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Laura Tan

‘Artists can keep intimacy real and alive...they can create community, a connection, be a resource and unapologetically show the truths of life—the grief, the toil, the disappointments—as well as the joy. It’s personal.'

Laura Tan works from her studio in Miami, Florida. As well as other subjects drawn from life around her, she has dedicated herself to exploring and understanding notions of self, with a rawness, courage and complete honesty.

Where is your current studio? What would be your dream studio? My current studio is the living room of my 786 sq. ft. rental apartment, which I share with my teenage daughter. A 1940’s building that used to be a cluster of military barracks, it’s a 2nd floor unit that has beautiful light from sunup to sundown! This would be IDEAL as a studio-only space. It’s quiet with high ceilings, large windows, excellent ventilation and ample walls and storage... but it’s definitely tight as both living and studio.

Do you prefer to work in silence or does certain music inspire you?

I always play music when I work – it keeps me company. Music is an enormous part of who I am; if I hadn’t been stage-shy as a child I would have probably become a musical-duo with my younger sister and not a painter! Music brings me joy, peace, and helps me filter the distracting ‘life noise’ out of my head; it helps me focus and be productive. I listen to EVERYTHING: country, blues, industrial, rock, punk, acoustic, meditation, most everything.

Black T

Studio life can lead to isolation, how do you address this/ keep a balance?

I’m a single mom and have to support myself, so I have a day job teaching art for the public school system, which is social, loud and can be draining! That said, my challenge is the other way around: I seek isolation.

In order to get this, I work after hours, sometimes late into the night, and on teaching job gives me 10 summer weeks off, so that’s a huge perk.

I have artist friends who recently acquired an enormous space in downtown Miami for an artist residency program and I’m a part of that group, *on IG @void_projects. They’re an energetic, accomplished group of international figurative artists, so for community, I’m weaving that into my social/studio/interactive non-isolation’s pretty great.

Green T

Finally, where I live offers many natural wonders and pretty good weather, so if I need “balance,” I head out to the beach and in 30 minutes I can have it all: “isolation” (park on my towel), “studio” (watercolor), “community” (all the beachgoers who are my unwitting models) and nature: sun, sand, salt, water...balance.

Describe a moment you had an epiphany concerning your creative life.

About 6 years ago I realized that ‘everyone’ was sharing their art on social media, and all of my self-conscious insecurities about ‘exposing’ myself—showing what was most intimate and honest for me, my self-portraits—were all in my own head. Nobody else knew or cared, at least not more than I did. In other words, “get over it, get out, share what you do and get on with it” kicked in. Talk about liberating. It’s a one-way street and that is all. That was the epiphany.

Do you have a personal mantra or quote which serves to motivate you?

“...For she was the maker of the song she sang” from the hauntingly beautiful Wallace Stevens poem “The Idea of Order at Key West,” reminds me that making art is like a journal—it’s a place for me and bare-bones honesty, period. If I self-censor or edit my thoughts, then I have no business putting in time that day. What I’ve found is that when I share what is most personal, idiosyncratic or intimate, I hear back from people and artists I admire in the most positive ways. It means I’ve connected on some level, and that’s pretty humbling, reassuring and inspiring.

Describe an obstacle you have faced and how did you overcome it?

I have been my own obstacle—my insecurities, fear of failure, fear of being judged, all the clichés I suppose. When I hit middle age and accepted the truth of just how much self-censoring I’d done over the years, of the work that was most meaningful to me, (making a distinction from jobs, commissions, subjects that were less personal), I had real, palpable regrets. That’s a pretty bad feeling. What followed was a pretty intense, internal about-face. Self-affirmation is a critical part of being productive as a creative person. You have to have a healthy ego, respect yourself and just put it out there, what’s most honest for you. For me that’s always been an obstacle, but at least now I go through with it. No regrets feels good.

What do you hope to convey through your work?

I paint a lot of self-portraits and don’t have an ‘agenda’ when I work. But I am fascinated by the human psyche as it’s articulated in facial expressions and body language.

During the process of painting my own face and body, memories and meandering thoughts will unfold like a timeline, a movie that examines the past, surveys the present, and wonders about what lies ahead. In my studio, time flies by, anguish gets muted, I breathe freely; my fears and worries get absorbed into the buttery substance of the oil paint, transforming themselves into brushstrokes that capture shared realities. This is who I am. This is who you are. This is who we all are.

And while not intentional, my paintings are political; they show uncensored nudity and the nipple in acknowledgment of female sexuality and the beauty of our bodies. They convey society’s gender pressures, and speak about our loss of innocence, our silent fears, the widespread abuse, and most importantly, our power to change through determination and inner strength.

That said, I prefer to hear viewers’ personal responses because that’s what it’s about. Emotion.

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