​​Artist Finds Healing, Thread by Thread

“There’s something really healing about using your hands,” Lauren Altman says about the art that helped her grieve her mother.

“There really were no words,” she told Solace Cremation, remembering back to when her mom passed away 10 years ago from cancer. “It took me a long time to unpack my grief,” she says.

But Altman says she had been an artist “before she could walk and talk,” and so she began using her art as a vehicle for healing, “making meaning of her experience with grief and loss.”

She says her grief, like her art, was multi-layered and complex. But as she created bright, modern, colorful collages, she found healing and freedom.

Altman explained, “My practice symbolized my experience of grief … thread by thread, I let go of a piece and it became something new, and the free space in my mind – and under my bed – slowly grew.”

Her work made use of an unusual material – her late mother’s clothes.

“When my mom passed away, my sister and I were given the clothing she left behind which became a rich source of material to start that conversation with myself about what grief was, what I was feeling, what I didn’t have words for, and it really – maybe I could say – ‘unraveled’ from there,” she said laughing.

The Brooklyn artist and upcycled clothing designer has used the clothing in bronze sculptures, multimedia pieces, and even in performances. While her practice began by using her mother’s clothing to process grief, she has since embraced fashion as a symbol of self-expression, healing and inner transformation.

Now, a decade later, she can feel the healing power of her work, but Altman remembers a time when she felt weighed down by the clothes.

“I packed them under my bed and moved them from apartment to apartment, feeling the hollowness and weight at once. But blending the clothing into art began a process of untethering my attachment to the objects that no longer defined her,” she said.

She says she also can look back at her earlier work and see where she was in her grief journey when she created the pieces.

With the increased conversation around mental illness and grief the pandemic sparked, Altman began pulling together a body of work called “Coping Creatively” and has released a new podcast using what she’s learned about the healing power of the creative process.

Altman hopes that when people view her art, it can help them with their own grief, “I hope that my art is a ‘permission slip’ for people to explore their own journey with complex experiences like grief and loss.”

She encourages everyone to find a creative outlet that works for them, she told Solace. “For me, it is visual art, but for someone else, it might be cooking meals for the family or journaling or gardening. I feel the important question my work points back to is: How do you give yourself permission to feel and explore what works for you?’ … I hope my story gives people the courage to do just that.”

She says that losing her mom really made her commit even more to her practice and she thinks she would be honored and proud. “It really turned into a mission when I experienced loss. Helping other people express themselves. Not because it is fun or healing, but because it can help you find purpose in the world. I think she would be really proud of me for that.”

Photo: Raine Roberts

You can find more information about Lauren Altman and her projects on her website and by following her in Instagram: @laurenaltmanstudio. You can also check out her upcycled clothing collection here.

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