Laura Raborn has been an artist most of her life. Some of the earliest art she ever made was during her childhood family trips to the Bahamas.
“I would go to the cemetery on these islands and draw and paint the headstones which were usually covered with wild growth and beautiful plants and all that nature beyond these symbols of man’s existence,” Raborn said.
Decades later, she got married in the Bahamas and now has a gallery on Harbor Island. But it was not an easy path.
Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, Raborn attended Rollins College in Florida and worked in marketing and advertising in his twenties while taking night classes at the Arkansas Arts Center. She returned to Arkansas for college, but ended up starting a family. Raborn quit her job to care for her two daughters, but was able to explore art in her spare time.
Raborn, completing a month-long residency with Breckenridge Creative Arts, said it was a risky and difficult decision due to societal pressures to pursue professions like a lawyer or a doctor, but she said she had feel like you don’t have a choice.
“I really wanted to find a way to work part-time and do something I love and be a mom,” Raborn said.
Raborn focused on pottery for a while, but an arm injury brought her back to painting and drawing, which she found easier on the body.
It wasn’t until she was 40 that she finally went to graduate school in Little Rock. She said the arts community there was tough as opposed to more established places. However, Raborn said it was improving and she had seen more opportunities over the past five years.
“It was amazing. It really changed and propelled my thinking about what two-dimensional art is even for,” Raborn said. “It helped me understand the concepts behind creating art.”
Raborn also began to increasingly explore the art world beyond Arkansas with his children away from home for college. She was able to travel to give workshops and attend residencies in ways she couldn’t before. Some of these included teaching in Colorado Springs, Crested Butte, and Telluride.
No matter where she makes art, Raborn uses oil paint and mixed media to tell stories. Most of her figurative portraits are based on real people, but she will boil them down to something relatable for everyone. She’ll take a photo and paint it, but rather than copying an identical person, she uses layers to hide certain information and draw people in, letting the viewer make up their own mind on the subject.
“I don’t paint biographically,” Raborn said. “I don’t paint a person to try to tell their whole story. I have to accept that some of the information I feel and learn about a person will not be communicated through a painting. But my hope is that something a little more universal is communicated through each painting.
At one point, her mixed media work focused on current affairs and social justice, depicting images such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and women in dresses from “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Raborn knows that art is important to critique and call for change, but she didn’t want her pieces to always be heavy, dark and negative. It was then that she began to integrate the people she had met on her travels while listening to their stories.
Having attended Little Rock Central High School, famous for its integration, and Little Rock Nine, Raborn uses his outlook on life to highlight what makes a person both unique and similar.
“It all feeds into who I am as a person and also the artwork,” Raborn said.
Like these tombstones in the Bahamas, Raborn always uses nature in art. Paint and charcoal are some of her favorite mediums, but she also likes to create different layers with stencils to push characters into space. She loves how plants and other natural elements can be hand-cut into hard-edged stencils that contrast with loose lines of figures.
“This combination is unexpected, and they’re so different from each other that they create a kind of tension or energy,” Raborn said. “It keeps it from being a traditional portrait in a pretty surprising way, and I really like that.”
Stencils and other methods are customizable, and Raborn is passionate about imparting that individuality to her students. She teaches collage, image transfer, drawing and applications such as printing, scratching and sanding which are alternatives to brush painting.
In Breckenridge, Raborn’s workshops and open studios allowed him to connect with the community. She believes everyone has the potential to make art in some way. All it takes is learning the techniques and practicing them, she says.
“At the end of a workshop, people are usually really happy with what they’ve learned in a short time,” Raborn said, adding that local events have seen a steady stream of attendees. “It’s just a matter of learning these tricks, not being too hard on yourself to try them with an open and free attitude.”
This practice goes both ways, as it reminds Raborn of the skills he needs to perfect.
“Teaching elevated my craft,” Raborn said. “…If I could imagine the last eight years of art and not teaching, I don’t think art would be where it is.”
This residency was her first in Colorado, and notably different from those she has done in the past. Others were shorter or focused more on the studio experience. Some also had other residents Raborn could meet and interact with. Although she is alone this time, she makes the most of it.
An innovative aspect of this residency is the creation of the hashtags #BreckGratitude and #BreckThanks. During his stay, Raborn created a public gratitude journal on social media and invites others to join in contributing. She is grateful for the people she has painted and wants to show her love for her temporary home.
Although it hasn’t taken off as much as she would like, it is still central to her art projects that Raborn is working on. It won’t be a success or failure if people other than her post or don’t post using the hashtags. If anything, it’s given her a silver lining every day as she posts and looks on the bright side.