Lauralee Benjamin, a 29 year old illustrator born and raised in New York City talks to us about her provocative work and the intention behind it. "I have always been interested in the ways women harness and express their sexuality" Lauralee tells us, "In my work, I explore the connections between sex, love, lust, pain, revenge and control, based on my own experiences. I use images appropriated from pornography to hijack the patriarchal sentiments and flip them into feminist narratives." she continues, "I hope that others, women in particular, can relate to the positive and negative emotions I'm trying to convey" .
Where are you originally from?
Where do you currently live?
Preferred Art Medium
Reality TV, Lisa Frank memorabilia, 90’s freestyle music
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Man Ray, Alphachanneling, Toyin Odutola
The Shape of Things
The Cat at the Door : Affirmations for Children
Beyonce, Freddie Mercury, Cam’ron
What is something you deeply love about yourself?
My instincts and self awareness.
How has Instagram worked for you as an artist?
I owe my blossoming into a full time artist almost completely to the reach of Instagram. I was just a customer service manager who posted her artwork sometimes but the response from strangers on Instagram propelled me into pursuing it full-time.
“I use images appropriated from pornography to hijack the patriarchal sentiments and flip them into feminist narratives”
What is your definition of art?
Anything that’s a creative manifestation of the artist’s intentions. But that’s just my personal definition - I believe everyone has their own.
Briefly describe the circumstances under which you grew up, and how did these influence your art?
I grew up bouncing between my parents houses in two very different, racially segregated communities. I consider this the foundation for my extreme and unapologetic liberalism. My mother was open-minded to the point of it almost being a detriment and my father was the exact opposite. I think seeing these two extreme personalities clash constantly taught me a lot about societal norms and gave me the confidence to break them.
Can you remember a specific experience from your life that has shaped who you are and what you do as an artist today?
As a little girl, something happened to me that happens to a lot of unattended-to little girls, and the way the community responded taught me the importance of feminism and the huge difference between how boys and girls are raised. It began my focus on women and indifference towards men.
Have you had any struggle with mental illness, and if so, would you like to share your experience with us?
There’s a family history on both sides of depression, but I was lucky enough to escape the pattern.
Artists paths are normally non-linear. Can you recall for us what your path has been like?
I wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember, but with working full time and bad spending habits, I dragged the courses on for years until I finally quit school. I worked as a nanny for years, then went into boring office admin stuff to pay the bills. It wasn't until I joined Instagram and started posting that I self identified as an artist. I quit my office job (well, I was fired for not giving a fuck at work while I worked on art), to pursue art full time exactly a year ago.
“Something happened to me that happens to a lot of unattended-to little girls, and the way the community responded taught me the importance of feminism[...]. It began my focus on women and indifference towards men.”
Do you think your ethnicity, gender, and/or personal preferences drove you towards becoming an artist?
I think my ethnicity and gender are 95% of who I am. That might be not appreciated by some who place less emphasis on those factors but its my honest experience. For better or worse almost all the tough decisions I’ve ever faced have been based at least halfway on my race or gender identity. If I were a straight, middle class white woman, I would probably be a teacher right now. But my family’s cycle of poverty, a direct result of civil rights failures in their own youth, resulted in my not being able to afford school. Being a woman who is objectified for my sexuality all the time, is probably the reason I got the last office job I had which financed the start of my own company. So its not a negative or positive, it’s just a reality.
What would you say are your artwork’s main themes?
sex, love, heartbreak
How would you describe your style?
surrealist, colorful, unapologetic
What is your opinion of the art world as it is right now? is there anything you'd like to change?
It’s hard to judge the whole art world because there are several little art worlds. The art world I live in is the underground NYC artist scene. It’s nice to see people with similar backgrounds on a similar positive path. I wish there was more of an emphasis on young artists perfecting their medium and understanding the history of art.
Artists are some of the most politically/socially engaged people. Do you find yourself actively supporting a particular movement or cause?
I actively support several causes that support black people, young women, and trans men & women using my votes and my money. I did my first product release specifically for charity earlier this year. It’s an enamel pin I designed with 50% of the profits going to the National Police Accountability Project.
How do you think the internet aids/complements the art world? And how do you think it deteriorates it?
Exposure is necessary for any artist making a career out of it so thats an obvious plus. The only negative I’ve experienced is the rampant stolen art on Instagram and Tumblr, and the “watering down” of an artist’s work when not presented how it was intended.
“I grew up bouncing between my parents houses in two very different, racially segregated communities. I consider this the foundation for my extreme and unapologetic liberalism”
What draws you towards your particular art medium?
I prefer pencil and felt pens because it just feels the most natural in my hand (as opposed to a paint brush). I also prefer paper to canvas because of the texture and because I like to frame them.
What are the main obstacles you have had to overcome as an artist?
Money is the main thing. It’s hard to support yourself with only art, for an unknown artist. And working full-time for someone else can deplete time and desire to make more art.
What kind of patterns, routines or rituals do you have to keep the creative juices flowing?
I like to have my trashy reality TV going in the background, a dimly-lit room and lots of weed :)
What project/series are you currently working on?
I’m wanting to get back into more portraits, close up studies of the face. It’s not a set project yet, but something I hope to have a collection of when I’m done.
“If I were a straight, middle class white woman, I would probably be a teacher right now. But my family’s cycle of poverty, a direct result of civil rights failures in their own youth, resulted in my not being able to afford school. Being a woman who is objectified for my sexuality all the time, is probably the reason I got the last office job I had which financed the start of my own company. So its not a negative or positive, it’s just a reality”