Loe Lee x Caleb - Artist Spotlight

Loe Lee x Caleb - Artist Spotlight

Every couple of months, Artbean collaborates with talented artists, showcasing their work in installations and selling the unique merchandise they create through our collaborations. You will see their work on our exhibition wall, on our shelves, and even sometimes in the offerings on our menu--a sensory rich recipe for a truly immersive experience!

Artbean is proud to exhibit the collaborative work of artists and newlyweds Lauren Lee and Caleb Nunn.  Their unique blend of illustration and cinematography is an exciting reflection of New York City.  Both their unity and individuality are displayed not only in their art, but also in the vehicle with which it’s exhibited.  City Dwellers is one of those exhibits that will inspire you to wrap your hand around a warm beverage.  Thankfully, you won’t have to venture far to attain one!

 Loe & Caleb standing in front of their exhibition at Artbean Coffee

The Origins

An exhibition at Artbean seemed almost written in the stars for Lauren Lee and Caleb Nunn.  For both Lauren and Caleb, New York City really is at the heart of their story--the roots of both their relationship and their striking collaborative artwork.  “I was born in New York, so I spent a lot of my childhood in Chinatown, as my family emigrated there in the 1960s,” shared Lauren.  “I went back and forth between New Jersey and Chinatown throughout my upbringing; and, I returned fully during college.”

Though Caleb may not hail from New York City, its indelible draw made its mark on him, as well.  “I am originally from Alabama, and I grew up there,” added Caleb.  “I eventually got a job in live production, shooting everything from concerts, to ballets, to theater, and even corporate production.  I was traveling constantly.”  With a chuckle, he added, “So, I moved to New York City for work so I could actually slow down!”  And with tangible love and warmth, shared, “So, I began work in advertising; and, it was here that Lauren and I met.”

Loe and Calib sitting next to each other at a nice restaurant 

The Installation

“The name of our installation is City Dwellers!” said Lauren.  “We were very inspired by our then-recent engagement,” she added with palpable excitement.  “When we first talked to Artbean, we had just gotten engaged; and, we thought it would be fun to do an installation together to celebrate the occasion.  It began with me really just looking at a photo Caleb took in the city.  And, I drew on top of it.  It was completely on a whim; but, it’s one of my favorite pieces we’ve done to date.  We want to continue doing that.” 

When asked to describe their work, Lauren shared, “Caleb obviously has a lot of photography that’s been taken in the city.  And, since it’s the city where we met, we thought it would be a cool homage to it--the whimsical figures I’ve drawn on top of his photos are guardians of the city and those within it.”

Closeup of the framed prints of Loe & Caleb's exhibition at Artbean Coffee

The striking photojournalistic style of Caleb’s photos, coupled with Lauren’s vibrant illustrations of whimsy reflect an element of warmth.  Indeed, their art is an exuberant, yet calming, juxtaposition to all of the hustle that is New York City.  For Lauren and Caleb, the city is personal.  With a sense of both humility and pride, Lauren added, “The display at Artbean is actually based on our living room!  There are some slats and molding up; and, all of the artwork is in these very differently styled frames.  We’ll have some personal items from our living room there, too!”  Caleb continued, “It is just a true collaboration from the city we met in, to working together, to what our home even looks like.  The first collaboration we did was during Covid, which was the first project we did that wasn’t work related.  To have that as something we did together was special.”

Caleb standing in a bar looking through his camera facing the camera

Caleb’s photos are able to portray both New York City’s scope and daily reality--highlighting once more how greatness and beauty cannot be defined by any one thing.  “The Guardian Lauren drew reflects the guardians we want to watch over Chinatown,” Caleb added.  And, like many people who know each other well, Lauren finished his thought, “I would say City Dwellers really is a dedication for our love of Chinatown.”

“This installation was a catapult to find the fun in art again,” shared Lauren.  With a reflective pause, she added, “I realize I am very lucky to be doing this--something that was initially a hobby that became my job.  It’s important, though, for me to take some breaks.”  Lauren ensures she stays inspired by “dedicating time to these personal preferences.”  And, a visit to see CIty Dwellers means you, too, can see their passion come into the creative fruition of not only their artwork, but postcards, stickers, tote bags, and a coffee label with Artbean!

The Process & The Inspiration

As passionate as they are about their art, they’re also passionate about how they draw their inspiration.  “I get a lot of thinking done when I go out on a run.  It’s when I get a lot of my ideas, and it’s definitely a time when I am seeing so much,” said Lauren.  Then, she added, “I combine my imagination to the things I see around me.  The basis of that comes from things I saw in childhood--I read a lot of Asian-inspired comics, for example.  So, a lot of it is reminiscent of that in conjunction with my life now in New York City.”  Truly, a great recipe punctuated with the most beautiful, immeasurable ingredients!

Loe & Caleb's custom City Dwellers coffee bag brewed with a v60

Caleb’s current inspiration drives from a professional basis.  “I got into photography because of work, which led me into advertising commercial stuff.  To improve professionally, I bought a film camera to work on framing, finding light and spaces.  So, it was for practical needs at first,” Through that, I learned film photography, and got really interested in chasing light and patterns.  This evolved into scenes throughout the city that seemed reminiscent of frames from a movie.  This seems to be where our collaboration happens at its best.”

