Lauren Brevner’s art is made for Instagram. One look at her account and, just like her 30,000-plus followers, you’ll be inclined to zoom in on the subjects she paints: glamorous portraits of women caught in moments of deep contemplation. There’s something deeply special and ethereal about the works that you can’t quite put your finger on, and it’s nearly impossible to scroll past her posts without wanting to know more.
Peel back the layers of Brevner’s technique, and the work begins to reveal itself: the BC-born artist uses birch and maple planks instead of a traditional canvas, lending her work an almost 3D effect. Brevner does not so much as apply oil, acrylic, and resin to her pieces as she adorns them. Beyond simply painting her ladies, she dresses them in gold and silver leaf and uses Chiyogami—a hand-stenciled or printed paper enriched with patterns taken from traditional Japanese imagery—to amplify clothes, accessories and backdrops. The effect of Brevner’s alchemy often fools viewers into believing her works revolve around noble figures in history. It is precisely her palette choices: rich rubies and burgundies, gilded yellows and various shades of champagne—which present a cast of empresseses, goddesseses or high priestesses hailing from an unknown, decadent age.
Although Brevner is tight-lipped about who her regal subjects are, she does confess to the fact that her artistic epiphany was kick started by an era of excess. “The inspiration that came to me after I found stacks of old Vogue magazines from the ’80s in my mom’s basement was overwhelming,” Brevner says from her home in Vancouver. “Everything was so big and costume-y back then. Even though I had technical art books and anatomy books that helped me understand the human figure, it was the intense makeup, oversized wigs and all the angular cuts on the hair in vintage fashion publications and ads that really did it for me.”
The rush of seeing super ladies of the ’80s such as Isabella Rossellini, Cindy Crawford, Carol Alt, and Gia Carangi, photographed by legendary fashion photographer Richard Avedon, motivated Brevner to move to Osaka for a short period of time so she could work alongside Japanese fashion designer Sin Nakayamal. The experience lured her further into the study of femininity, classical notions of beauty, and atypical and inventive runway fashion. “I still keep tabs on designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Gucci and Alexander McQueen, but Kenzo’s work really blows my mind,” she says. In fact, it was Kenzo’s fall 2012 collection that “lit a fire” in Brevner and continues to impact her work. “The way they mixed African motifs with Japanese kimonos and classical Asian fabrics has inspired me for years.”
While Brevner is clearly energized by the runway, it’s her background—her maternal grandparents are from Japan and paternal grandparents from Germany and Trinidad—that influences her fondness for unlikely combinations. “Blending cultures is something I’ve been doing since I was young,” she says. “Its instinctual.” Any art groupie will be able to pinpoint flecks of Gustav Klimt, Polish Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka and the iconic ’80s artist Patrick Nagel (the man responsible for Duran Duran’s Rio album cover) in her work, yet Brevner, who is proudly self-taught, says she rarely looks to other artists or their work.
“I had this big struggle being a self-taught artist. I may not be part of the local Vancouver art scene, and it’s hard to be accepted here, but I’ve had time to realize my own vision.” That vision is occasionally inspired by her brother, Matt, a rapper with whom she shares studio space. When she isn’t listening to podcasts such as BBC’s Woman’s Hour or music by Nina Simone or Dean Martin, Brevner typically paints to the sounds of her sibling’s raps, accompanied by live violinists, piano, and synth players. One of her most striking pieces is a tribute to her grandmother, who passed away in 2015. “I remember visiting her on her death bed and I thought she looked oddly beautiful. That night, I had a dream of a girl laying in a bed of roses and the flowers were shaped in a way that looked like a coffin. That idea of beauty in decay made me create Tsubaki [the Japanese word for chrysanthemu, a flower that represents death in Asian culture].”
Up next for Brevner is a cavalcade of exhibits that involves showcasing her work around the globe, from Berlin’s Johanssen Gallery to the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum in Arizona. She also participated in this year’s SCOPE Art Fair in New York City, and continues to craft pieces for her ever-demanding Instagram fans-turned-clients. “It’s a living online portfolio,” Brevner says of the medium responsible in large part for launching her career. “One hundred percent of my earlier clients only came from Instagram. Most of them still do.”
By Elio Iannacci.