Photo: Strikingly Odd Media
Lauren E. Peters became a studio artist at The Delaware Contemporary in 2015, hoping to return to oil painting after an extended hiatus. When her first exhibition was scheduled she started working with self-portraiture, not knowing just how far that decision would lead. Peters’ thesis exhibit in college focused on identity and body image, featuring paintings inspired by a cast in her studio of the Venus de Milo. In retrospect, the artist becoming The Object of her own gaze seems inevitable and the years of growth in between were perhaps necessary to make this leap. In 2018 Lauren E. Peters was awarded a fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts for her portrait paintings.
I create self-portraits because identity is tricky to pin down. I create self-portraits because I don’t like people taking my picture. I create self-portraits because I love designing costumes for theater, helping actors become their characters. Because I feel like I have nothing to wear for an occasion, to be the person I need to be in that situation. Because I love bright colors and want to express myself, but am not comfortable being the center of attention. I create self-portraits because I am proud to join the lineage of women who were not allowed to go to art school or paint nudes, and therefore painted themselves. Because I can’t answer the questions on the Myers-Briggs personality test with any amount of certainty. Because social media can be so fake and dangerous. Because I want to embrace the fluidity and dualities within how we think of our selves.
The search for a female symbol through which I could wrestle the complex nature of identity changed when I discovered Chantal Joffe. Years ago I became very close to a cast of the Venus de Milo, but had never considered making myself The Object of my own gaze. Her paintings featuring a single, bold figure grabbed me in such a way that I immediately started making self-portraits. I acquired a few wigs and gathered an assortment of clothing and costumes. The paintings came to directly confront a cultural obsession with our own reflection while simultaneously bringing an internal struggle to light. Self-portraiture allows me to study the fluidity and importance of appearances, while examining the societal weight of our own likeness. What if putting on these “disguises” were bringing parts of myself forward that I normally wouldn’t show? What if the filters we apply to the lives we project, especially in the age of social media, were used to see something true instead of false?