Emerging Artists | Laura Tilden

Portraits of humanity

Lauren Tilden, Stronghold, oil, 30 x 40.

Lauren Tilden, Stronghold, oil, 30 x 40.

This story was featured in the August 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art August 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

For quite some time, artist Lauren Tilden had tossed around the idea of portraying a figurative scene based on a biblical narrative. It seemed like a daunting feat, one best left to the old masters, despite her extensive experience in painting and drawing. “I waited out of fear,” admits the classically trained artist. “All the great painters had done it already.”

Yet, one compelling biblical story convinced the artist to try. As the New Testament account goes, a grief-stricken father named Jairus called upon Jesus to resurrect his only daughter from the dead. For Tilden, the mother of two young girls, it presented a deeply moving narrative to explore. “I can’t even imagine what it’s like for people who lose a child, the grief they feel, when all you must want is for someone to come and bring them back to life,” says Tilden, whose husband and youngest daughter modeled for her resulting painting, JAIRUS’ DAUGHTER. The Caravaggio-like composition, which garnered first place at this year’s Art Renewal Center International Salon, portrays a fatherly figure in the shadows leaning over a lifeless young girl, as if in prayer. Many viewers have shared with Tilden their own interpretations and emotional responses to the heart-rending scene. “One woman said it brought back memories of her husband who passed away, but in a very healing way,” recalls Tilden. “It encouraged me that art really does make an impact on people—that this is why we are doing what we do as artists.”

The tour de force harks back to the more traditional figurative paintings Tilden created as a graduate student at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, but these days, most of her works are contemporary portraits of her family members and friends, says Tilden. In the backdrops, the artist has been incorporating depictions of the countryside around her home in southern New Jersey. Infused with the subdued light of the East Coast, her portraits call to mind the paintings of Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), who worked in nearby Chadds Ford, PA. Like the famed realist, Tilden seeks to capture frank, unembellished portraits of humanity, and the tonalist landscapes in her works often play a supporting role. “There is so much you can do with the landscape to create a mood,” she says. “Sometimes, the landscape behind the figure is what is telling the story.” —Kim Agricola

representation
F.A.N. Gallery, Philadelphia, PA; Haynes Galleries, Franklin, TN.

This story was featured in the August 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art August 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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