The notion of being natural is rarely something anyone or anything gets to choose for themselves. Because anything we might call a natural state of being is influenced by conditions that are in constant flux (even if subtly), any such state is, therefore, also in constant flux. What ultimately comes to be understood as the natural state of something or someone is the result of a projected consensus view that reduces identifying characteristics into a more easily consumable cluster, leaving overarching power dynamics undisturbed. However you might situate yourself in the world vis a vis your family, community, city, or nation is likely not how others are situating you.
The paintings in Lauren Spencer King’s exhibition She Will Be Unnatural can be described in the simplest of terms as small watercolor paintings on paper of flowers, specifically, orchids. The flowers fill the picture space, overwhelming its borders with colors and shapes that offer a look into the more wild, energetic dimensions of this type of flower, one that is typically appreciated for its delicacy and the high degree of care and control it requires. Although they are painted over the course of months with a labor-intensive degree of precision, King does not seek to dominate orchids into her process. In her paintings, orchids are free and powerful. If King is exacting about anything beyond her painting technique, it is in her commitment to spending ample time examining her subjects. King’s process is not one of passively recording, it is prying and at times relentless. She works her way through each image to reveal complexities beyond what the interplay of light and shadow accentuates in the orchid, guiding us through the darker, murkier realms of definition and into one where self-definition can be approached with openness and malleability.
Her choice of subject matter mirrors her choice in medium. King’s paintings reach back to art historical traditions of Dutch still life and botanical illustration, as well as our present-day experiences in well-appointed homes or offices where we can find orchid blooms perched atop a single stem emerging from a small pot. For King, it isn’t about that single, perfect stem emphasizing the ideal but rather what can happen when layers of many orchids create a more intricate surface of pattern and shape. For the orchid, color and pattern is a means of survival; it must stand out in its inhospitable environment to attract insects for pollination, which it does through its intense and vivid colors. It is precisely this articulation that led King to pursue orchids and work with them toward realizing an alternate identity, taking on her subject matter and the medium of watercolor, and pushing them beyond their predetermined limitations.
Lauren Spencer King (b.1980) lives and works in Los Angeles. Recent exhibitions include Blum and Poe, Los Angeles; Big Pictures Los Angeles; Regards, Chicago; Ochi Gallery, Ketchum, Idaho; M+B Gallery, Los Angeles; and Public Fiction, Los Angeles. She received her BFA and MFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.