Des Lawrence

Frank Schirrmacher, 2015

Enamel on Aluminum

178 × 271 cm


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Artwork
Description

In Des Lawrence’s painting Frank Schirrmacher the viewer looks out the huge glass windows of the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof into the darkening sky. The sun sets behind foot-high letters advertising the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Frank Schirrmacher had been the co-publisher of this paper until his death from a heart attack aged 54.

The sunset behind the newspaper’s name is a sentimentally charged image, imbued with the sense of an ending era or a final goodbye. It is a cinematic image full of cliché, a grandiose gesture to match the outsized personality of the man referred to as the ‘child emperor’ of German letters – the dictatorial publisher with controversial opinions. But Lawrence’s monumentalising should be taken with a pinch of salt. In a move reminiscent of the central irony of Citizen Kane, Lawrence is prodding the viewer to search for meaning where none exists. The artist suggests the tribute is created in our minds, rather than on his canvas, so receptive are we to the repetitive tropes of media representation.

Lawrence takes pride in the apparent neutrality of his paintings, which are documentary-like in their precision. This is not to deny the sentimentality of his work, but to place it in dynamic tension with his more distant visual language. The artist’s intense focus on the surface of his paintings is emblematic of this. His style is photorealistic, yet it has none of the chilliness usually associated with this technique, and his precision yields no intellectual clarity but serves to remind the viewer of their own myopic desire to see no further than they expect. In Frank Schirrmacher vision both extends far beyond the glass windows and is simultaneously caught on the great letters attached there: surface and distance, warm light and cold steel, a series of paradoxes that sum up the complexity of Lawrence’s paintings.

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