LAUREN SIMKIN BERKE
Since the invention of the camera people have used photography as a way to document their work, families, environment and themselves. For various reasons there is a growing disconnect from personal histories and family photographs are no longer treasured as they once were. I can go into second hand stores or flea markets on any town or city in America and acquire photographs of someone else’s family. Somehow, somewhere down the line, someone lost their connection to them, and decided to sell them, give them away, or throw them out.
I collect 20th century snapshots, various forms of formal institutional portraits (school, arrest, passport, etc.), Victorian studio portraits, letters, notebooks and other ephemera, and make small freehand ink drawings based on these collected items. In 2005 I started a practice of doing one ink drawing from my collection of found photographs every day, which has allowed me to grow an archive of more than 1,400 drawings (1,300 of which are viewable online at sketchbookdrawings.blogspot.com). I use the line work generated by this daily practice as the structure and subject of the art objects I make, in the form of paintings, etchings, collage and mixed media work. In 2008 I started binding my own sketchbooks, after the books I’d been using were no longer available. As I go through a sketchbook every 6 weeks, bookbinding has become an integral part of my studio practice.
In 2011 I started making small figurines in assemblage environments. I call the figurines “The Littles,” and featured them in my last solo show, Small Items Enclosed. The Littles were my first project allowing myself to take the people from my daily drawings out of their original contexts and compositions. They were made out of polymer clay, free standing, round on the back and flat on the front, allowing the image to be created on the front with acrylic paint and photocopy transfer. The environments for The Littles were made out of mostly found objects: small drawers, cigar boxes, spools, organ parts, and a variety of other items whose original purpose I was never able to decipher.
In the summer of 2014 I acquired a set of mug shots, taken in Minneapolis in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I drew most of these, and for the last year have been creating paintings from these drawings. This work has cemented a switch from focusing on candid snapshots to working primarily from posed portraits photography, with a wide variety of origins.