In just three years local artist Laura Gravenstine has made her mark in the art world, exhibiting throughout the area and in New York her distinctive works, which incorporate organic materials such as berries and juices. Pieces of her fruit series are currently on exhibit at the Barsky Gallery in Hoboken and at the New York Hall of Science. She also has an upcoming exhibit in February at the Museum of Russian Art in Jersey City.
Intersections of art and science
Gravenstine, 41, employs a unique style and technique where she makes markings of various berries and juices on prepared surfaces such as paper, glass, and acrylic, among others. The literal print of the berry becomes fused with chemicals on the surface. She removes the fruit and paints with juice, then allows oxidation before sealing the material with a clear epoxy or resin.
“The process that I do is unusual,” said Gravenstine last month at her studio on 49 Harrison St. While the process itself was organic and accidental at first, she has worked with biochemists to hone her technique to prevent molding and the disappearance of the imprints.
“You could take 100 different berries and make marks of 100 different ones and you would be able to see that it is different berries every time,” noted Gravenstine. “So it is like a fingerprint almost.”
Through her work Gravenstine explores themes related to mortality and the ephemeral nature of life.
“The [berries] were an amazing metaphor for the impermanence of human life,” she noted. “They are here for the moment and then they are gone. It is the same with people [and] with anything living on the planet.”
“I was very determined to preserve the imprints of those berries as paintings,” said Gravenstine, who stumbled upon the inspiration following her grandmother’s death. She had suddenly died as a result of a brain tumor.
“The night that she passed, I was thinking about her life,” said Gravenstine. She sat at a table eating blackberries as a small tribute to her grandmother, who had enjoyed making preserves.
“It was a small way of sort of honoring her and the only way I knew how at the moment,” said Gravenstine. She left the berries in an open container next to paper she had prepared for drawings she was working on at the time.
“I went to sleep…when I got up in the morning the berries were gone,” said Gravenstine.
She noticed that the seeds were scattered on the paper and saw evidence of a mouse from mouse footprints left behind.
Gravenstine reacted to the effect left by the seeds: “ ‘Wow, that’s really pretty,’” she said.
“It was my way of bringing her [my grandmother] into the world,” said Gravenstine of her work preserving the likeness of berries.
Rediscovering a passion
“When I first started out using the fruit, I had a very specific goal in mind,” noted Gravenstine. “Once that goal was met, then my interests became more about imagery.”
She added that it wasn’t so much about figuring out the material but rather about exploring what could be done with it and how she could use it to communicate a specific idea.
Gravenstine rediscovered her passion for art later in life. After several career explorations from youth counselor to gourmet baker to model, in 2009 she completed a BFA at William Paterson University. While she originally majored in English she was hooked on fine arts after taking her first drawing and painting class.
“On the one hand I was excited,” said Gravenstine about starting over.
She noted that starting from square one meant that “I had to make sure that is what I wanted to do.”
Despite the later start, Gravenstine has made many connections and has had the law of attraction work in her favor as people have noticed her work.
“At first it was really serendipitous,” noted Gravenstine. “I started making the fruit work…people started finding out about that and things took off on their own.”
Gravenstine was born in Alexandria, Virginia, and moved to West Milford, N.J. with her family at the age of 11. She currently lives in Weehawken and secured her Hoboken art studio three years ago.
She feels that living and working in Hudson County allows her to stay connected to artists here, and across the river in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
“I do like knowing all of the different groups,” Gravenstine added. “They all have something different to offer.”
Gravenstine also runs a full service life-casting and sculpture studio with clients who range from Barney’s New York to Art House Productions in Jersey City. She works with visual artists and also does individual casts of couples, expectant mothers, and babies.
For more information about the artist, visit: http://www.gravenstine.com.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.