Laura Raborn captures the human spirit of Breckenridge with oil paintings
Artist centers residency around people, gratitude
Laura Raborn has been an artist nearly her entire life. Some of the first art she ever made was during her childhood family trips to the Bahamas.
“I would go to the graveyard of these islands and draw and paint the headstones that were usually just covered up with wild growth and gorgeous botanicals and all of this nature overtaking these symbols of man’s existence,” Raborn said.
Decades later, she got married in the Bahamas and now has a gallery on Harbour Island. But it wasn’t a straightforward path.
Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, Raborn studied at Rollins College in Florida and worked in the world of marketing and advertising in her 20s while taking evening classes at the Arkansas Arts Center. She moved back to Arkansas to attend grad school but ended up starting a family. Raborn quit her job to take care of her two daughters, yet she was able to explore art in her free time.
Raborn, in the midst of finishing up a monthlong residency with Breckenridge Creative Arts, said it was a risky and hard decision due to societal pressures of pursuing professions like lawyer or doctor, but she said she felt like she didn’t have a choice.
“I really wanted to figure out a way to work part time and do something I love and be a mother,” Raborn said.
Raborn was focused on pottery for a while, but an arm injury took her back to painting and drawing, which she found to be easier on the body.
Only when she was 40 did she finally go to gradate school in Little Rock. She said the arts community was challenging there as opposed to more established places. However, Raborn said it is getting better and that she has seen more opportunities within the last five years.
“It was amazing. It really altered and propelled my thinking about what two-dimensional art is even for,” Raborn said. “It helped me understand the concepts behind art making.”
What: Laura Raborn final presentation
When: 6-8 p.m. Saturday, April 30
Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge
Details: A free, interactive evening where Laura Raborn will discuss her work. Light refreshments provided.
Raborn has also started to explore the art world beyond Arkansas more and more with her kids out of the house for college. She’s been able to travel to teach workshops and attend residencies in a way that she couldn’t do before. Some of those included teaching in Colorado Springs, Crested Butte and Telluride.
Regardless of where she’s making art, Raborn uses oil painting and mixed media to tell stories. Most of her figurative portraits are based on real people, but she will abstract it into something relatable for everyone. She will take a picture and paint it, but rather than copy a person identically, she use layers to hide some information and to pull people in, letting the viewer make their own ideas about the subject.
“I’m not painting biographically,” Raborn said. “I’m not painting a person to try to tell their entire story. I have to accept that some of the information that I feel and learn about a person is not going to be communicated through a painting. But my hope is that something a little more universal is communicated through each painting.”
At one point her mixed media work focused on the news and social justice, depicting imagery such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and women in robes from “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Raborn knows art is important to critique and call for change, but she didn’t want her pieces to always be heavy, dark and negative. That’s when she started to incorporate people she met on her travels while listening to their stories.
Having attended Little Rock Central High School — famous for integration and the Little Rock Nine — Raborn uses her outlook on life to highlight what makes a person both unique and similar.
“It all feeds who I am as a person and also the artwork,” Raborn said.
Like those headstones in the Bahamas, Raborn still uses nature in art. Paint and charcoal are some of her favorite mediums, but she also enjoys creating different layers with stencils to pushing figures into the space. She likes how botanicals and other natural elements can be hand cut into hard-edged stencils that contrast with loose lines of figures.
“That combination is unexpected, and those are so different from each other that they create kind of a tension or an energy,” Raborn said. “It keeps it from being a traditional portrait in a way that is kind of surprising, and I really like that a lot.”
Stencils and other methods are customizable, and Raborn is passionate about passing that individuality on to her students. She teaches about collage, image transferring, drawing and applications like printing and scraping and sanding that are painting alternatives to a brush.
In Breckenridge, Raborn’s workshops and open studios have allowed her to connect with the community. She believes that everyone has the potential to make art in some way or another. All it takes is learning the techniques and practicing them, she says.
“By the end of a workshop, people usually are really delighted at what they learned in a short amount of time,” Raborn said, adding that the local events have seen a steady stream of participants. “It’s just a matter of learning these tricks, not being too hard on yourself to actually try it with an open, free attitude.”
That practice goes both ways, as it reminds Raborn what skills she needs to fine-tune herself.
“The teaching has elevated my art,” Raborn said. “… If I could imagine the last eight years of art and not teaching, I don’t think the art would be where it is.”
What: The Gift of Drawing workshop
When: 2-5 p.m. Saturday, April 30
Where: Tin Shop, 117 Washington Ave., Breckenridge
Cost: Free. Visit BreckCreate.org to register.
This residency has been her first in Colorado, and notably different than ones she has done in the past. Others have been shorter or were more focused on the studio experience. Some also had other residents for Raborn to meet and interact with. While she is alone this time around, she is making the most of it.
One novel aspect of this residency is the creation of the #BreckGratitude and #BreckThanks hashtags. Over the course of her stay, Raborn has created a public gratitude journal on social media and invites others to join in to contribute. She’s grateful for the people she’s painted and wants to show her love for her temporary home.
While it hasn’t taken off as much as she would like, it is still central to her art projects Raborn is working on. It won’t be a success or failure if people other than herself do or don’t post using the hashtags. Rather, it has given her a silver lining each day as she posts and looks on the bright side.
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