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Grand Forks woman's love of painting, borne of the pandemic, leads to first art exhibit

"Defending the Silver Lining" exhibit captures spirit of optimism, human excitement in the style of 'naive art'

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An art exhibit, titled "Defending the Silver Lining," at the Alerus Center features acrylic paintings by Senta Lauren of Grand Forks. About 15 of her artworks will be displayed in the center's lobby, near door 7, for the next three months. (Submitted photo)
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Last December, after spending many hours coloring with her young children while in quarantine, Senta Lauren started painting. She discovered a passion for art.

For months, she didn’t think her work was very good, but others did. And, with encouragement, especially from her husband and others, she kept at it.

Last week, an exhibit of her work, “Defending the Silver Lining,” opened at the Alerus Center. All 15 artworks, which will be displayed for three months, are available for sale. To see the exhibit, enter Door 7.

“The show has such a great hometown feel to it,” said Vickie Arndt, gallery director for the Public Arts Commission. “There is a naïve quality to it that makes it very sweet.”

In terms of composition – the “putting together” of elements in a work of art – “she’s a natural,” Arndt said. “I see great potential in Senta. She has a lot of natural talent.”

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In fact, Arndt describes Lauren’s style as “naïve art,” a specific approach that “basically means ‘untrained,’ but has elements of the ‘trained.’ ” In the art world, the label categorizes artists who lack or reject conventional expertise in the representation or depiction of real objects.

“It is recognized, and often imitated, for its childlike simplicity, frankness and purpose,” Arndt said.

Lauren says her art embodies “optimism and excitement of humanity,” which is reflected in the exhibit’s title, “Defending the Silver Lining.”

Currently, she’s said there’s a climate of “real deep, dark (art) and activism – which there’s an important place for – but with my art, for me, it’s being able to see the positive, like, if you can’t recognize the things that you love about the people and the places around you, how do you know what you want to strive for, to achieve? So that’s kind of my thing.”

Lauren is motivated “to see the beauty and the optimism in the world – whether it’s what people create in their farmlands and those landscapes, the heart and soul that goes into buildings, the excitement of people experiencing a sporting event and being surrounded by something that they love and are excited about.

“I just want people to remember that that stuff exists and that’s the stuff that we love, and we want to keep going.”

‘Naïve art’

The “naïve” artistic style came to prominence in the late 19th century. Henri Rousseau, one of the first recognized naïve artists, exhibited his works alongside Seurat, Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh in Paris, Arndt said.

As a self-taught artist, “Senta turns away from tradition and embraces instinct, uninhibited raw creativity, and passion,” Arndt said. Her work breaks from the traditional rules of proportion and perspective; “she is kind of ‘Van Gogh-esque.’ I can see her moving in that direction. She prefers to paint in an impressionist style to capture the flow and energy of the subjects and often mimics Van Gogh’s skies.”

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Lauren got into painting several years ago when her mother-in-law gave her painting supplies, she said. “I hated what I did so much that I hid my stuff away for two years.”

When the pandemic hit, she pulled out the materials and proceeded to fall in love with painting. Her husband, Ben Grzadzielewski, kept encouraging her.

“A couple times I threw stuff away,” she said, recalling a particular piece he pulled out of the garbage and saying, “You’re not throwing that away.” That piece now hangs in her in-laws’ home, she said.

She went on to produce a collection that she “was nervous to show people, but eventually I did,” she said, “and they liked it – it still surprises me.”

“It’s one of those things, when you’re younger, if people don’t tell you’re good at something, you don’t necessarily know if you are. And I think that transitions to adulthood too,” Lauren said. “But that’s probably part of it, especially in the adolescent years, (when) nobody said I was good. So there’s no validation there to keep going – which is kind of silly but it’s just kind of how the mind works.”

Lauren has dabbled a bit with watercolor and is interested in oils, but mostly favors acrylics, she said. “I like how bold you can (paint) with the acrylics and the layering,” she said. “I’ve really become attached to that.”

In subject matter, “I mostly love landscapes and structure, like old architecture, brickwork,” she said. “I love stadiums; I’ve done quite a few stadiums. I love the energy of the sport itself.”

She’s also drawn to old downtowns and the historic buildings that populate them, she said. “If I’m walking around an older city and see some cool architecture, I’ll stop and take pictures, and make a mental note that maybe I want to paint that later.”

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Originally from Milwaukee, she has found Grand Forks, her home for about eight years, to be visually inspiring too, she said. “My favorite parts of Grand Forks are the old downtown buildings. Even in a small city, like this, there’s so much history and cool architecture. It’s hard not to stop and appreciate it.”

Different part of brain

Lauren, an officer with the U.S. Air Force Reserves, has found that painting taps into “a different part” of her brain, she said.

Painting is a far cry from the other aspects of her life, she said. What she enjoys most about it is “probably the escape and purpose.”

“I love being a mom and I love serving in the military, but the painting gives me purpose beyond that. It helps me exercise a part of my brain I don’t get to exercise. It’s a totally different part of my brain I feel I’m using.

“It just makes me feel different and better, more complete, I guess. It’s not just following rules and regulations,” she said. “I get to experiment and even be a little bit lazy – which I think my art can come off that way. It’s not all pristine and precise. It’s a little mix of both.”

When asked about the description of her art as “naïve,” Lauren said she makes no claim to be an authority.

“I joke that I’m so naïve, I had to google ‘naïve art,’ ” she said, with a laugh. “naïve is not my favorite word to be described as, in life in general, but once I actually looked it up, I was like, you know, that’s totally accurate.

“I don’t know the rules of art; I’m not classically or professionally trained in art,” Lauren said. “I feel like I don’t have to follow rules because I don’t know them. I can embrace that. If I need to, I can look some stuff up. I do what I like and what I feel looks good, and if it matches certain rules, that’s fine. If you call it ‘naïve art,’ then cool.

“And if somehow Van Gogh is thrown into that category, I’ll take it.”

Related Topics: ARTALERUS CENTER
Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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