Lauren Kaelin, Virtuoso Painter of Internet Memes, on Walter Benjamin and Ice Cream

benjameme-dramatic-chipmunk

What’s a recent Smith College art history grad with no job and an in-depth knowledge of German aesthetic theory to do? Well if you’re Lauren Kaelin, you move home and create When Parents Text, a hilarious blog-turned-book that chronicles the all-too-familiar texts of technology-challenged parents (like, Mom: do I use right click or left click to open a file? Me: ??? don’t you have a mac? Mom: how do I left click on a mac? it doesn’t work to use my left hand”). Now Kaelin is back with even more shrewd Internet entertainment in the form of Benjameme, a website devoted to the artist’s painted homages to the Internet’s most viral sensations.

Meme enthusiasts can browse or buy over 15 meme-inspired works including “Grumpy Cat, 2012,” “Texts from Hillary, 2012,” “Antoine Dodson, 2010,” and “Gangam Style, 2012.” Prints of the Alice Neel-style paintings will run you $20 for an 8×10 matte print or $75 for a 16×20 version.

ARTINFO g-chatted with Kaelin about Walter Benjamin, being featured on Anderson Cooper, and, of course, prancercising.

Lauren: Hi Ashton!

ARTINFO: Hey!

Lauren: I feel so fancy capitalizing on gchat

ARTINFO: In addition to Benjameme, you also did the very funny blog When Parents Text, right?

Lauren: I did!

ARTINFO: It seems you have a knack for creating Internet sensations.

Lauren: Haha, thanks!

I don’t know if I’d go that far.

I only have like, 130 followers on Twitter.

ARTINFO: Well you did get a book deal

And you were recently featured on Anderson Cooper

What was that like?

Lauren: You did your googling!

It was awesome

I was beaming the whole time

He was so sweet

and so svelte

ARTINFO: Benjameme is starting to get a lot of coverage

How many prints have you sold?

Lauren: Fingers crossed for another book deal.

Over 500

since March

ARTINFO: That’s great! Mostly in the U.S.?

Lauren: Yea, there have also been a bunch to France, Canada, The Netherlands… but definitely the most in the U.S.

I sell a lot of Hillarys to DC

figures

ARTINFO: That’s so funny

And you said you haven’t parted with the originals yet?

Lauren: No, I can’t

I have a hard time selling any originals

And I feel some desire to keep all these together

Until Hillary wants hers, of course.

ARTINFO: Yeah, you’d have to give it to her

Lauren: Or the Prancercise lady, for that matter.

me: The name of the blog is so clever

Lauren: Thanks!

ARTINFO: I read you were an art history major at Smith. I was an art history major too, and know well the frequency with which Walter Benjamin is assigned as reading for, like, every single art history class. Why did you choose him as the blog’s namesake?

Lauren: I was really fascinated with early photography in college— and Benjamin’s essay was like my bible. I read so much art theory, so there was something about Benjamin’s aura that always fascinated me. Something unique about the original. That’s why, mechanical reproduction was so noteworthy, because it couldn’t successfully reproduce an aura.

I’m paraphrasing…

Anyway, I knew I wanted to paint the internet, and I was thinking about what doing that actually means… elevating something like Grumpy Cat to an art object. It echoes some of Benjamin’s ideas. Except in the case of these memes, there really wasn’t an original to begin with. Memes are significant because of the reproducibility. A Benjameme creates an aura where none existed previously.

Then of course, I mechanically reproduce my painting and send it everywhere…

ARTINFO: So, do you want to be a painter professionally?

Lauren: I never really thought that was an option.

ARTINFO: So you’re just doing it for fun?

Lauren: It was hard for me to self-motivate after college.

It’s hard to paint without a deadline and assignments. So this project, in many ways, is my invented assignment.

It is fun. But it’s not for fun.

If that makes sense.

ARTINFO: Yeah

It’s a great way to keep practicing

Lauren: or prancercising

ARTINFO: haha

So do you have a day job besides paint-prancercising?

Lauren: Yea, I am the Director of Marketing at Ample Hills Creamery.

It’s an ice cream parlor in Prospect Heights.

ARTINFO: omg I love that place

Lauren: Haha, then I’m sure I’ve seen you before

ARTINFO: What’s your favorite flavor?

Lauren: Pistachio Squared

Yea, I do all the signs and merchandise for Ample Hills.

And I’m currently working on illustrating and writing their cookbook

(Abrams 2014)

ARTINFO: Ha

So then when you’re illustrating (or painting memes) do you have an artistic inspiration? Is there an artist you really look up to/model yourself after?

Lauren: Someone asked me this yesterday. It’s such a hard question!

I like it when you can see paint.

So I like Lucian Freud,

And Alice Neel.

ARTINFO: I was going to ask about Alice Neel!

I totally see that

Lauren: Omg biggest compliment

Thank you

I also really love early American illustration.

like Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish

(I’m like, looking around my apartment at stuff hanging up.)

ARTINFO: haha

So, what’s the subject of the next meme painting you are working on?

Lauren: CHRISTIAN THE LION

I can’t wait

— Ashton Cooper

(Image: Lauren Kaelin, “Dramatic Chipmunk, 2007,” 2013. Courtesy the artist.)