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Working Artist

“I hate being a boss and I hate being a subordinate, so the only thing to do is be my own boss,” Laurie Joan Aron says in her soft, even voice about her life as a serial entrepreneur. “I’ve always gone my own way and thrust my merit ahead of me.”

For 15 years, the Barnard premed freelanced as a business journalist, juggling as many as 12 deadlines at a time for a panoply of magazines on such topics as industrial robotics, software for customer-employee interface, and the future of the Korean grocery.

But when the youngest of her three children reached second grade and, for the usual, complicated reasons—the classroom was too loud, the schoolwork too dull, etc.—needed to be homeschooled, Aron didn’t hesitate to cut back on journalism and take on this new assignment. For four to five hours a day, mother and child did scientific experiments, went to the park to birdwatch, made pottery, and read and read and read. “I had to calm down from always being in a frenzy—slow down to a second-grader’s level,” she recalls.

She loved this pace of wonder. When her daughter returned to school the following year, she decided not to plunge back into the journalistic fray but to continue the homeschooling—of herself this time. She revived interests she had pursued after graduating, experimenting with photography, poetry, and some fiction until she hit on collage.

Four years and 1,451 collages later, Aron has developed a solid working method and a gorgeous style. At the heart of each collage is a mysterious figure enveloped in voluptuous folds of cloth and textured clouds of color. She—the figure is invariably a woman or some part of a woman’s body—leads us into a story without obvious conclusion. “I want to create a picture space that is baffling—labyrinthine,” Aron explains. “At any point, the eye could be faced with paths that lead off to nowhere, proportions that are dizzying.”

Constructed from glossy-magazine photographs, the collages don’t do that Dada thing of offering up the detritus of the world. They do not consist of found objects, Aron insists, “because I found them.” Nor do they reference recognizable figures and thus serve as social commentary: “I’m not going to do them with Kate Moss. I tend to use photographs where the models look less like models and more like strange creatures in stories.”

And yet it is important to Aron that she make the collages by hand. If she skipped the tedious labor of cutting and pasting and resorted to Photoshop, “it wouldn’t involve enough artistic effort,” she says with wry self-knowing.

Besides hours in the studio (also known as her bed—she plops down on it to demonstrate how a book on her lap suffices as work surface), “A massive amount of this work is marketing. You can’t just make collages and hope that people will come,” she says, as the forthright entrepreneur. Then, “I don’t pander, I’m an artist—I make what interests me, not what sells. But after that, the point is to interest others.”

To that end, she invites “everybody I know and everybody I have ever been colleagues with” to regular open houses. She has sold her work at street fairs, donated it to charity auctions, and even exhibited in the little brick hut on a subway traffic island on the Upper West Side, just south of the modest apartment she shares with her husband and children. And each week she responds to calls for entries to juried exhibitions with batches of framed collages.

In the four years since Aron began this project, her collages have appeared in some 70 shows, from Pensacola, Florida, to Los Angeles, Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and her native New York. Eight shows will feature her work this summer. But at this point, she admits, “I’m slightly uncomfortable with where I am. Itchy.” It’s a familiar state of mind.

-by Apollinaire Scherr