Interview with Lauren YS

We had the honor to interview the Los Angeles-based artist Lauren YS, renown for her massive-scale murals and visual characters influenced by dreams, myth, death, comic, sex, black holes, cybernetic organisms, all the way to her own Asian-American heritage.

Her story is one that serves to remind us that your own dreams can be lived. The requirements? Relentless passion, staying true-to-self, obsession for improving your craft.

What’s the start up story behind your journey to creating art?

I have always been making art, but discovering muralism completely transformed my creative mode from something quite solipsistic into a true practice that felt more global, physical and committed.

I spent my first several years of mural painting simply faking-it-til-I made-it, fumbling with spray paint for a long time before getting comfortable, and trying to paint as much as humanly possible in order to plow through a perceived “shitty phase” into a space where I was able to say I knew what I was doing.

– Lauren YS

I had a lot of help from friends, mentors and family during that time- offering walls, paint and patience- which is why I try to do the same for new artists now.

I was strongheaded and obsessive about trying to get out into the world, which served me well in the realm of learning lessons, making mistakes and honing my craft.

What are three words that best define Lauren YS?

Quixotic, curious, tempestuous

What are you working on lately?  

I am currently working on a music video with the incredible Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote and a mural for the Chinese American Museum in LA.

What are some recent achievements you would like to share? 

I recently opened my largest solo exhibition at Heron Arts in SF, entitled “Eidolon Vessel,” including my first large-scale installation.

I’m really proud of this work as it was a love letter to my heritage and my ancestors, as well as a personal landmark for production levels and storytelling.

What’s something that’s always running on your mind?

Lately I am constantly questioning what ideological lens through which to approach any given situation: an interpersonal one or one filtered by my personal matrix for the politics of identity; and how these two lenses intersect, knowing neither exist in a vacuum.

How do you spend your downtime?

Sleeping or sketchbooking without direction. My next body of work will be largely informed by dream symbology, so I’ve been trying to clock a lot more content provided by subconscious time.

When I’m able, I like to try to get into nature, shut off my phone and wander into the forest or desert to try to recharge my urbanified state of mind.

What would you spend a million dollars on?

I would buy property somewhere in the woods for my siblings and I, and invest in creating a space for Queer BIPOC people to pursue projects and collaborate.

I would want to make my family comfortable and invest in creating systems that promote more just futures within the art world and for the environment.

What three pieces of advice would you give to others when it comes to life and business?

As long as you stay true to yourself, the right people, opportunities and returns will come to you – it is by compromising who you are that you end up in the wrong places. Trust yourself.

Give yourself time to develop and know that it’s sometimes important to make bad work in order to get to the good stuff. Don’t be too precious.

Don’t get competitive or jealous- there is more than enough to go around.

What’s one thing you struggle most when building your own brand?

The fact that I’m ideologically kind of allergic to the idea of ‘branding.’ I see my work as an extension of myself and my values, rather than some kind of capitalist framework within which to make money.

So I actually find it most difficult to confront the fact that sometimes very integral parts of my identity must necessarily become “commodities” by the very fact of their availability in galleries and merchandise; so I spend a lot of time finding ways to counteract this interchange by donating percentages of my profits back to the communities that have enriched my identity (ie the queer & BIPOC).

I see this as a kind of symbiotic relationship that resists some of the capitalist framework of ‘brand identity’ and allows me to create in a more honest and protected way.

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

Sometimes I procrastinate a little too much, and I’ve tried to build in more prep time as a result.

I have also sometimes failed to speak up for myself or for others when I’ve seen injustices being dealt, and as I get older I’ve tried to atone for those missed opportunities by being braver and advocating in times that seem necessary, though it can be scary.

What’s a typical day in your life like?

There’s not much consistency for someone like me- but I do try to pack in a little creative time every day.

I usually like to operate more during night hours and there’s usually a combination of admin work, studio time and checking in on friends or family, which I’ve found to be particularly important since the pandemic started.

What’s one of the highlighting moment in your career? Why is it so?

This most recent exhibition at Heron Arts was a true highlight for me. I’ve never planned so meticulously, experienced so much frustration, enjoyed such enriching levels of collaboration, or felt such pride and gratification about a single project—all the pitfalls and successes accumulated to something I’ll never forget.

What stops you from throwing in the towel and giving up during those frustrating days of being in this industry?

The fact that painting, devoid of any industry trappings, is the thing that gives me the most joy in life.

And also the feeling that if I gave up, my entire life force would probably drain out of me and leave me a shell of a human.

Biggest risk ever taken?

Making the choice to be more public about my gender identity and sexuality was quite scary.

But I felt it was necessary given that my work is so personal, the value of representation has become so much clearer to me, and my purpose is so increasingly intertwined with advocating for the communities with which I identify.

Who has influenced you most and been your greatest inspiration?

I honestly look up to the career paths, ideology and self-possessive qualities of people like Bjork, Yayoi Kusama and Grace Lee Boggs when talking about people I admire.

All femmes who broke barriers, never compromised their weirdness to be more palatable to the masses, and always put their vision before all else.

How do you go about marketing your business or yourself?

What has been your most successful form of marketing?

Honesty- I never think about presenting myself as a form of “marketing.” I uphold the values I uphold, I tell my story as honestly as I can, I make work that feels true to me and the mark I want to leave on the world, and hope that people will respond to it. That is all.

The only other more tactile element I would profess is being an obsessive documentarian- recording & presenting your work faithfully shows respect for yourself and your process, and will always serve well in the long run.

How do you plan to grow your brand/business further?

I have a small nonprofit program I began with my partner @polartropica which is a platform for QTBIPOC artists (@squidtropica on instagram) – so far we have been able to give out microgrants to a good number of artists, but my dream is to be able to curate full art shows or even residencies available for these artists.

Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?

I am a big fan of Swoon’s Heliotrope foundation, and the way she has intertwined her work with the contemporary art world in a way that benefits philanthropic work in underprivileged parts of the world.

How do you achieve balance in your life?

Balance isn’t something I’ve historically been great at, but I’d say that trying to create a net good with the work I do is a form of mutual-aid informed balance.

I’d like my personal successes to also enrich my communities. On the personal side, I’ve tried to be more mindful and less chaotic in order to feed my creative flow – being more selective of projects and allotting more time for mental health.

What is the definition of success for you all, and how much of it do you think you guys have achieved?

I don’t have a particular definition, outside of always aiming for bigger, better and more impactful projects. I feel very humbled and proud of where I am at this time, and excited for what unknown potential the future holds.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?

I’d like to be painting much bigger walls by then, perhaps have my own clothing line or publication. I’d like to have written novels, made movies, or at least be working on them.

I’d like to be more self-actualized in the way I understand my body and my sexuality, and to have a strong and flourishing queer community.

What’s the first thing you guys would say to the world if all attention was on you now?

 Imagine if we all simply respected our individual rights to be who we are, without hurting one another?

Connect with Lauren YS

Official Website:
Instagram: @squid.licker

Written by allurre

Founder of StreetwearTalk and RECQUIXIT, Videographer, Producer, Serial Entrepreneur.

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