We Are All About Lauren Skelly Bailey’s Wonderful Coral Sculptures

Ollie Willems
May 6, 2017 · 6 min read

We’re back with another Member Spotlight, because our members are FRIGGIN’ AWESOME and always worth bragging about!

This week, we’re happy to bring you the ephemeral sculptures of artist Lauren Skelly Bailey, currently one of the artists in residence on the sixth floor of the Museum of Arts and Design, as part of their Artist Studios program. If you don’t know it yet, the MAD is right above our Turnstyle location, so if you’re in the area, you’ve got no excuse to not stop by and see her amazing work for yourself.

We caught up with her to talk a little bit more about her background, uniquely creative process, and how her work has been changing in the post-Trump era.

Check out our conversation below:

Tell us a little bit about your background:

I went to Adelphi university for my BFA and initially thought I was going to do painting. Then the ceramics department found out that I could throw and kind of ninja’d me into their department. And there were a lot of really great women working there at the time — Barbara Rocco and people influenced by Peter Voulkos were there, so it was a really interesting community. I stayed there an extra year and got my MA. They needed a studio assistant, I needed a studio, and it was kind of kismet. And then i got into RISD, where I went for my MFA. Since 2015, I’ve been here and have a studio on long island in east meadow.

At MAD here I generally make conglomerations, and then I also make these coral forms, that can be separates, but when brought together create one cyclical environment, emulating environments like coral reefs. Thinking about the city, my project for MAD is to bring structures from the city, which is where these manhole forms come from in some of my pieces.

Why ceramics?

I had hit a rough spot in high school, and my mom decided we were going to do ceramics together. And it kind of hit off, and it was always this backburner thing the two of us were doing. She makes more functional things, and I make more disfunctional things, and it’s kind of just how we are. We still go to workshops together. Since she’s retired now I’m really grateful she got into her whole garage and turned it into a whole studio where we have a kiln and a wheel, so the two of us are constantly working on different things.

Can you elaborate a little on your creative process?

In ceramics, if you’re working on the wheel, or if you’re handbuilding, if you get scraps of clay, people are always like “what do you do with it?” You put it in a huge vat, and it rehydrates it, and from there it either goes into a pugmill or people will re-wedge it into clay by hand. As a studio tech, I’d end up with all this slick. As I lay it out on plasterboard, I have to wait for it to firm up before I re-wedge it. But I kind of found this way to make these crinkly, almost ribbon-candy-esque forms.

Initially, this was all on a bigger scale. I had this whole plasterboard table, and came out with these sort of cinnamon bun rosettes, but they kind of all looked the same. So when I took it down to a smaller scale like this, I was able to get these beautiful ribbons that I kind of hand-manipulate and stack into a larger form.

I’m de-installing an installation at the Wayne art center, and it’s probably about 500,maybe even 1,000 pieces, like real-life Jenga. And it’s the first install, where I brought some of the conglomerate rocks that I’ve created. I’m bringing my mom and renting her out for the day to help me out with this.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

It depends on the work. In my studio, I basically lay out sculptures that I hand-stack every day. And the first test is “can I hand-stack it in a kiln and will it stay that way, after the firing, because sometimes things shift and don’t work out. If it makes it through the kiln, then I’m thinking about colors and how things meld together, and if I’m happy with the plane of color.

But roughly I think it takes me a bout two months to say that I’m set with something. They say that artists live with their work, and then until it’s actually out of their studio, then it’s not done. I don’t always know when something’s done, there’s just that intuitive click where it’s like, this is supposed to be this way.

Some work just kind of gravitates towards itself. Some of the work just pours out, or I think about stacking things and what color combinations would work together. Sometimes I have to learn to pull back — to me they might seem perfect, to someone else they might seem muddy. It’s trying to find those tensions and expanding them without seeming too forced, or too murky.

It’s a lot of trial and error, and grad school kind of gave me that ground work of allowing me to experiment without needing to be sure of something, but at the same time it’s not that cool to not know how you got to a certain point. The rocks gave me that space to kind of explore surfaces that can be achieved at different temperatures.

Tell us about these Sea Plums

I call them Sea Plums. They’re sort of hinting at this decorative culture in New York. They’ve definitely got that idolized gold feature, and they’re still all about coral being taken from another space and embedded somewhere else. The bottom part of these are actually the impression of my radiator. It’s kind of my way way to literally bring my surroundings into my craft. Some of them have that manhole cover style element added to them ,and the green and the blue you see in some of these is reminiscent of graffiti.

I participated in the Nasty Women exhibition. Over 500+ female artists donated work, all the money they made that night they gave to Planned Parenthood. And it has sparked all of these other exhibitions to happen over the US and abroad.

And do you see the Trump presidency coloring your work?

I do see it color my work, that I’m starting to make more associations with making these dystopian artifacts, and this is kind of in that genre. I’m actually participating in a show next year, I believe entitled ‘Dystopia’, bringing together and merging these utopia and dystopias. I feel like there is a certain murkiness to some of these pieces, and the color and tonality reflects that.

Thank you for speaking with us, Lauren.

That’s it for this week’s Member Spotlight. Make sure you check out Lauren’s work in the Artists Studio on the sixth floor of the Museum of Arts and Design. The display continues until the end of June.


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