Grad student uses citrus skins for spiritual healing and art


Laura VanDuren, 55, first year fine arts graduate student holds her new project of sewn together citric skins in front of her face in the sculpture studio at SF State Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015. She hopes to create a landscape of citric skins that represent healing and repair of the broken pieces of her life and in others. (Emma Chiang / Xpress)

Dried out citrus skins and a spool of bright blue thread lay scattered on a table in the sculpture studio of the Fine Arts building. For Laura VanDuren, a fine arts graduate student with a concentration in sculpture, the process of creating art is her therapy session.

The 55-year-old artist said her fascination for all types of skins stemmed from their representation of the scars and wounds in her past life. As she picks up each citrus skin and uses a needle to thread each to another, she heals from her former marriage of 26 years.

“I want to show the wound and the repair because in our lives we have things we want to heal,” VanDuren said. “The sewing part is the healing of the wounds, it will always be there but we can repair it.”

VanDuren said she experiences a spiritual connection to each piece of skin as if the rinds spoke to her, taking their place in the landscape.

The medium of citrus skins is timely for the season of ripe citrus fruits; she purchases giant pamelos, oranges, limes and lemons at the campus farmer’s market. Then after peeling and eating the fruit, she dries the skins out until they are ready for mending.

VanDuren earned her bachelors degree in fine arts from Carnegie Mellon University and is a founding member of the Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland. Her work is displayed in several galleries in the Bay Area.

Last semester, the artist was dismayed by the what she thought were Seussical colors of “a calming green men’s bathroom” compared to a repulsive Pepto-Bismol pink color of the women’s. In response, VanDuren created an installation of hot pink phallic-like sex toy creatures in the Fine Arts building to represent that people are sexual human beings who have internal and external tensions. She loved hearing people’s reaction as they found it both funny and repulsive.

“I love that something can be repulsive yet attractive,” VanDuren said. “Just looking at these orange skins they are kind of gross, but when you look at it without judgment it’s a beautiful texture, and life is full of paradox like that, everything has a dark side and light side, our lives are beautiful and ugly, we need to embrace it.”

Four years since her divorce, VanDuren is dating and plans to add to her skin series by taking thousands of pictures of people’s stomachs and inserting a narrative over the image that tells the person’s story.

“My work has always helped me float my boat, it has carried me through life,” VanDuren said.