Texas Studio: Lauren Moya Ford

“What does it mean to make an image of a woman now?” Lauren Moya Ford asked during our recent studio visit. For her, the question is not sensational or rhetorical; instead, it’s personal.

Ideas of “now” are relative, of course; Ford shows us as much with her painted and printed imagery of flowers on the verge of wilting, and masks being removed. The current cultural moment may reflect progress or regression, depending on your point of view.

But Ford is careful to capture what may, at first, appear to be small, fleeting moments but that actually hold timeless symbolic significance: a hand holding a flower, a woman looking in a mirror, the flickering of a candle’s flame.

As an artist and arts writer who earned her MFA in painting at the University of Houston, Ford always loved art history, and she continues to reference aspects of it in her work as she shares what she is seeing, learning, and experiencing. In fall 2015, she moved to Spain where she wrote for various publications, focusing on events, artists, and exhibitions in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Palma de Mallorca, plus other parts of Europe such as Lisbon, Portugal, Stockholm, and more. When she moved to Austin in September of 2020, where she currently lives, her arts practice blossomed.

“When I was living in Spain, my studio was whatever desk I had access to. So I didn’t develop larger work or work that required having materials and tools on hand. But coming to Texas, I was able to start that. So the work that I’m developing right now started in late November 2022, and I have broken my previous boundaries in the sense that the work is larger and it’s in color,” she says.

Today she draws from photographs, memories, and her surroundings, paying special attention to life’s poignant moments.

“During the height of the pandemic, time was different. Breaking down the day with little rituals of having tea or writing or reading was meaningful for me,” Ford says. “It was also a time for experimentation in my artwork—I started using Japanese papers that are incredibly responsive. Depending on how saturated or dry my brushes are, I can get all kinds of different effects, textures, and tones. I fell in love with papers and inks.”

Her materials allow her to work quickly, infusing her gestural depictions of flowers, plants, hands, faces, and mirrors with energy and emotion. For example, London Flowers (2023) portrays a pink flower bouquet so large as to obscure a person’s head, with the folds and shadows of the bouquet’s wrapping simultaneously blending into said person’s  striped shirt and taking the shape of a dark purple hood. My Own Window and Petunias, each from 2023 and each depicting a woman—one looking at herself in a handheld mirror, fingers in her hair, and the other with arms crossed, one hand raised as if in a defensive gesture—are bordered, perhaps protected, by flowers.

“I wanted to find a way to move into something a little more profound and psychologically charged instead of just straight observation,” she says. “Working on paper is important because it helps me get to that inner voice, a more subconscious place that feels true. I started working much faster, with my mind and body responding and adapting more quickly.”

Ford’s use of color, especially her application of yellow and green for skin tones, against variations of purple and red, add an almost claustrophobic sense of unease that permeates the picture plane, bleeding to the paper’s edge.

Ways to Hold a Rose (2022) is a frantic study of what many consider to be a universal symbol of beauty. Drawing in Bed (IBS) (2023) suggests Ford’s struggle with health issues, the yellow of her bed and far window offer an almost sickly illumination. The bright green plates in Meal Time play host to carrots, potatoes, and eggs as a pink and yellow striped tablecloth drape one elongated pink foot that grounds the entire scene. In Leaning Candle (2023) a turquoise-colored hand grips a lock of wavy yellow hair in the dark, dangerously close to an open flame.

 Readers have the chance to see Ford’s work in an upcoming two-person exhibition at Northern-Southern in Austin this fall. Until then, I can’t stop looking at Wig II and Wig III, two paintings from 2023 that are so delightfully odd, bold, and unexpected, they make me wonder if hair has a life of its own.

“Hair is something that’s such an important signifier for women—it gives us so much anxiety and so much power. Everything is weighted in the hair.”