Brush with Fame

updated 09/15/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/2003 01:00AM

Artist Greg Lauren never knows when inspiration will strike—which means his fiancée, actress Elizabeth Berkley, has gotten very good at standing very still. "I'm the on-call muse," says Berkley, who has inspired more than 100 of Lauren's paintings. "I might be brushing my teeth, and he'll say, 'Stay right there! Don't move!' " The payoff is evident in the many muted, graceful oil paintings that decorate the couple's modern Los Angeles loft. Says Lauren of his images, most of which are nudes: "I like capturing the essence of a woman."

He does it so well that Hollywood's A-list art collectors are eagerly snapping up Lauren's work at a cost of $5,000 to $15,000 per painting. Among the 33-year-old artist's fans: Renée Zellweger, Demi Moore, Ben Stiller and Cuba Gooding Jr.— not to mention Lauren's famous designer uncle Ralph. Says Lauren of his success: "I'm kind of blown away by it."

His admirers are hardly shocked. "Greg paints women the way they would want to see themselves when they look back at their lives," says actress Embeth Davidtz (Schindler's List), who has commissioned two Lauren paintings. Barbara Guggenheim, a New York City art consultant who has helped mentor Lauren, calls his creations "provocative, making us see the world he grew up in—fashion and glamor -in a very different way."

Which is precisely the point. "I know how hard the fashion industry can be on women," says Lauren, whose sister Jenny, 31, battled anorexia. Yet the family business also helped nurture his talent early on. The middle child of Jerry, 68, Ralph's brother and head of men's design for the company, and Susan, 60, a museum docent, Lauren grew up with Jenny and brother Brad, 36, in New York City, where he would visit his father and uncle Ralph at the company headquarters. "My uncle," he says, "has always been that guy who will encourage you to take a risk."

After graduating from Princeton University in 1991, Lauren moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Small roles in 1997's Boogie Nights and 200l's The Wedding Planner followed. "But I painted almost every day to stay sane as an actor," he says. A few months before his first art show in March 2000, he met Berkley, 31, at a dance class. "A week later we started dating," he says, "and that was it."

Now the pair are looking forward to their nuptials later this year—and to starting a family in due time. "Maybe by then, my art will be all about babies," Lauren says with a laugh. "I'll paint a lot of diapers!"

Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles

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