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By Carlo Wolff

T

he attic studio where she creates fearless work is an oasis for Lauren Mckenzie Noel, a gifted artist who left her sunny Florida home for grayer Cleveland three years ago.

Mckenzie is 30, of mixed race, recently divorced, and the mother of Dylan, 10, and Keegan, 9. The three live in a big, old duplex in Cleveland Heights. The family moved here for the schools; Keegan is on the autism spectrum and non-verbal, though he writes on an iPad and invents his own toys. Getting him special education was the right and necessary move, Mckenzie says. She spends her days in the studio while her boys are at school. “This is my sacred space,” she says of the studio. “I come here to have my therapy session.” This exuberant, expressive woman doesn’t want her sons to view life through the lens of limitation, so for her, “US,” a two-part show last spring in which she collaborated with the boys, was a particularly rewarding family affair. “I really feel like God gave me the ability to speak to him through my work and I wanted to nurture that,” she says of Keegan, adding, as a society, “we don’t talk a lot about the siblings” of those on the spectrum, so the show was also “Dylan’s story.” Her own story is one of struggle and survival – and, perhaps, success: She will be featured in separate shows in Cleveland in August and September. Her work sells for $200 to $9,000, and for “SELF,” a solo show, prices will range from $1,050 to $9,600. Mckenzie has come a long way since she became a full-time artist. Seven or eight years ago, she was living in her native West Palm Beach struggling to build a cake business. It wasn’t working. Around that time, Keegan was diagnosed, throwing her life out of balance. Serendipitously, her landlord commissioned a work of art by her, “it kind of just blossomed from there, and the boys were – and have always been – my key motivation.” NO LIMITS Mckenzie’s art is about pushing boundaries and changing perceptions. Her topics are rich: being female, being a woman of color, family. “SELF,” which will consist of nudes of Mckenzie, her

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two sisters, her mother and sister-in-law, aims to celebrate women in various shapes and stages. These nudes, which will go on display Aug. 17 at KINK Contemporary, are vibrant and vigorous; Mckenzie is no shrinking violet, nor does she portray other people as such. The palette of these proud nudes is earthy, the brushstrokes are swashbuckling, and the revelation – a

truism, even a cliché, to Mckenzie – is that women are beautiful, with no need to conform or be idealized. The “SELF” show will be “centered around trauma, motherhood, sisterhood and the conversations and relationships we have with our body,” Mckenzie says. “I feel like that has pushed me to be incredibly vulnerable. It’s very realistic, so it exposes a lot.” She doesn’t consider these nudes “sexual at all.” Rather, they’re realistic, she says: “I’ve had a lot of messages from other mothers – ‘Oh, my God, my stomach looks like that’ and ‘Thank you for painting me’ – seeing themselves in the work.” At times, she feels “most beautiful when I’m painting myself,” she says,

Above: “For Awhile Now” (2019) by Lauren Mckenzie Noel from her “Life in Color” series as seen in her home studio. 48.3 x 70 inches on canvas. Materials: acrylic, soft pastel, oil paint. Courtesy of the artist. Opposite page: Mckenzie in her home studio in Cleveland Heights.

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