When fans tell St. Louis artist Lauren Marx that they love his work, which often happens these days, his response is always, “Why?”
In fact, when asked to describe himself, the first word that comes out of his mouth is “cluttered”. She explains that she means this in both the physical and mental context. “Can the mess be cut?” She jokes.
Marx had never considered herself an “artist-artist”, and she is not sure what to think of her expanding profile among admirers of the art world and beyond. She has amassed 560,000 Instagram followers and made approximately 15,000 sales through her Etsy store, which includes original artwork as well as prints, stickers, T-shirts and other items featuring her artwork. According to Marx’s tally, there are now hundreds of people getting tattoos of her work – a man had one of her pieces inked on his head, which she finds a bit odd.
His most recent success was the release of his new book on May 4th, Sacred Decline: The Art of Lauren Marx. Four years of preparation, it sold out on pre-orders only and was quickly scheduled for an additional print run.
Marx specializes in a blend of pen, ink and watercolor paintings that draw inspiration from the natural world. His paintings live on the line between gore and an artist’s representation of the life cycle, almost always including animals inspired by scientific illustrations and Renaissance art.
Seven years after graduating from Webster University, the almost 30-year-old (who tells RFT “Death strikes overnight” because she recently discovered gray hair) just hopes she has made her city proud.
On his second Zoom call – the first was about a meeting with his therapist – Marx spoke with the RFT on everything related to art, the artist’s path to success and his undying love for the Lous. Answers have been edited slightly for length and clarity.
Let’s jump in. How did you experience your childhood as an artist?
It was, uh, that was pretty good. There are a lot of artists in my family. So nobody really questioned it. Looking back, I was like someone should have been worried that if I wasn’t good at it there should have been a backup, but no one cared. It was just normal enough. Everyone in my family did something artistic. But I was the only mainstream artist – everyone made music and things like that.
I see you went to school in St. Louis. What was your university experience?
Oh, yeah, so I went to Webster University. I graduated in 2014. There were a handful of cool teachers who weren’t full time. That’s when I developed anxiety attacks and tremors and all kinds of things. And I haven’t really made a lot of friends. So, it was actually a very difficult time. But I left that by being able to handle just about any criticism at this point. A lot of people told me that I was going to fail as an artist because of the style of my work and that they wanted to break me. And yes, it was pretty hard. And I had a few people ganging up on me about a year after I graduated to try to get my degree withdrawn.
Why would someone want to withdraw your degree? Why would anyone care then?
It was based on the thesis. When you get an art degree from Webster, you have to do a thesis and have it signed by two full-time professors. And there was just a fluke, where I couldn’t get the two full-time professors signed and it was due. So, I spoke to the thesis professors and it was quite acceptable for me to have two assistant professors. And it didn’t go well. But it got to the point where the head of the department emailed me and said, âI signed your thesis, you graduated,â and he said, âI I’m sorry this is happening to you â.
There were a handful of incredibly wonderful, supportive, super sweet people who rooted me 100%. And they were great. They kind of kept me a little sane during that. So yes, that’s kind of why I didn’t go to college. One of my teachers said – he was so nice – that he was trying to keep me encouraged. And he said to me, “I don’t think you should go to college. I don’t think you can take it mentally.” Like, you’re right. I absolutely cannot.
Did this experience dissuade you from pursuing a career in art?
It was a little out of spite then, after learning that even before my career took off, it was going to fail. And yes, I don’t know how I got to this point, but when I graduated I already pretty much knew I was going to be doing art full time. So I didn’t have a job or anything after that. And it worked ; it worked very well. And there are still a handful who are very happy for me.
If you could share something with young artists right now what would it be?
Oh, I would say only do what makes you happy. Don’t let people convince you to do something you don’t like. And that’s usually what ends up causing people not to chase after him after school or high school, or whatever you have: it’s no longer fun.
And embrace social networks. Social media is more important than galleries in my opinion so people really need to take that and use social media.
And yes, do what you want.
Has the concept of artist changed since you started in your career? Or is it different from what you thought it would be in school to have social media as a new kind of tool?
Yeah, absolutely. Your older teachers, some of them get it, but most don’t really understand that social media has somehow changed everything. So when you leave art school the idea you have in your brain is that you only succeed with these exhibitions and galleries and that’s what you have to do.
I still struggle with that, where most of my career takes place on social media these days, and I feel like I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. The art world kind of started to implode on itself because of it, because no one saw it coming. It changed so quickly. I would say that in the last four years maybe everything has really really shifted to social media, and other artists have started to go back to traditional ways of pursuing art as a career.