Lauren Cat West is an artist living and riding in the city of Philadelphia, PA. Her keen sense of observational humor is reflected both in her work and in her personality. When she’s not hanging from scaffolding painting murals on the walls of Philadelphia, she’s out pedaling around in search of subject matter and strange finds at yard sales. We caught up with Lauren in between mural projects and gallery shows to find out more about her and her work.
Let’s get some of the formalities out of the way real quick. Where are you from and where are you living now.
I’m originally from Georgia but grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I now live in South Philadelphia (with my two cats).
At what point did you decide that art was something that you were going to pursue full time?
I think the moment I made an illustration and someone actually started handing me money while also asking, “can I buy that illustration you just made?”
But in all seriousness, I’ve had this strong love for art since I was a little kid. I either wanted to be Jane Goodall when I grew up or an artist. I got into design while working at my first bike shop in the burbs making experimental in-store illustrations and advertisements (mostly because, let’s face it, bike shop graphics were kinda bogus in the early 2000s. Like, really, really bad). Anyway, I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but my boss trusted me and it peaked my interest to where I officially applied to colleges and pursued art & design as a career. The moment I was offered my first job at a small agency downtown was when I knew I could totally do this. Illustration and painting just came naturally now that I was working professionally in a creative world.
Are you formally trained or self-taught?
I did go to art school, but I was always on my own planet developing a personal style and process.
Who or what are inspires your artwork, any artist that you find really influential?
I am heavily influenced by a deep love for the outdoors: greenery, flowers, animals, weather, vibrant natural colors and wild/untamed spaces. Nature brings me so much joy and, oh man, extreme beauty in nature is an instant emotional tear-jerker for me. Looking at a sunrise? I’m probably crying. Looking at a small patch of dew-coated ferns with a ladybug on it? I’m probably crying. Riding through a fast n’ flowy section in a pine forest? I’m probably tearing up a little bit and also laughing. I feel a lot of things when I’m outside and you can definitely see that in my work.
I’m also really inspired by my day-to-day direct surroundings and the things I see and random people I meet. Living in Philadelphia, there’s a great backdrop of an urban environment set amongst some really beautiful public parks and natural resources. I’ve really been into the contrast of man-made VS nature lately. Like, a forgotten old barbed wire fence that a rose bush has devoured or a collection of wildflowers bursting through a crack in the sidewalk
The art community here is also insanely vibrant and constantly evolving and can be so weird in such a good way. It’s inspiring to see art through so many different eyes made by so many different brains.
Your work has a fair amount of subtle humor to it, or maybe it’s not so subtle, Do you ever feel pressure because, well you know “art” can be so serious?
Oh man, this eats at me all the time. I have a constant internal mini-battle with myself of “should I be more serious? Is this TOO weird?”. Then I remember that I don’t really care and usually, people like to laugh. I’m constantly laughing at my work while I’m creating it and I hope it makes people happy when it’s finally out in the world. I mean, there’s definitely a time and a place to be serious, but so far I haven’t felt the need to force that.
How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it before.
Ok, picture this: It’s like you’re going outside for a walk, and you see a field of wildflowers and also a deer, and the sun is hitting everything so perfectly. But there’s also a blaze orange traffic cone for some reason in that field and you think to yourself. “hmmmm, that trashy street cone is kind of beautiful too.” Oh, and the deer’s head is actually a smiley face…like, a hand-drawn yellow smiley face.
It seems like you have been taking on a fair amount of larger mural projects as of late, that seems like a lot of fun but also a lot of work, is that your preferred way of getting your art out in the world?
Yeah, I have been doing a ton of murals. Which is somewhat new and totally still weird and amazing to me. I got into murals a few years back through a side project where I was assisting in the restoration of old hand-painted store signs throughout Philly. I learned the techniques of painting on a larger scale and just went with it. It’s a ton of work, like big big work, but really worth it. You definitely get super ripped arm muscles at the end of a season. I just zone out, listen to music and meet awesome people passing by as I work. It’s still really wild to see my illustrations larger than life. While I do love painting murals, I still really enjoy creating tangible stuff like prints, t-shirts, and sculpture.
You also do you quite a bit of riding, where is your favorite place to ride to escape the madness of Philadelphia?
Philadelphia is like a beautiful wild beast. Within a few miles of downtown you’ve got awesome MTB trail systems: Belmont, The Wiss, Penny Pack, Pine Barrens, Valley Forge, etc… The Wissahickon still has a special place in my heart – It’s less than a 10-mile ride from my house, is a complete contrast to the city skyline you’re riding away from, has some super fun flowy singletrack and a solid collection of rocky descents, and hotdogs. I don’t get to mountain bike as much as I use to, (R.I.P. free time) but I do ride my city commuter every single day, like a mailperson: rain, sleet or snow. Bicycles get me outside every day even at my busiest times, it’s an escape in itself even if I’m just riding a few miles away to sit in a park with a beer, some snacks, and a sketchbook.
Do you find that riding your bike influences your artwork at all?
100% yes. I’m happiest while I’m on a bicycle. You can see so much more in an urban environment when you ride a bike and let yourself get lost a little on side streets. I think I see more every day because of that. It’s like you can watch a fast-paced city go by a little slower. There’s nothing better than riding down the street in the springtime with the scent of flowers in bloom or a fresh rain (and maybe a cherry blossom blows in the wind temporarily blinding you as you ride by, but it’s ok because it’s beautiful), or the smell of the woods as your tires crunch through on a trail.
Bicycles are immersive and the cycling community is how I know most of my closest and inspiring friends. I thrive while constantly moving and keeping my brain active, so I’ll oftentimes just ride around to concept ideas for an upcoming project.
If you could paint a mural on the side of any building in Philadelphia, what, where and why?
Hmmm, well it’s not a wall as much as a sloped stone underpass….but there are identical sloped walls under a 676 underpass (that are very fun to wall ride), but I always thought they’d be a fun spot to have a simple graphic pop of color. I like when murals can exist amongst the surroundings and aren’t just random in-your-face giant pictures.
Besides painting giant murals, where else can we find your work?
I have some pieces up at the Gallery Space 1026 now through May 27th, I’ll be selling at The Kinetic Sculpture Derby Festival on May 19th and I sell prints, T-shirts, paintings and wood cutouts on my website store www.LaurenCatWest.com or you can find new work on my Instagram @LaurenCatWest
Last and maybe the most crucial question, are you related to the one true Batman, Adam West?