Des Lawrence

Camille Muffat, 2018

Enamel on Aluminum

44 × 32.6 cm


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Artwork
Description

Des Lawrence’s portraits are dedicated to notable figures recently deceased. Perpetuating the tradition of the obituary portrait, yet inflecting it with contemporary concerns allows the artist to explore and question certain facets our society. He is fixated both upon our fascination with icon-like images of famous faces, and the progress of this obsession in late-stage capitalism that results in one being linked more closely than ever to goods, to a point where even one’s image can become a commodified object.

Camille Muffat reproduces a portrait of the young French Olympic swimmer who passed away tragically in 2015 while she was filming a French reality TV series. Lawrence’s work projects the very image of youth and strength: with her powerful frame and almost radiant skin, this is a picture of a woman, an athlete in her prime. Her gaze is proud and confident, meeting the viewer’s in a moment of immediate connection.

However, despite the painting’s vitality and this appearance of immortal youth, there is something eerie and distant in Lawrence’s representation of Muffat. The warmth of life appears here as though through frosted glass: the swimmer might be alive, but we cannot get to her. Lawrence has embalmed her in his gaze; his act of careful reproduction only makes the viewer more aware of the fullness of the human that has been lost and the inadequacy of the still-circulating images to bear witness to that.

About
the artist


Des Lawrence (b. 1970) studied at Glasgow School of Art and Goldsmiths College. Selected shows include 
The London Open at the Whitechapel Gallery, London and REALLY?, Curated by Beth Rudin deWoody at the Wilding Cran Gallery, Los Angeles. Lawrence was awarded the British School in Rome’s Abbey Scholarship in 2005. He lives and works in London.

Lawrence’s practice is varied, comprising of painting, drawing, text and installation. He derives his principal guiding theme from current newspaper obituaries, making his artworks into memorials to the lately departed. The artist conceives of his work as a form of ‘history painting’, a much-neglected in the field of contemporary art. His works have the precision and fidelity of a painting by Delaroche or Gérôme, but none of the frozen aspect. Lawrence’s interest is in the passage of time, in the humanity of loss and the lost, not reviving a cryogenically frozen past for the viewer.

The artist has noted that he is ‘unnaturally fixated upon the microscopic subtlety of a surface’, another parallel to the neo-Grec painters whom Baudelaire characterised as the ‘school of pedants’. However, for Lawrence, this surface does not represent intellectual clarity but rather our myopic tendencies: our desire to see no further than what we expect.

The artist has previously stated his initial desire to be neutral and repetitive in his tributes to the deceased, like the macabre journalism on which his work is based. Indeed, his approach is rather editorial: citing On Kawara’s Date Paintings, Lawrence sought a subject matter that would regenerate itself continuously; endless, like days and months, and years of a calendar. There is no room for freedom of expression in this matter-of-fact encounter with death. However, recently Lawrence has accepted his role as a storyteller, allowing his art to launch an ever-expanding fleet of emotions and ideas. This has been aided and abetted by the increasing role the internet search engine has played in his practice. Lawrence has embraced this new technology’s impact upon the historical record, abandoning fruitless searches in dusty archives for a digital quest where a single train of thought can yield multiple visual and verbal parallels.


Lawrence’s practice is varied, comprising of painting, drawing, text and installation. He derives his principal guiding theme from current newspaper obituaries, making his artworks into memorials to the lately departed. The artist conceives of his work as a form of ‘history painting’, a much-neglected in the field of contemporary art.


Des Lawrence
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition

November 1st, 2018 until
January 6th, 2019
Curated by ARTUNER