You don’t last long in Manhattan without being serious about something. It can be just about anything; fashion, theater, politics or even singing in your underwear in Times Square. Declaring yourself as the artist of happy in a city famous for anything but may seem like a crazy thing to do. However, here it goes. I am Laura Loving, I live in New York City and I make happy art.
When I was younger, I hated people referring to my paintings as happy. The Happy moniker felt dismissive. It’s rarely a compliment in the art world if someone says your paintings are happy or even worse… whimsical. Things of a happy nature are often seen as trivial. I know that my friends in comedy and musical theater struggle with the same thing. They feel their work is seen as entertaining, but not serious. While I have been comfortably out as a happy artist for years, it took me quite a bit of time to get here.
In college and my early 20s, I was in a constant fight to be taken seriously as an artist. My paintings hosted an array of cliché themes deemed acceptable to the fine art world. I dabbled in feminism, street graffiti and even turned my car into a moving work of art (The Lovemachine). These experimental detours always seemed to return me to the same place. I never fit the art school mold. I didn’t have piercings or tattoos. I didn’t wear black and I cannot stand the smell of patchouli. In studio classes I was often asked if I was an interior design major.
During this period of exploration, a favorite piece comes to mind. I was taking a sculpture class and my professor wanted to see me branch out. Well, I literally did. While vacationing on Sapelo Island over spring break, I found a unique piece of drift wood with lots of curves, holes, bump and stumps. I tried to create something controversial. With a brush and black paint, I painted nude figures strategically all over my new found treasure. Each bump (breasts), hole (lady parts or rear end) and stump (man parts) was now one of my figure’s anatomical features. I christened the piece, Porn Wood. My classmates and professor loved it. Ironically, ‘playfully humorous’ was how my professor described it. Sh##, even my edgy work is happy.
At 27, long before my days in Manhattan, I packed my bags and moved from Atlanta, GA to Nice, France. I had a full-time job and was taking my first steps toward an art career. Living in France really helped me come into my own as an artist. Scenes of the Riviera filled my canvases and I easily sold them to tourist in the old town market on weekends. A local architect took notice and offered to host a show for me in his gallery.
I invited anyone and everyone I had met since stepping foot in Nice to the opening. I even invited my mailman (who attended). I discovered a young jazz trio playing on the streets of Nice and hired them to play at the opening. The week before my big night, I called Riviera Radio (the English speaking radio station) and asked them to mention it on their events calendar.
The Architect’s gallery was run by a German lady named Regina. Regina was the perfect soul mate for Mike Meyer’s character Dieter from Sprockets (SNL circa 1990). She always wore head to toe black with a head band pulling her hair back in a severe manner. Regina was an unusual combination of harsh and likable. Not very many people were in her good graces and she was often grumpy. A typical compliment from Regina would go something like this: It’s unfortunate you’re American or You smile too much.
The opening was on a Friday night. On the Thursday before, I was driving home from work listening to Riviera Radio waiting for the event announcements. Blah bla, blah blah blah… Then I heard the announcer say, “Laura Loving, a young American artist is having her first opening this Friday at Chaleurs du Sud in Nice. We have Regina from the gallery on the line”. OMG! They were going to interview Regina. This was going to be interesting.
“Regina,” said the radio announcer, “Can you describe Laura’s work for us?” “Yes. It’s colorful and well…it’s… it’s very gay” said Regina in her very heavily accented English. I don’t remember exactly what she said next, but she used the word gay like 3 times. That was it. I had been outted on Riviera Radio. My art was gay.
I got about a million calls that night from friends both gay and straight reporting that I had been outted on the radio. I couldn’t escape it. No matter how you say it, my art is happy. I began to accept this simple fact. It no longer bothered me when people referred to my work as happy. As my number of collectors started to rise, I discovered a connection with the people who bought my work. Success taught me to be more concerned with whom my art is speaking to than to whom it is not. I am lucky that really interesting, creative and happy people love my art.
