Des Lawrence

Christine Keeler, 2018

Enamel on Aluminum

62 × 37.5 cm


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Artwork
Description

English model Christine Keeler’s biography simultaneously makes for an enthralling spy story, as well as a cautionary tale for girls. Keeler (1942-2017) was an English model and topless showgirl living in London who, in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War, found herself at the epicentre of a political and espionage scandal known as the ‘Profumo Affair’ as she became simultaneously involved with a married government minister, John Profumo and with a Soviet diplomat. This scandal, which had started with a shooting between two of Keeler’s jealous lovers and was perceived as being quite glamorous, resulted in an embarrassment for the Conservative party, the suicide of Stephen Ward – Keeler’s alleged pimp – and the imprisonment for perjury of the woman herself. After her release, as the limelight faded, Keeler lived mostly in poverty away from the public eye, although she tried several times to spark again an interest in her life, through the publishing of autobiographies and participation to TV programmes.

Des Lawrence’s series of obituary portraits challenges many notions of fame, historical memory, and consumerism – of objects as well as news-stories and the people related to them. His works beg the questions: What are we leaving behind once we die?; What will we be remember by, if at all?

This bathing suit portrait of Christine Keeler indeed seems to make for an interesting ‘Memento mori’, but remains resistant to categorisation. Des Lawrence’s uncannily frozen rendition of a young Ms Keeler is not an idolising icon, and yet it’s not a moral condemnation either. In death, perhaps, this distinction doesn’t really matter.

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

February 13th, 2019 until
May 13th, 2019
Curated by ARTUNER