Aaron Graves Mural by Lauren Andreu

An interview with community-oriented muralist, Lauren Andreu

by Ryan Finley / Garnet & Black

Mural 1: Aaron Graves’s Mural by Lauren Andreu (@laurenandreu)

Nestled on the wall of the Hunter-Gatherer Brewery a Alehouse on Main Street, you will find Lauren Andreu’s memorializing mural of the late Columbia musician, Aaron Graves, a friend of hers in high school who died from a brain tumor. Andreu recollects that a mutual friend, Heather Parsons, approached her at Graves’s memorial service and asked her if she would be interested in making a mural as a tribute to him, and “it made sense because he was well-known in different parts of the community with skateboarding, music, etc”. 

Andreu says that Parsons was an essential part of the process, serving as her biggest advocate by helping with fundraising (selling t-shirts, sweatshirts and hosting live music concerts) and location scouting. More friends of hers, Thomas Gilbert (a musician) and his father (a graphic designer) also contributed to essential design elements like the clouds and the whale.

The mural itself is an imposing and balanced piece of work. The deep cool blues and purples of the whale and donut on the left contrast against the brighter pinks and reds of Aaron’s portrait on the right, which is glancing to the side to see a rainbow with the text “I love my friends”. This mural fits with Andreu’s signature style of surreal figures. She said that she was “interested in the inner being of a person, the emotional part of a person, capturing mystical moments for people,” a task definitely accomplished with this work. 

She cites her other careers, social work and massage therapy, as a part of her and therefore her art. “Social work is about communities being active participants in decisions that are made about them. The idea is community has ownership over this thing. That’s part of my training, the idea that you’re not tokenizing a community.” In Andreu’s social work, authenticity and being able to access your authentic self is paramount, and “that’s what I want to do with my art,” she said. She also says that massage therapy gives her an interesting perspective of human anatomy and healing, both important subjects that she covers in her work.

When asked about the process of creating a new mural, she spoke about both the difficulty and the collaborative elements. She said that she has “never scouted a wall [herself], as it’s always collaborative.” She spoke about the consistent back-and-forth between her and the client, “doing a draft, showing them, making edits.”

Andreu has been a painter and an artist for quite some time, beginning when she was young and advancing to AP art classes in high school and studio work in college. Her brother is also a talented artist who has been featured in the LIFE scholarship commercial. Although Andreu has always loved self-expression, she “never saw it as a viable option for work.” But her passions never left her. 

Post-grad, she volunteered with the Art Corps, a program which sent her and other artists to Central America to work with NGO’s for 3 months, where she used her art to raise awareness for reforestation efforts in the mountains of Honduras. She created her first mural in 2015, followed by another in 2017 which she did in partnership with Palmetto Luna, a program which funds Latinx arts and culture, and then “mural opportunities just started rolling in.” She has never forgotten the importance of community in her mural work, however, saying “there’s a difference between a vanity project and a community mural. To me, if it’s going to be a piece that’s very public, you want the community to feel good about it. They’re the ones that are going to be looking at it”.

Andreu didn’t show any signs of slowing down her career when asked about her aspirations. She laughed, responding that she “wants to be approached about doing murals that are very personal to me, like I was talking about, the vanity project.” She also hopes for an ongoing sponsor for her work and to participate in mural festivals more frequently. 

For Andreu, like many other muralists, it’s all about the people. “Doing art can be very isolating, but community murals bring people out. It’s fun for me. It balances the introversion/extroversion kind of thing.”