant for you personally. Would you care to extrapolate a bit more on this project and how it has become even more important to you?
I think productivity and staying motivated has always been really important to me and I was working with those themes before surgery, obviously. But I think part of that did come from living with illness, or at least certain physical limitations. I had to work really hard to do what I wanted to do, like working a 9-5 job from the road while on tour, because I needed to keep health insurance. That’s always the mentality I’ve had. Start a band in New Jersey when you’re going to school in Rhode Island? Sure! Commute to New Brunswick from Brooklyn for band practice? Why not! It’s kind of ridiculous when I think about it. But a lot of times doing those things took forcing myself to push through it, to always be really busy, to keep the momentum going. A lot of my friends have that mentality too, so the zine really came out of realizing that I’m not the only one who has to work to stay motivated.
But then once surgery happened it puts a whole new spin on it. Within 4 months of surgery The Measure [sa] played a series of shows at some huge venues with the Gaslight Anthem and being grateful to be there doesn’t really cover it. Playing The Fest in Gainesville that year was really emotional too, it just made me feel really lucky for all the things I get to do. And that’s just the start of that feeling. The zine took on a bit more urgency for me and the second issue was specifically based on self-employed friends and colleagues. There’s a very specific mentality behind being your own boss, I think, and surgery gave me even more reason to keep that the case in my life.
Are there any current artists or peers that you are fond of or look up to?
Absolutely. In terms of peers, I’m glad to get to interact with folks like Caroline Paquita, Marissa Paternoster, Adee Roberson, Gabby Schulz, Mike Taylor, Jenine Bressner, Ian Cozzens, Jason Roy and Meredith Stern and see our work overlap on occasion. I also really admire artists like Sharon Hayes, Emily Roysdon, AK Burns, Collier Schorr, Andrea Geyer, Jenny Holzer, etc. etc. Maybe I’ve just been on a kick of artists who are engaged with feminist history, but those are definitely the work I’m most fascinated by.
Is there one piece that you’re particularly fond of or proud of? What was it about that piece that made it so special to you?
Honestly, I’m really very proud of the “Are You With The Band?” compilation LP. It’s a collection of female-fronted pop punk that came out on Paper and Plastick Records late last year that I curated. It also comes with a full-color, full LP sized insert with a page for each band, designed and illustrated by female-artists involved with the punk scene. You can find more information about that here:
I designed the cover and layout, along with a number of the pages in the insert. I’m proud of not only how my physical work turned out, but how all the other artists involved contributed and really made it a special object to have. It has received good feedback and I’m really happy with putting something out there that was not only about the music but about this community of artists and bands coming together to put out something pretty unique.
Because I’m in graduate school currently, I’m more concerned with developing my work than having it seen publicly right now. So I’m excited about what I’ve been working on, but not many people will really see any of that until the shows in June!
What new or upcoming installations do you have circulating currently?
Right now I’m working on putting together my first solo exhibition at Gallery 5 in Richmond, Virginia. They have a project space where I’ll be showing my work and it opens on June 1st! I’ll also be a part of a group show at Broadway Gallery in New York called Global Projects: Artists at Home and Abroad opening on June 7th.
What does the [sa] after “The Measure”stand for?
You can get loads more information about Lauren at her website, Black & Red Eye
Wanna get a more complete look at some of Lauren’s art? There are a few of my favorite Measure LPs scattered in the 6th floor lobby at FRCH.