Above: Lauren Peters in the studio with Wilma.

By Lauren Golt
Photos courtesy Lauren

If you’ve visited Wilma’s, the downtown Wilmington restaurant that includes New Orleans-inspired cuisine and duckpin bowling, you’ve likely seen the large-scale portrait of “Wilma” herself. Colorful, bold, and full of texture, the painting of the restaurant’s red-haired namesake hangs on the wall, next to the bar. (Actually, this is a reproduction; the original hangs on the second floor.)

With the same full, curly locks seen in the restaurant’s logo, the woman in the painting looks strong, confident, a little sassy, and somehow, familiar. Her face, beautifully highlighted and shadowed, with rosy cheeks, strong brows and full lips, is actually a self-portrait of artist Lauren Peters.

The Face of Wilma

In November 2020, construction for Wilma’s (located in the former Ernest & Scott Taproom space at 900 N. Market St.) was underway. The branding, inspired by a print of a red-haired woman found on Etsy, was finalized with plans to show the different personalities of “Wilma” inside the space. In the bowling area, she’s eclectic and funky, and in the restaurant she’s refined, like the hostess of a dinner party.

Looking for someone to bring “Wilma” to life, Sarah Lamb, vice president of design and marketing for The Buccini/Pollin Group, commissioned Peters to create an oversize portrait to hang near the bar.

“I met Lauren socially and started following her on social media,” says Lamb. “Shortly after, she had an exhibit and I fell in love with the concept of exploring new personalities through self-portraits, and her use of color and patterns. Lauren was already in the habit of assuming new personalities through her paintings, so it made perfect sense!”

Finding Her Way Back to Art

Lauren Peters says painting self-portraits gives her full control. “I don’t have to worry about the depiction because it’s me depicting myself.”

Wilmington artist Lauren Peters, 41, was an art major in college but after graduation found herself working in other industries. In 2015, she re-introduced herself to her former passion: painting. Peters rented a studio in The Delaware Contemporary and started working at the Somerville Manning Gallery.

“Being at Somerville taught me so much about the art business,” Peters says, “I also learned a lot by just being around artists. It made me think, ‘I could do this myself.’”

At The Delaware Contemporary, studio artists take turns showing their work in the Elizabeth Denison Hatch Gallery, located on-site. With the date of her first exhibition on the calendar, Peters got to work. She painted, sketched, made pieces out of felt fabric, created an object out of paper flowers and a white dress… but the work felt disjointed.

“I knew I needed a cohesive body of work for that initial exhibit,” she says.

The Start of Self-Portraits

“I was flipping through magazines and came across a piece by British painter Chantal Joffe,” Peters says. “I was just obsessed. Her paintings are so bold and loose, which is what I aspire to be. I just fell in love with the way she painted people and herself.”

Instead of painting someone else’s portrait, Peters decided to try using herself as the model. “Painting myself gives me full control,” she says. “I don’t have to worry about the depiction because it’s me depicting myself.”

On day one, Peters got dressed and stood uncomfortably in front of the mirror. She knew this wasn’t going to work, so she went in a different direction. “I took a bunch of selfies on my phone and had them printed. That made it feel like I was interpreting a photograph, a persona, instead of staring at myself in a mirror,” she says. “It separated me from the self-portrait.”

Playing Dress-Up

As Lauren played with different poses and angles, she incorporated wigs and costumes, giving the pieces a new level of color, texture and personality. 

Then she discovered Rent The Runway, a website that rents out designer clothing, and found a way to incorporate fashion into her work without blowing her budget.

“I rented these ridiculous pieces, just to wear in photos: lots of fake furs, a Victoria Beckham coat, a beautiful lace top from Monique lhuillier. It’s fun to play dress-up,” she says.

Peters says she’s loved fashion since childhood. “I always liked bold colors and prints but being a bit of an introvert, it’s difficult feeling confident wearing them in the world,” she says. “So, I’ve created a loud alter ego in the paintings.”

Mixing Media

Loving the faux fur pieces she discovered on Rent The Runway, Peters found a way to incorporate the material into her work. For an exhibition last April, she paired her self-portraits with mirrors she decorated with fake fur and deconstructed pieces of clothing.

“Creating the mirrors was a nice break from painting myself, but they also helped expand the visual language of the self-portraits,” she says. “As people walked around looking at the paintings, they caught glimpses of themselves, their own self-portraits.”

Aware that continuously taking photos of and painting herself could potentially be bad for the psyche, Peters takes breaks to try new subjects and formats. For example, she recently finished a collection of gouache (opaque, water-based paint) still life paintings and is currently working on a large-scale floral oil painting.

On The Horizon

In June 2021, Lauren left her position at the Somerville Manning Gallery to become a full-time artist.

“After I sold a few paintings and survived the pandemic I thought, ‘I’m going to dye my hair, quit my job and really do this,” she says.

With plans to show her work in two East Coast galleries and upcoming shows in Wilmington and Jenkintown, Pa., Peters has no plans to slow down. 

“I still feel like I’m getting better as a painter,” she says. “For my show in July, I’m hoping to have at least two six-foot paintings. That’s one of my goals.”

She’s also thinking about ways to make her art more immersive. “I love the idea of growing the area around the paintings. What if all the walls were lined with faux fur and then there was one huge painting that had faux fur?”

Always looking for ways to create art outside her comfort zone, Peters has big plans for 2023. 

“Every day I get to be a full-time artist. I feel lucky.”

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