Lauren Asta was working at a distillery in the Bay Area when the chance came to paint her first mural.
Asta had just moved back to California after making a stab at a career in photography in New York City. She got a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography at a time darkrooms were still being used in the classroom. But the digital age changed the landscape of the business and the trajectory of her career.
“It was hard to find work as a photographer,” Asta says. “The next best outlet was drawing and doodling.”
Asta had a pen in hand from as far back as she can remember.
In California, she had an overwhelming feeling she could take her creations from a notepad to a much larger canvas. Around that time, an airport hangar next to the distillery where she was working was being turned into a brewery.
When construction was finished, there was a blank wall that ran right through the center of the space. It was just the sort of canvas Asta had envisioned for her work.
“I approached the brewery owners,” she says. “I was, like, ‘I’ve never done a mural before, but I really feel I can do this.’ ”
A scissor lift was brought in a few days later, and Asta was given a month to finish a 3,000-square-foot mural.
Immediately after she finished that first project, she embarked on what she describes as a luxuriously homeless lifestyle. She traveled from city to city, painting murals wherever she could get a commission.
Asta has been based in Chicago since 2016 and has left her signature black-and-white doodle work on 40 walls around the city.
Asta credits social media for boosting her career and says it’s helped to get her opportunities around the country and the world.
She says that when she moved to Chicago, most of the street artists she met were men. In the past five years, though, Asta says more women have gotten involved in public art, and she takes pride in being part of that change.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working on a boom or a scissor lift, and there’s construction guys around who stand there like, ‘What?’ ” Asta says. “Yeah, we can do it, too.”
Asta’s latest mural — painted on an outside wall of Fulton Market Kitchen, 311 N. Sangamon St. — will be unveiled along with 10 whiskey barrels hand-painted by five women muralists at an event Sunday to mark International Women’s Day. Asta created the mural through a partnership between Jack Daniel’s “Gentleman Jack” whiskey and the Chicago Sun-Times advertising department.
She says hers message to women with the piece is to “flex your hustle today and every day.
“‘Today and every day’ I have written in the mural,” Asta says. “It’s great that we have a day to recognize there’s still a lot of struggle with differences between men and women in the workforce specifically. It’s good to recognize how far we’ve come. But it should be something we recognize every day as well.”