As my work visa ran out and my time on the Riviera was coming to a close, returning to Atlanta just didn’t seem right. I set my sights on New York City.
My very first week in New York, I had the opportunity to meet with a gallery owner in Tribeca. She was a friend of a friend and agreed to look at my work and give me some advice. She looked at my portfolio for all of 6 seconds… maybe even 5 and said the following. “You will never make it here. New Yorkers like serious things and your work is not serious.” I defended myself by reporting the success that I had in France and explained that I already had collectors in New York. She wasn’t listening. I thanked her for her time and left. It really got under my skin, but I didn’t pack my bags. I knew she was wrong. Happy people are everywhere, even in Manhattan. Fun Fact – 14 years later, I am still here making art and lady serious is selling real estate.
It took some time for me to get my footing in New York. I knew I would really have to search to find my people. New Yorkers are skeptical of upbeat friendly people in general, particularly if they paint sunshines and rainbows while speaking with a southern accent. The wrong people kept showing up in both my personal and professional life. New York has millions of inhabitants; I knew I had to keep looking.
I started planning the first of what would be a tradition in cocktail parties, Party on the Patio. Once again, I invited every single person I had met since my arrival: my real estate agent, my accountant, my colleagues, friends of friends etc.
As the RSVP’s started rolling in, I got a phone call from a neighbor, we will call her BB aka Busy Body. Ring..Ring… “Laura”, said BB, “Your outdoor space is really considered more of a terrace than a patio.” I couldn’t believe that was her opening statement. “BB, are you calling to tell me that I should change the title of my party from ‘Party on the Patio’ to ‘Party on the Terrace’ ?” I responded with a strong serving of sarcasm. BB always had something to say and it was NEVER positive. This phone call was not a surprise. “Well,” she said, “we really just don’t say ‘patio’ in the city. I am just trying to help you fit in.” “Thanks BB. See you at the party,” I responded and hung up.
Not ONLY did I have a very successful Party on the Patio that was attended by over 50 guests, I found my people that night. Many of the guests are still my good friends to this day. I even managed to sell a few paintings. Fun Fact – BB now lives in the suburbs with her very own patio.
My first art show in Manhattan was a women-only exhibit hosted at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. “Ladyfest”, as it was titled, was curated and I had been chosen to participate. I have to say that I was nervous as to what my reception would be with this group of artists. The first meeting looked like a scene from Art School Confidential. At a first glance, all stereotypes of a female artist imaginable were present. I saw cool aid red spiked pixie hair, a tattoo that said Bitch, head to toe piercings, future galerinas, shaved heads, rich bohos, one girl dressed as Charlie Chaplin with no explanation and me (I was wearing green flowy dress and jack rogers sandals with a sassy up-do). I took a deep breath and knew that these ladies were probably judging me just as quickly as I had just judged them. Even though my New York experiences had warned me not to be too friendly, I decided to be friendly anyways. It worked. It was a wonderful group of very talented women that represented all kinds of art and points of view. There was a mutual respect amongst artist and the installation was amazing. It was a great start to what would begin my adventures in the art world of Manhattan.
Recently, I was asked at a dinner party what my favorite movie is. I didn’t have to think about it, my answer was a tie between “Amelie” and “Uncle Buck”. The host was baffled and said,”Are you serious?” Sure, “Amelie” was an ok answer for a New York Artist. “Amelie” was artsy and French, but “Uncle Buck”? Had I lost my mind? Nope. I consider both of them to be works of art, especially “Uncle Buck.” I think stories highlighting the importance of love and connection between human beings are important and making people laugh and feel good is an art quintessential to our existence. Don’t get me wrong, I value all kinds of art and see its importance as well. I am just saying that what I personally am born to do as an artist is to be a voice for optimism. I have always been more interested in types of art that connect rather than separate us. I believe art is for everyone. The Loving Manifesto is to spread joy, humor and compassion as much as I possibly can ……..and I am serious as a heart attack about it.