Toys Were Us

Toys R Us played an important role in two of my past lives.

As a kid I’d go to their store in Union City, Georgia and excitedly make my birthday and Christmas wish lists (mostly Nintendo games and accessories).

As an adult I had them as a client at my last job and managed their digital ads for about a year.

Like a lot of people, I’m sad to see them go because of all the great memories. But the closing is particularly frustrating because Bain Capital, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and Vornado Realty Trust saddled the company with so much debt that it couldn’t succeed against Amazon, Walmart, Target, and its other competitors.

The Geoffrey toys my kids own:

Jenny Lewis featured in a 1980’s Toys R Us commercial:

The final message posted today on the Toys R Us website:

Godspeed, Toys R Us!

You will be missed.

Librarians

“And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”

― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

Lauren Lazarus

Lauren Lazarus is a Knoxville-based painter, and her works “range from vibrant alcohol ink paintings to larger-than-life abstracts plastered on giant canvases”. She has provided beer label art for Elkmont Exchange and Crafty Bastard Brewery, and a recent Blank Magazine reader’s poll named her one of Knoxville’s best artist.s TSIBV caught up with her to learn more about her work, the life of an artist, and whether or not she’s punched anyone in the face.

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Just who do you think you are?

I was born in the 80’s when scrunchies, feathered bangs, and tight rolled jeans were a thing. I didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up, but I do remember the first time I saw Sinead O’Conner’s rendition of “Nothing Compares to You” on MTV. I thought she was beautiful, but from my 9-year-old perspective, I wasn’t sure why she shaved her head. All I wanted was long blonde hair and sparkly red fingernails and then, naturally, my life would be complete! I grew up on Clearly Canadians and playing in my backyard until the sun went down with my older sister. In the mornings we’d wait on the school bus together and draw stars with our little pointer fingers in the condensation that had collected on the window. She taught me how to draw a complete star without lifting a finger, in one continuous motion. My mind was blown when I figured that out.

How did you become a painter?

I’d come home from school, and my mom would give me art projects to keep me occupied while she finished another episode of As the World Turns. My mom would tape pictures of colorful, exotic fish she had photographed from a scuba diving trip to a thick piece of paper. I’d reference those for some of my earliest watercolor paintings. I don’t remember if they turned out good or not, but it taught me how to use a paint brush.

How would you describe your art? What do you want to convey?

Painting from photographs at a young age taught me a lot about detail and proportion, or maybe I inherited some of that from my dad’s side? He’s a plastic surgeon– which requires a different kind of artistry with incredible attention to detail. At one point I actually thought about becoming a medical illustrator, but it required cadaver work and I quickly became disenchanted with that idea.

Over the years I’ve gravitated more towards colorful abstract work, pulling inspiration from nature and whatever music I happen to be listening to. I get a lot of pleasure listening to music when painting. It’s extremely cathartic and the closest I ever come to meditation. I hope some of that positivity translates with people and they feel some type of emotional connection with my art.

Who has been most influential in your art and why?

Definitely my family because they were so influential to me as a kid during those important formative years. I remember running to my mom and asking her to draw a mouse for me and learning her technique. I was impressed by how quickly she could make a little creature emerge on a sheet of paper with a few strokes of a pencil. In my adult years, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have surrounded myself with other artists and people who support me and my creative endeavors.

Can you walk us through a few of your pieces?

“Port of Everette” is one of my favorite paintings because it reminds me of a trip I took by myself to the Pacific Northwest, one of my favorite parts of the country! It’s empowering to travel alone. It really heightens your awareness of the world around you. I snapped a photo out of my hotel window as the sun was setting and then later used it as a reference. Is there anything more beautiful than a sunset and the reflection of all those beautiful colors off the water?

The picture

The painting

I can’t remember the first poppies painting I did, but I’ve come to realize that people LOVE poppies. It’s interesting to see how my technique has evolved with these paintings.

“Origami Star” is one of my latest abstracts. What I love about abstract art is that it’s always up for interpretation; there’s a sense of wonder and mysteriousness to it. Some people see a koi fish in a pond or just a prominent underwater theme, and then others see a man riding a horse. I just like the movement of this piece and when I look at it gives me a sense of calm. But what’s funny about that is the fact that I labored over this piece during Memorial Day weekend and was nearly blind by the time I finished it. My eyes get super tired when I work. The problem is I can go for hours without taking a break and lose track of time. Breaks are very necessary for reasons other than letting paint dry.


