In the same way that the sex-positive movement democratized body image, Lowbrow Gallery and Art Supply is attempting to normalize the creative process, removing it from the hands of art-school professors and passing a scented-marker-baton to Denver's every-day citizens. Co-founded by Lauren Seip and Tymla Welch, Lowbrow's low-stress, affordable approach to inspiration is, at least in part, an extension of the Ladies Fancywork Society, a team of guerrilla public artists whose twee-style "yarn-bombs" have been entertaining Denver pedestrians for several years now. Between the kindergarten craft-style workshops, inspiring gallery shows and charming approach to retail art-supplies, Lowbrow has become a featured institution on Denver's Broadway art scene.
We recently sat down with Lauren Seip to discuss academia, corporate art and why there's nothing better than some glitter, glue and a few beers.
Westword: Your store has such a childlike approach to creativity. Were you into crafty arts when you were young? Lauren Seip: I think I was definitely the weird art kid. There's always going to be one of those, the one who has to paint every pair of shoes and just ruin everything. I take that same approach now, which keeps art a little less precious and a little more approachable.
Was your creativity encouraged when you were a kid?
My parents were pretty down with it. When I decided to go to art school instead of business school, they were a little: You're going to be a starving artist! But once they started looking into it a bit more, they came around.
Though you eventually did go into business.
Exactly. Which means a business degree would have been just as useful at that point. Because I also studied animation, which I don't ever do now.
We spoke with Matthew Brown of Fancy Tiger recently, who said that if he'd gone to business school he might never have started a business. Do you feel that's true for you?
I went to art school because I wanted something less traditional, less like my father. And then I ended up working in some very corporate situations. The idea of a commercial artist starving away, painting canvasses is just not how it is now. There's so much opportunity to work in commercial art. But it is a corporate world, there's paid time off and office hours and meetings and memos, so I ended up being in that same environment, making art for people.
Do you feel that Denver is supportive of its art community?
Oh yeah, definitely. Especially for a small city, Denver is huge right now. Everyone is so creative, and so supportive of each other. I feel like I somehow walked into this group of amazing people. And I don't know how it happened, but it's awesome. Denver isn't really that big, so it's easy to meet a lot of people and get a good sense of what's going on here. There's so much happening all the time.
With some artists, say, Ravi Zupa, he just wants to be left alone in a room to paint and paint, and isn't too involved in any of the exterior demands of the art world. But with Lowbrow you seem more concerned with inspiring others' creativity than focusing on your own work.
I don't think I ever had the idea that I was ever going to be a fine artist. I mean, I went to school for commercial art -- I didn't study studio art. But, yeah, it's really fun to take the edge out of art for everyone. To make it not so intimidating. We have a lot of people who walk in and say things like, "I wish I were creative, I wish I could make art, but I don't think I could. Yet when I'm here I feel like it's not so hard." And that's exactly what we want.How do you create that environment?
You get a lot of scented markers. A lot of glitter. Fine-art stores are great, we all need supplies. But with those you have to know what you're looking for. It's not quite as browsy if you're not familiar with the products. So we stock more lower end, affordable things. We have fun things like scented markers and coloring books. So you feel that everyone has a creative streak within themselves?
Yes, but maybe that creative side is something that's not traditionally associated with art -- maybe it's cooking, or maybe it's dance -- everyone has it. It doesn't have to be a big deal, you don't have to go to art school and have a studio and be a serious artist, you can just sit down and make stuff up and have fun. And if it turns out really bad, all you lost is a couple of sheets of paper. Nothing bad is going to happen if you don't do a good job with art, but it's really fun so something good is going to happen if you spend enough time fucking around with it.
Do you do any work with kids here?
Sometimes we do. It's funny, a lot of people assume we work with kids. And we actually just really like color and sparkles. This is just what the inside of our brains look like manifesting as a store. So while we're not specifically for kids -- because I am not particularly awesome at talking to them -- we'll have some kids in our classes. We'll probably do some summer classes for kids.
With the combination of arts funding being cut in schools and parents wanting their kids to pursue careers with more security, what do you feel is lost when a developing mind loses the opportunity to be creative?
It's hard for me to say, because I don't have kids and am rarely around kids. But I think there is a lot of merit in letting kids hang out and make stuff without any intense pressure or consequences, which is the vibe we're trying to bring to adults. This group of crafts is actually for a group of accountants on a corporate retreat this Tuesday. [Seip gestures to a table full of glitter, Elmer's glue and scented markers.] We're basically making 130 accountants do kindergarten-style Christmas-crafts.
They may hate it. But half of them will probably have a really good time, and the other half are probably just going to go to the hotel bar, so it's win-win. You think it's stupid until you sit down to a table of glitter and glue, and you realize that actually this is a lot of fun. Especially if you have a beer or two first.