The Artistic Training

Caleb credits his artistic training through the vulnerability that transpires via trial and error.  “Photography is very collaborative.  You’re inevitably always talking to other photographers and the work is always very experimental.  Everyone will just tell you to go out and shoot and you’ll figure it out.  You have to get out there to figure out what you like, and what your eyes are drawn to.”  With a pause, he then added, “A lot of people fall out of love with their passion when they transfer it to work.  But for me, the further I dove into it, the more I enjoy it.”  Caleb reflected, “When I started, it was a matter of surviving.  Now, we have a little more leeway and therefore have the space to explore more.”

Lauren, too, shares a similar epiphany.  “I had classical training going to design school, and I studied advertising.  But, when I started working, I realized I learned so much while on the job.  I didn’t study drawing at all.  But, I realized you can study something and practice your trade on your own.  It develops from there.”  A lesson in self-advocacy, Lauren also shared, “I do design at work.  I once mentioned to my bosses that I’d really like to illustrate.  I pitched it by suggesting to let me try it if there’s a lower stakes project.  They gave me that space; and, it has evolved from there.  A lot of it is just practicing until you feel like… .”  In artistically reflective wonder and whimsy, she trailed off, continuing, “I guess you never really stop practicing.  The hardest part of training like this is to just keep doing it, understanding that it is never instant.”  And, in perfect synchronous punctuation, they simultaneously said, “You’re always learning!”

New York City is at the crux of it all, too--self-advocacy, patience, vulnerability.  And, as Lauren and Caleb personify, when space is created with such love and support, beautiful things transpire.

The Median & Identity

When asked how they’d define their art, Lauren warmly shared, “I am more of an illustrative, whimsical artist--a hybrid of an art director and illustrator who ties whimsical themes into everyday life.”  Caleb is quick to share, “I feel as though I’m the opposite of that in a way.  I am definitely not a solo artist.  My art has always been in collaboration, which I really like.  Film is a collaboration between the artists, actors, and directors.  Even as a child, I was into theater, so that collaborative environment has always been a draw for me.  I just like the group aspect of being able to create something together.”  And, with a pause, he added, “No matter what the art is, I like creating it with others.”

Sometimes, though, the most enriching experiences have unique challenges.  Lauren reflected on some of the difficulties that coincided with her decision to study art.  “That was very difficult for my parents.  They wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer.  So, when I was accepted into Parsons after secretly applying, they were reluctant of me going there at first.  That motivated me to show them not to worry about me.  So, when I got my first job they were relieved.”  And, with a knowing smirk, she continued, “I lied on my resume when I was nineteen!  I applied for an internship and got it; and, when it was about to conclude, I told them that I wasn’t graduating yet.  I wanted to show my parents I could do it and not to worry.  And, the person I work for now was who I worked for then!”  Listening to Lauren is an inspiration to take on challenges with a smile.  With relief, she concluded, “I was able to show my parents I could make a living doing what I love.”

Caleb shared the differences of his experiences.  “My parents grew up much differently than I did.  So, while they may not have shared my passion for art, they were incredidbly supportive.  I did theater growing up and they were there, going to every play I was in.  I was in a band for a long time, too.  While they didn’t understand the music I was making, they were supportive of it.  If I really wanted to do something, they were there.  They showed up, regardless of whether they understood it or not--always supportive of me trying it out.”

Loe standing in Uniqlo next to a mannequin that's wearing the Tshirt she designed

City Dwellers is a reflection of the couple’s shared love of Chinatown; and it is here that it seems to be coming full-circle for Lauren.  “Lately, I have been doing art related to Chinatown.  When I do things my family can see and relate to, it makes them really happy. The Chinatown community and I did some murals together for local businesses recently and they were really happy about that.”  And, with admirable humility, Lauren shared, “I did a collection with Uniqlo; and, they were able to go to the store to buy it. We shopped there a lot during my high school years so they were particularly proud of that!”

The Wisdom

Lauren and Caleb offer meaningful advice to other artists.  With invigoration, Lauren shared, “Even if you think you’re bad at it, just do it.  If it’s something you’re passionate about, you will spend time building it.  A lot of people wonder how to find personal style.  Personally, I don’t believe there’s a singular method of finding your style.  That’s built upon doing, and as you do, you'll gravitate towards what you like.  Making those small observations and doing them repeatedly because you enjoy it?”  She paused, concluding, “You eventually find the way you like to do things, and that will be your personal style.”

Caleb agreed.  “Yes, art is all about perspective.  I wasn’t around art a lot growing up.  If you’re constantly around other people’s art, you can find inspiration that way, yes. But, don’t compare yourself to other artists because you’re negating your own perspective.  It’s not about how technically good it is.  It’s about what it means to you.”

Be your authentic self.  It’s a phrase where the meaning is perhaps not as often explored as it is used.  But Lauren’s and Caleb’s artistic journey highlights exactly what this means.  Allowing authenticity means you need to create the space to do so.  Sometimes this means self-advocacy; sometimes it means experimenting; sometimes it means vulnerability; sometimes it means learning.  But whatever it means, it’s exploration is surely easiest in the framework of a supportive system--be it the opportunities of New York City or a partner’s encouragement.

Loe and Caleb taking an outdoor closeup selfie

It’s difficult to quantify what it feels like to be in the presence of whimsical art.  It’s that feeling you get when you can’t help but smile looking at a nostalgic old photograph.  It’s remembering how easy joy was to find when listening to a song synonymous with positive childhood memories.  It’s that feeling that results when you take a deep breath.  Witnessing City Dwellers inspires all of those feelings on the tableau of one of the grandest places in the world--New York City.

- By Courtney Adams, @ahhcoocoo

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