Pairing Western culture with nature and family, painter Lauren Florence brings back the classic color and style of the Old West.
If the people in the paintings of Lauren Florence look like they’re from another era, that’s because they are. Her subjects are taken from vintage photos found at flea markets and in old family photo albums, like the image she painted of her husband’s grandfather and his brothers, in overalls and undershirts, holding a string of fish — the night’s dinner, she imagines.
Hold Your Horses by Lauren Florence 36 x 36, Acrylic on canvas, 2022
“There’s so much in that photo,” she says. “So many people have a photo like that in an old box somewhere.”
Or now in their wallet. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife and Conservation chose that image for its hunting and fishing license hard card for the year 2020.
“Everyone in my family went out and bought them,” Florence says with a laugh. “Even my husband’s 80-year-old aunt.”
Wildcat Kelly by Lauren Florence, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30
Rendered in layered patterns, Florence’s paintings might seem haphazard but are anything but. The whimsy, the lightness, the movement — it’s all intentional and well-plotted, at least to begin with.
“I start with an idea of shapes and a narrative and the figures I want to use, and then with a color scheme,” she says from her basement studio in her home in Oklahoma City’s historic Crown Heights neighborhood. “I usually stick to a plan, and sometimes I realize some colors won’t work together. The initial layer never goes according to plan. I start with an idea, and then I have to respond to what’s on the canvas.”
Monarch by Lauren Florence, 30 x 30, Acrylic on canvas, 2022
For much of the year you’ll find Florence working on pieces for April’s Festival of the Arts in Oklahoma City. Her calendar, she explains, is reserved for studio time to prepare for that one event. The 2022 show nearly sold out and left her drastically low on inventory and painting a lot to build her supply back up. Midsummer saw Florence in New Mexico teaching a four-day Cowgirls in Color Workshop at Santa Fe Artist Getaway.
“It was just a blast!” she says, urging people to check her Instagram to see “the fun work coming out of this awesome group of ladies.”
Dinner in the Garden by Lauren Florence, 36 x 36, Acrylic on canvas, 2020
Not bad for someone who picked up a paintbrush for the first time less than 10 years ago. Even though Florence grew up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, visiting Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve with her parents, she was not allowed to take art classes in high school and was discouraged from considering art as a career.
“I finally took some art classes in college and ended up with a BFA in textile design, but I didn’t take a painting class in college because I didn’t think I’d be good enough,” she says.
All In by Lauren Florence, 30 x 40, Acrylic on canvas, 2020
When she got out of college, she ended up working in IT and spent nearly a decade in Tulsa and Houston in the energy-trading sector. But once she moved back to Oklahoma City, she decided to finally give art a try. She signed up for a class at Oklahoma Contemporary, with expressionist Bert Seabourn. The focus of Seabourn’s class was people and animals. She took to it right away, and it grew from there.
“One day he brought in a photocopy of someone’s buffalo painting,” she says. “It was a silhouette of a buffalo, and it was crazy-abstract in the center and calm around the outside. I never forgot that image. Several years ago, I thought, how can I combine my figures with this abstracted interior of these silhouettes? Also, there are certain color combinations that just light me up. I wanted to explore all of that and find a way to combine it and push the level of sophistication in my work. I’m still really excited about what I’ve landed on.”
A Gift From the Fishes by Lauren Florence, Acrylic on canvas
Layering acrylic paint, sometimes scratching into it with the end of her paintbrush to hit the right notes of color, texture, and pattern in her pieces, Florence is aiming to tell stories. And she always discovers a spark for her tales in those vintage photos.
“Those old photos are moments of joy that someone wanted to remember,” she says. “Look at all of those tiny things that happened that were so fun. You look back at your photo album, and it’s the happy times recorded there. There’s a level of comfort and nostalgia, and I think we all need a little more comfort and joy in our lives. That’s what I’m trying to capture.”
Find Lauren Florence’s work on her website (laurenflorence.com); at The Vault Art Space in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma (thevaultpaulsvalley.com); and at Assemblage Contemporary Craftsman Gallery in Buda, Texas (assemblageccg.com). See her work at Festival of the Arts, April 25–30, at Bicentennial Park in Oklahoma City (artscouncilokc.com).