You’re based out of Knoxville. How would you describe the art scene and community there?

I think people in the artist community here are very supportive and encouraging of one another. I work very closely with other artists and we collaborate together on projects from time to time. There’s more connectedness than competitiveness. We all have a healthy respect for one another and our creative differences.

Do you think the Knoxville art scene is unique, and if so, how?

Normally, you’d equate the size of a city with the amount of opportunity you might find there. However, I think because Knoxville is still on the smaller side and everyone knows everyone, it’s easier to gain traction here and connect with people. People here are very approachable, and if they can help you in any way, they will.

What are you most proud of accomplishing?

The first big gallery show I did pushed me to my max, but in a good way. It showed me what I was capable of accomplishing when saying “no” wasn’t an option. I wanted to get all my pieces done in time, but I also wanted to be proud of them, which isn’t always easy if you’re feeling rushed. Art is such a mood-driven activity, it’s not like turning on a faucet of creativity that flows freely when you need it to. Prior to the show, I had just spent months renovating a house and then moving into it. By the time the show rolled around I was running on pure adrenaline and lots of dry shampoo.

You semi-recently got married. Congrats! What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far from Holy Matrimony?

Thanks! I got married a year and a half ago and we’ve had some big changes in just a short amount of time. We bought a house built in 1930 about a mile from downtown and renovated the entire thing! Ignorance really is bliss because if I had known just how difficult that process is, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to do it. But now we have this amazing house just the way we want it. I literally picked out everything from windows and light fixtures to grout color and floor stains. You know you’re in your late 30’s when you fall in love with a kitchen faucet from Wayfair. True story. Here’s the order in which I love things currently: My husband. My two cats. My kitchen faucet.

You’ve been involved in other artistic pursuits in the past like acting. What did you accomplish with that, and do you see doing more of that in the future?

I don’t do as much acting anymore because honestly there’s a lot of waiting around and I’m just too fidgety and anxious in my old age! (Only half-way kidding.) No, if the right role came around I would happily work on a set with Paul Rudd and put in the hours. I shifted my focus towards art because I was sick of casting agents dictating my next move. In the acting world you’ll work your tail off and hear crickets on the other end. You’ll spend an hour with your best friend moving furniture around and taking pictures off the wall so you can have a nice “blank” background to shoot your audition tape. It has to be perfectly framed and then shooting a slate takes longer than shooting the audition! A slate is when you look at the camera and say your: name, height, agency, will you travel? what’s your availability? And then your best friend (with Iphone in hand) does a full body scan so they can see if you’re proportioned or not, tall or short, fat or skinny.. yadda yadda yadda… And then to hear nothing back? No feedback. Nothing? It’s frustrating to say the least. So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be in my art studio slinging paint and listening to the Cure.

Have you ever punched someone in the face?

I haven’t! But I want to punch someone, anyone really, every time I go to the grocery store. I hate grocery shopping. My husband says he can literally see the anxiety wash over me when I can’t find something.

What else is next for you?

Well, first of all, I just need Paul Rudd to reach out to me with a comedic role for his upcoming film. We can talk numbers, but I’ll most likely say “yes”. And aside from that, move to Hawaii, open an art gallery and take up surfing lessons. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

But until then, I’ll be working on beer label art for Elkmont Exchange, a brewery in Knoxville, for some of their upcoming bottled beer releases. They’re doing amazing things over there and the brew team is superbly talented. My husband is the Director of “Hoperations” which always makes me giggle. I’m so proud of him and all the hard work he’s put into getting to where he is today in the beer community.

The very first time we met was in New York 14 years ago. You ran into my room, grabbed a framed picture of my parents, and came back out into the living room and yelled “Which one is The Skipper? Which one is The Stripper?”. What the hell were you thinking?

Clearly, I was just trying to make a lasting impression on you! In my defense, your father was wearing a sailor hat in the picture and there was alcohol involved. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

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You can check out more of Lauren’s work at www.laurenlazarus.com. You can also follow her on Instagram and the good ole’ Facebook.

Bobcat

I visited a friend’s house recently. Standing in his living room, he asked “Have you seen the bobcat?” I hadn’t. He then pointed up to the corner of the room.

I asked where he’d gotten it. He had been driving down the highway and saw the bobcat’s body on the side of the road. He then loaded it into the back of his Camry, took it to a taxidermist, and five months later it was perched in the corner of his living room.