Lorien Stern is a ceramic sculptor and illustrator based in the Mojave Desert. She is best known for her colorful ceramic shark heads, as well as a cheerful collection of mammals, monsters, and deep sea creatures, however there is no limitation to what Stern will forge. Her most recent exhibition, Stardust, at Ochi Projects, was a ceramic cemetery, showcasing a body of colorfully sculpted tombstones, flowers, and graveyard critters. This boneyard illustrates one of the main themes in Lorien’s work; altering the way we perceive intimidating matter into artwork that appears fun and inviting.
Lorien’s home and workplace affectionately referred to as “The Land,” is a 40 acre span of freedom on the southern tip of the Sierra Nevadas. What may seem like a junkyard from the distance, is actually an eclectic body of America's industrial past. Alongside a stockpile of heavy machinery, Lorien works peacefully in a military control room that she's converted into a ceramic studio; it is here that she fires her dreams and nightmares into reality. On this terrain, patience isn't a stranger and quietness aids as a friend. Thanks to the conveniences afforded by running an online business, Stern is able to work remotely and cultivate her brand outside of a big city. ––Moe Alvarez
Moe Alvarez: Many artists rely on galleries to promote their artwork, but you seem to have taken that into your own hands with platforms like social media and your online store. How has this affected your business?
Lorien Stern: I love the Internet and Instagram for this reason. I can live in the middle of nowhere and share stuff and connect with people all over the world. I love that we are living in a time where it's a lot easier to become your own boss and not have to rely on other people to promote you. I put in long hours, but I love what I do, so it rarely feels like working.
It seems like living in such a remote area would make for a naturally productive environment. How does this lack of distraction affect your art/output?
I am easily distracted so I love living out here. I have learned to order almost everything I need off the internet, so I rarely waste time driving around. I usually just wake up, roll out of bed, and go to the studio until it's time to go to sleep again.
Photo by Jeff McLane
Having a creative lifestyle and running a successful business simultaneously is a difficult feat, yet you’re able to cultivate a brand that runs parallel with your art. How do you manage to keep the two in balance?
I enjoy making my art accessible in a variety of mediums and price ranges. It's nice having a balance of ceramics and designs for my brand. It is a strategic way to always have work to do, without getting burnt out on one thing or the other.
There’s a dichotomy of living in isolation to emerging into bigger cities like LA or San Francisco to display your work to a wider audience. How did you come to live out in the Mojave Desert? and has this hindered your desire to exhibit in city galleries?
In LA I was interning for the art department of a TV production company, and only making my art for a few hours a week. I thought that I would have to get a "real job" and do art on the side if I ever wanted to make money, but at the same time I would list my art on etsy and and it was getting good results. I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I went full time with making art. My brother and sister-in-law were already living in the desert, and convinced my boyfriend and I to move out. The property we live on has been in the family since 1990. They have stored construction equipment, broken down cars, and a good deal of things out here since then. We fixed up an old run down single wide trailer to live in, and a shipping container for a ceramics studio, I was in heaven. Moving to the desert felt risky, but it was an amazing opportunity to not worry about money and distractions. It is nice to have the option to show in the city, but it is also great to not be dependent on gallery exhibitions. Living out here makes it difficult for people to do studio visits, but with the internet, everything is a lot easier, and I try to give people a inside look at how I make art through my Instagram.
Photo by Suzanne Richardson
You have managed to create a multitude of characters that continues to grow over time. Although all of your creatures seem to resonate with admirers of your work, which cast member seems to be the most popular?
People love the sharks.
You spend so much of your time in the ceramic studio, it seems like there doesn't leave much time in the day to do other things. If you were to find the time, what is something you would like to learn how to do?
Raise messenger pigeons and get them to carry messages to my friends houses
Photo by Jeff McLane
Where do you buy your groceries?
About 30 minutes away in the town next door or online from a company called thrivemarket.com
Are there any artists that inspire you?
I'm super inspired by the Kane Kwei Coffins in Ghana now run by Paa Joe.
Do you have any upcoming shows?
I'm working with a new gallery in Ojai, CA called Golden Voyager for a show in October. I'm in a group show at Hashimoto Contemporary (San Francisco) in December, as well as getting ready for a solo show at Hashimoto in February. I have another solo show at Park Life (San Francisco) in March 2018.